One Perfect Tomato

This week’s mission is going to be a little… unusual. Instead of busying ourselves with techniques and tools, we’re going to simply buy, and eat a single, perfect tomato. Warning: it may forever change the way you think about food. We’ll be featuring guest Nikki Sylianteng, creator of eating carefully, who will share her own thoughtful way of eating tomatoes.

You may have heard of a certain lil’ software tool called Photoshop. Photographers and image artists use Photoshop in a variety of ways to transform the photos they take. Some use it to create fantastic compositions, expressing an inner vision that cannot be found in nature alone. Others use it to “correct” deficiencies in the original photograph, adjusting contrast or wiping out blemishes.

Cooking, in many ways, is like Photoshop for food. You start with what nature has given you, and you transform, rearrange or improve upon it using the tools of the kitchen. Sometimes less-than-stellar ingredients (such as apples stored over a long winter) can be transformed into luscious treats (apple pie) through the medium of heat. Other times, you take an otherwise unassuming ingredient (eggplant), combine it with something special (garlic), and suddenly you have a masterpiece.

But occasionally, you start with a raw ingredient that is so exemplary, so perfect in every way, that you can’t think of a single way to improve it with cooking. Like a photographer who has taken the perfect photo, you simply need to put it in a frame and hang it up on the wall.

A great example of that ingredient is the summer tomato.*

Here in the Northern hemisphere, summer is currently in full swing, and it’s the perfect time to go Photoshop-free in the kitchen. We are going to start with exemplary source material—and discover that we don’t need to do much else to it in order to enjoy it. In the process, you’ll learn how to instantly upgrade the way you cook by paying close attention to the raw ingredients.

The best way to learn is by doing. So let’s start the mission—the first step will show you how to find this perfect tomato!

* Note: If you don’t like tomatoes, I suggest you substitute a perfect peach or nectarine. Alice Waters, owner of the famed Chez Panisse in California, had the gumption to serve a single unadorned peach for dessert at her high-end restaurant. This exercise is not limited to tomatoes, and I encourage you to repeat it with as many ingredients as you wish.

Tools Needed:

  • knife
  • cutting board

Ingredients Needed:

  • one perfect tomato
  • salt, sugar, olive oil, or other simple adornments optional

Lesson Gallery... Yum yum.

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  • I… didn’t read the picture-taking instructions until the morning after my tomato escapades, and so took a picture of the tomato before I ate it.

    I had a lot of fun picking out a tiny bowl and tiny spoon to go with my tiny tomato pieces, and thoroughly enjoyed the way tomato-eating process was slowed down by these implements. I got to reflect on a lot of aspects of tomatoes I hadn’t really considered before—the crisp outer sections, the juicy inner bits, the tang and sweet and saltiness of it all, and was really quite thrilled at how delicious it was. I can basically eat tomatoes at every meal in summertime, when they’re super fresh and amazing and you can’t imagine a meal that wouldn’t be enhanced by them. Apparently I need to start eating them as snacks, too!

  • I also want to say I can’t stop eating tomatoes. I have now made this every day for the past three days. If you are reading this Go Complete The Mission!!! It will change the way you view a tomato forever.

  • We bought a Wymato, which appears to be our store’s fancy term for a tomato grown in Wyoming. It was surprisingly tasty with olive oil, salt, and pepper — that is if you like that tomato-y flavor. After trying just the tomato, we dressed it up a little with fresh mozzarella and home-made bread. Sometimes, I think I like flavor frenzy over pure rich flavors.

  • Wow!! I’ve eaten tomatoes before and I really do enjoy a tomato with salt, but this might have been one of the tastiest tomatoes I’ve ever had. I tried the fish sauce with the chopped tomato and it was delicious. Super salty and delicious. That is why there are two bowls. In my infinite wisdom I set some tomato aside so I could figure out the right amount of fish sauce to add without it being too salty. I’m really glad I was able to find a delicious tomato and devour it so delightfully. (I also ate some of the tomato + fish sauce with fresh purple basil and fresh mozzarella to vary things. Yum!)