Carving a jack' o lantern from a pumpkin was probably one of the first vegetables you ever carved. It was easy to simply carve out triangles for the eyes and nose and a big, toothy smile. Now there are pumpkin carving kits with detailed instructions and special tools. Carving vegetables can be as simple as crosshatching an onion to make a chrysanthemum or as elaborate as sculpting a swan swimming on the surface of a large squash.
Sharp knives are a staple of vegetable carving. Maintaining a razor-sharp edge is critical, according to Hiroshi Nagashima, author of "The Decorative Art of Japanese Food Carving." Add a selection of knives with varying widths of the blades and curvatures, including a paring knife. A chef's knife is used for cutting the tops or bottoms off vegetables. The Japanese knives used for scalpel-like precision in carving are called kiridashi.
Common Kitchen Tools
You may already have several of the tools you'll need besides knives. A melon scoop is used to make balls of vegetables but also to scrape and hollow out the inside of larger vegetables and melons. A vegetable peeler is used to remove thin slices that curl up when put in ice water. Sometimes, the thin slices are left attached to the vegetable. It's also used to remove all or part of the skin. A zigzag bladed slicer leaves grooves in the food when it's used to slice. If used to slice in both directions, you get a basket-weave pattern. Cookie cutters cut out shapes by pressing down on slices. Use them to outline the shape on vegetables to thick to cut with the cookie cutter. Then cut around the cookie cutter.
Used for more intricate designs, food chisels come in a U-shape or V-shape in several different sizes and widths. The edges are sharp. The U-shape can punch out half-moon or circle designs. The V-shape is used for cutting and more refined designs.
Corers include the familiar apple corer and the less well-known pineapple corer. Additionally, specialty corers made especially for vegetable carving have different diameters. The top and bottom of the vegetable is cut off and stood upright. The corer is pushed through the vegetable, removing the flesh and leaving the skin with a thickness of flesh attached. How much flesh you remove depends on the diameter of the corer. Place a towel under the fruit when using a corer.