You’re having a party, and you realize you’ve run out of side dishes. You open the fridge. To your horror, you see only a few tomatoes. You’re hungry now, and so are your friends, but you don’t want to chomp down on plain plants like a goat. No, we humans are civilized, and we like our food not just calorie-rich, but aesthetically pleasing. What’s a host to do?

When I was in Germany a few weeks ago, I met Mortiz Manke, a chef who ran into this exact conundrum and came up with a novel solution. Rather than just tossing some cherry tomatoes into a bowl, the Frank Petzchen cooking school educator used some spices and other ingredients to transform a carton of plain veggies into an upscale dish. It took minimal effort and all of 10 minutes.

“I just wanted to get the best out of the tomato,” Manke told me. This technique doesn’t require any special tools, and is an easy way to thrill either your own palette or the taste buds of anyone you’re trying to impress with your elegant ways.

What you’ll need:

  • 2 cups of raw vegetables (or fruits, or fungi)
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of brown sugar
  • Pinch of black pepper
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 1/4 cup of Balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh marjoram (rosemary or other spices will do just fine)
  • 1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese

How to do it:

First, cut your veggies into bite-sized pieces and put them on a plate. I’m using cherry tomatoes, so that means cutting them in half.

Sprinkle the salt, sugar, and pepper on the vegetables. Let them sit and soak up those delicious flavors for a few minutes.

Dice the marjoram and coarsely shred the parmesan. Sprinkle them on the veggies.

Drizzle the olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the nearly finished plate. You can go for a classic crisscross pattern or more of a splattered paint look. Or you can just dump them on. Nobody will complain. For extra credit, garnish with a piece of marjoram.

halved cherry tomatoes on a plate with parmesan cheese, marjoram, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and other spices
A crisscross oil and vinegar pattern will certainly make it seem like you spent a long time preparing your snacks, but if you prefer a more carefree vibe, just splatter away. Ilana E. Strauss

There you go—it only takes a few minutes, but these steps will turn plain veggies into a fancy (and significantly more delicious) dish.

“The tomatoes are juicy, sweet, and sour,” Manke says. The salt emphasizes the sweetness, the pepper gives them a nice tickle, and the marjoram—a relative of oregano—adds a unique flavor, he explains. And in addition to creating flavor, the vinegar makes the dish prettier when it’s drizzled in creative patterns. Parmesan has a lot of umami flavor, too, so it matches the theme.

It’s a pretty good cheat whether you’re entertaining, treating yourself, or just trying to get the best out of your vegetables.