In many places, tomato salad symbolizes summer—warm, sunny days and cool, refreshing meals. But in Murcia, tomato salad is a year-round treat.
And I don’t mean salad made with the nondescript, greenhouse-produced tomatoes that can be found in Spanish markets even in winter. I’m talking about the ensalada murciana (Murcian salad), yet another genius combination of Mediterranean pantry staples that is made, not with fresh, but with canned tomatoes, which are tossed together with oil-packed tuna, onions, hard-boiled eggs, cured olives, and, of course, a good glug of extra virgin olive oil.
Why Murcian salad? As is the case with many local dishes, it’s impossible to pinpoint the exact origin, but the salad has been ubiquitous for long enough to take on the name of the city itself. This makes sense, because tomatoes (both fresh and canned) are emblematic of the huerta, the fertile lands within and surrounding Murcia that have long been recognized for their agricultural potential—traces of Roman irrigation systems have been discovered in the area, which were expanded and improved upon by the Arabs who founded and ruled the city for centuries.
Tomatoes of course came later, brought back from the Americas in the 16th century. Tomatoes thrive in Murcia’s huerta, so it’s logical that canning eventually became an important local industry, too.
I love the tomato-packed ensalada murciana because it is easy to make and can be thrown together in any season. Served chilled in the summer, it refreshes like gazpacho, and at room temperature in winter, it adds a splash of sun and sea (and Murcia) to the table.
- 1/2 – 1 small onion, thinly sliced
- 1 (28-ounce) can good quality tomatoes, drained
- 1 (5-ounce) can tuna packed in olive oil, drained
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
- 1/2 cup small black olives, such as Niçoise (see Notes
- Extra virgin olive oil to taste (start with 2 tablespoons and add more as you like)
- Salt to taste
- Soak the thinly sliced onion in a bowl of ice water for ten minutes to make it easier to digest. Drain and set aside.
- Roughly chop the tomatoes (I do this right over the bowl) and place them in a large bowl along with their juice. Break up the tuna and add it to the bowl. Stir in the onions, chopped eggs and olives. Add salt to taste (I don’t tend to add much, since the tuna, tomatoes and olives already contain salt). Drizzle as much olive oil as you want over the salad and then toss everything together. Cover and chill for at least one hour before serving for the flavor to develop.
- Remove the salad from the refrigerator at least 15 minutes before serving (depending on the season) so that it is not ice cold (which dulls the flavors). In fact, in the winter, I prefer to eat ensalada murciana at room temperature. Serve with plenty of bread for dipping.