Sunday, August 21, 2016

Slice and Dice: Tomatoes

Vine-ripened tomatoes
In Illinois, midsummer is ushered in with the flash of fireflies and the radioactive buzz of cicadas looking for love. Fuzzy-faced sunflowers tower over Queen Anne’s lace and Black-eyed Susans. In the kitchen, the spotlight shifts from sweet corn to vine-ripened tomatoes, which spruce up salads, top backyard burgers, and stud my mom's one-of-a-kind Tomato Rice

How to Select Tomatoes

Select tomatoes that are wrinkle-free and feel weighty in your palm. When given a gentle squeeze, the fruit should feel soft, but not squishy. Since ripe tomatoes have a relatively short shelf life, try to gobble them up as quickly as possible. If you end up with a surplus, store them at room temperature in a single layer. Avoid chilling them in the refrigerator as it makes their lush flesh grainy. 

How to Peel Tomatoes

Tomatoes must be peeled (and seeded) to  produce bisque and other silky, smooth dishes. It’s a simple process that can also be used to skin peaches and other stone fruit.

Hold the tomato with the bottom side facing up. With a sharp chef’s, paring, or serrated knife, cut an "x" in the skin. Repeat with the rest of the tomatoes.

Two slits cut into the bottom of a tomato
Fill a large bowl with water and ice and set it aside. 

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Carefully lower each tomato into the boiling water, using tongs or a deep ladle. After 45 seconds, transfer each tomato to the ice water bath to stop the cooking.

Submerging tomatoes in an ice bath
Peel away the skins, beginning at the cross of the "x."

Peeling back the skin at the "x"
How to Remove Seeds from Tomatoes

Slice the tomato (peeled or not) in half width wise. Hold one half of the tomato over a bowl. Use your thumb and index finger to gently force out the seeds.

If the seeds cling to the flesh, gently tap the tomato against the cutting board, cut side down. 

Halved tomato with seeds and without
How to Slice Tomatoes

The first step in slicing tomatoes is removing the core. Although it’s commonly done with a paring knife, I like the idea of removing it with a thin-edged measuring spoon as it’s a bit safer (making it a good job for kids).

Pierce and then encircle the flesh surrounding the stem end with a measuring spoon.

Scooping out stem end with a spoon_edited-1.jpg
Place the tomato on its side on a cutting board, and then slice across the tomato width wise.  

Slicing a tomato
How to Chop Tomatoes

Remove the stem end with a measuring spoon, as illustrated above. Place the tomato on its side on a cutting board and slice it in half.

Slicing a tomato in half
Place one half on the cutting board with the cut side down. Rest one hand on top of the tomato to hold it in place. With your other hand, hold the knife parallel to the cutting board and slice across the tomato.

Slicing across the tomato horizontally

Hold the knife perpendicular to the cutting board, and slice across the tomato.

Rotate the tomato 90 degrees. Hold the knife perpendicular to the cutting board and cut across the tomato again.

Slice into chunks

How to Prepare Tomatoes for Stuffing

Remove the core with a measuring spoon, as illustrated above. Place the tomato on its side on a cutting board and slice off the top quarter. Through the enlarged opening, carefully scoop out the ribs and seeds with a spoon.

Scooping out core

Tomato Rice

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Monday, August 1, 2016


Glass of limeade with white pitcher

Inside family photo albums, you’ll find pictures of me as a child playing on the grounds of the Taj Mahal. There are snaps of me posing shoulder-to-shoulder with my sister beneath a carved archway at Rambagh Palace. Turn the page and you’ll see shots of us with our parents seated and smiling next to 2-feet-long dosas at the Kovallam Beach Hotel. 

Limes with measuring cup of lime juice

Those were moments of unparalleled luxury and relaxation. And yet, they constituted a tiny fraction of our travels to India.

Can sugar simple syrup

During our sojourns in the seventies and eighties, most of our time was spent en route to the homes of a myriad of relatives. The visits began with my parents’ many siblings. Then they moved on to a parade of their great aunts, favorite uncles and distant cousins whose names I was expected to produce when asked the dreaded question: “Do you know me?” Each morning after filling up on idlis or poota and hot tea, we would pack into a black Hindustan Ambassador operated by a driver capable of circumventing the hulking lorries, gaggles of school children, and stray dogs that shared the road. I was always crammed in the backseat with my sister, my mom, my paternal grandmother, and at least one other relative or friend who had decided to join us last minute.

Lime juice being poured into pitcher of water

We would crank open the windows to temper the tropic heat, but the unrelenting humidity left our necks, foreheads, and temples layered with sweat. When raindrops began to fall, as they always did during monsoon season, we would be forced to roll up the windows and cut off all airflow. Torrents of water blanketed the windshield slowing our pace, at times, to a standstill.  Inside, the car became an oven and sweat pooled on our backs until they seemed suctioned to the car seats. 

It was time for a cool drink.

Back in southern Illinois, in the dump-and-stir era, Kool-Aid was the beverage of choice all summer long.  Several times a week, my sister or I would stir water, sugar, and "lemon” flavored crystals together in a Tupperware tumbler to make "fresh" lemonade.

With little processed or packaged food in India at the time, Kool-Aid was not an option. Instead, at the homes we visited each day, we were served a snack, such as sliced mangoes, fried jackfruit, dhal fritters and gulab jamun and a hot cup of tea. Imagine that eight times a day. By early evening, I felt crazed by too much caffeine and the perpetual need to pee. If I complained enough, my dad would direct the driver to stop by a roadside stand lined with plain soda water, Thums Up, Campa Cola and  Limca. He would buy us several bottled beverages to share. Although the drinks offered variety, they didn’t really quench my thirst.

What I needed was my Aunt Iysha’s limeade. Crisp and elemental, it called for three simple ingredients: water, lime juice, and cane sugar. When we arrived at her home, I knew she would graciously serve me a glassful


Serves 6


3/4 cup lime juice

1/2 cup cane sugar
5 cups water


To make simple syrup, heat 1/2 cup cane sugar and 1/2 cup of water over medium low heat. Cool completely. 

In a large pitcher, stir together water, lime juice, and simple syrup. 

Serve over ice. 

Glass of limeade

Advance purchase required!
Book your Chicago Food Tour today!
buy tickets at zerve
or call Zerve at (800) 979-3370