Playing with Food – Carving a Tomato Rose

Tomato rose 7
Have your parents ever told you to stop playing with your food? Well, there are some professional chefs that are called Chefs du Garde Manger, who are famous and much sought after because they play with food. They are masters of sculpting ice, carving fruits and vegetables, or creating elaborate buffets.

Margaret_BangkokThe way we present food greatly enhances the appetites of our diners, and the overall experience of the meal. Even a small garnish makes a huge difference. My fascination with fruit and vegetable carving began when I first visited Thailand. It seemed like every fruit on the platter was carved. It was an insatiable feast for my eyes. I enrolled in a short course in Bangkok that taught me the basics. When I wrote my first cookbook, some of my pictures included what I had learned – an onion lotus, carrot knots, radish tulips, a watermelon basket and an onion chrysanthemum.

Today I will share with you how to make a tomato rose. There are specialized tools for vegetable and fruit carving but all you will need to make the tomato rose is a small sharp knife. I added a short video at the end of this post that might also be helpful.

Tomato Rose

You will need a sharp knife and a tomato that is ripe but firm.

Starting at the stem end of the tomato, peel a half-inch wide, thin strip of the skin all the way around the tomato, finishing at the base end. The strip must be peeled thinly so it will roll evenly.

Next place the tomato strip skin-side down, on a cutting board. It will form an elongated “S.”  Start rolling up the tomato skin to form a coil. When almost all the skin has been rolled, sit the tomato rose on its stem end.

If your rose looks odd, you’ve probably turned it upside down while rolling the peel onto the stem end. I’ve done it many times. Just turn it over.

You can use the tomato rose to garnish your dishes or it can be used for a place setting, with a personal touch, like the picture above.

Video on how to make a tomato rose

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What’s in My Masala Dabba (Indian Spice Box)

First, for those of you that are not familiar with the masala dabba, let me describe it. A masala dabba is a round, stainless steel container that holds several removable bowls. The bowls are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Each of them holds traditional Indian spices, depending on the region you come from, and based on the spices and lentils you used in everyday cooking. My masala dabba saves me from hunting for spices when I’m ready to cook.

Right in the center, in bold yellow, is turmeric powder (haldi). Ground turmeric is used to flavor and color Indian dishes. It has a warm, pungent, earthy aroma and taste. It comes from the ginger family, and it is the root of the turmeric plant that is dried, powdered and used as turmeric powder. Turmeric has great digestive properties and it is good for weight loss as well. I’ve even heard Dr. Oz sing its praise.

In vibrant red is Kashmiri chilli powder (lal mirchi). It is moderately hot and it adds a rich red color to the gravy in curries. It is made from dried, ground red chillies seeds. A little goes a long way.

The next item is coriander powder (dhaniya). It is the same plant as the cilantro, but coriander powder refers to the seeds that are dried and ground. It has a sweet and slightly tangy taste.

Bengal gram (chana dal) comes next. It is a type of split chickpea and belongs to the same family with a similar flavor. I use it to season my dishes. The process of seasoning in Indian cooking is called “tadka.”

Black gram dal (urad dal) is a lentil that is rich in protein and iron. It is used a lot in South India to make vadai, dosa, and idli. I use this to season my dishes.

Next come mustard seeds (rai). These tiny seeds are powerful and they pop and add flavor to the oil. I use mustard seeds in almost every savory dish that I make. I guess I like it when they sputter in hot oil like applause at the opening of a show!

Last, but not the least, are cumin seeds (jeera). These beige beauties are aromatic and have a nutty, warm flavor. The full potential of cumin seeds are released when you put them in hot oil and the air is filled with their fragrance. Seasoning the dal with cumin seeds is often the final step in making an Indian meal. No need to ring the dinner bell as the aroma of cumin seeds does the job.

There is no rule as to what goes into your masala dabba. Create your own as you experiment and feel free to modify over time. Mastering the essence of each spice and lentil is a sign of an accomplished Indian cook.