Chilean Tomato and Onion Salad

Ensalada Chilena

Marian Blazes. The Spruce Eats, 2017.

Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 0 mins
Rest : 20 mins
Total: 35 mins
Servings: 4 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
93 Calories
7g Fat
9g Carbs
1g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 93
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 7g 9%
Saturated Fat 1g 5%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 150mg 7%
Total Carbohydrate 9g 3%
Dietary Fiber 2g 7%
Total Sugars 3g
Protein 1g
Vitamin C 18mg 90%
Calcium 24mg 2%
Iron 0mg 3%
Potassium 203mg 4%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

This very simple and tasty ensalada comes from Chile, where it's an everyday staple that is consumed with all sorts of main dishes. Pungent and very flavorful, this fresh salad has very few ingredients and makes a great side dish to all kinds of grilled and braised meats, but can also serve as a topping for rice, roasted potatoes, and grain bowls. Made with onions, tomatoes, cilantro, olive oil, and salt and pepper, the salad takes a few minutes to prepare but requires at least 20 minutes to soak the onions in water, a Chilean trick to make them less pungent and sweeter. The classic version uses regular white onions, but there are versions that use sweet onions, though we recommend sticking with tradition. Once the onions are soaked, the strong flavor dissipates and the overall salad has a pleasant and fresh taste that is simply wonderful.

Similar in appearance and preparation to the Peruvian salad salsa Criolla, the recipe uses the combination of tomatoes, onions, and cilantro that is very common in various dishes throughout Hispanic and South American cuisines. For some, it takes the form of hogao, a cooked mixture of onions, tomato, cilantro, and peppers that is very similar to the Caribbean sofrito. All of these flavorful preparations serve as the base for other recipes, adding that special oomph to soups, stews, beans, rice, and braised meats. Very much like its Mexican cousin, pico de gallo, ensalada chilena is eaten raw, making it a go-to, foolproof dish that can be made daily as a side to homemade lunches and dinners.

Though very humble in appearance, the salad requires good knife technique to thinly slice the onions in "pluma," meaning the onion pieces need to be light and thin as a "feather." This allows the water to dissipate the sulfur compounds that give onions their characteristic bite. When onions are sliced thinly, there are many more surfaces of contact between the onions and the water, helping remove much more of the compounds but also crisping them up nicely to give the salad its characteristic crunch. Most home cooks soak the onions for at least 20 to 30 minutes, but if you have more time and prefer milder onion flavor you can leave them in cold water for up to one whole hour. Serve ensalada chilena alongside grilled meats, empanadas, or milanesas.


  • 1 large tomato

  • 1 large onion

  • 1 to 2 large limes, juiced or to taste

  • 3 to 4 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • Salt, to taste

  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Peel the onion and slice it in half. Place each half cut-side down, then carefully slice the onion crosswise into very thin half-moon slices.

  3. Place onion slices in a bowl of salted water and let them soak for about 20 minutes.

  4. Drain onions in a colander and briefly rinse them with fresh water. Pat dry with paper towels.

  5. Chop the tomato and place in a bowl. Add the juice of 1 lime and the olive oil.

  6. Add the onions and toss everything together well. Taste for seasoning, adding more lime juice if desired and seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

  7. Arrange salad decoratively on a plate. Garnish with chopped cilantro.

  8. The salad can be covered with plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to 12 hours.