Last week, when I asked what you all are craving this summer, you blew me away with overwhelming enthusiasm for fresh summer fruits and vegetables. Peaches! Cherries! Watermelon! Blueberries! Heirloom tomatoes! You’re showing me up by growing vegetables in your backyards and buying locally grown produce on your lunch breaks. It’s no wonder we all get along so well. Peace, love and veggies forever!
You got me thinking about all the time and effort that we’re putting into these fruit and vegetables. Then I started thinking about all the tools available to help us with our kitchen endeavors. A lot of those tools are totally unnecessary. Looking at you, mango pitter.
I thought it’d be fun to open up my kitchen and talk about some tried-and-true utensils. These are the fruit and vegetable tools that have earned a permanent spot in my kitchen. Even the two that require electricity have proven themselves nearly indestructible.
Several items listed below (like the chef’s knife) are absolutely essential, and a few others are just handy/fun to have (like the julienne peeler and ice cream maker). Let’s talk about them!
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First up: The Knives You Actually Need. You don’t need a big, fancy set of kitchen knives for vegetarian cooking. You just need a few basic knives.
First and foremost, you need a sharp chef’s knife that fits comfortably in your hand. You also need to learn how to use it, which will save you an immense amount of time and keep your fingers safe. I took a basic knife skills class for the public at a community college a few years ago. It cost about $35. Learning how to properly chop onions and dice avocados? Priceless!
My chef’s knife: My knife skills class instructor used this Wüsthof 7-Inch santoku knife ($115). I liked it so much that I put it on my Christmas list. I later gifted one to my mom after watching her struggle to slice sweet potatoes with a dull, clunky knife. Santoku knives are a Japanese style of chef’s knife, so sometimes I wonder if I should be using a Japanese brand instead of a German one, but whatever. I love my Wüsthof.
I hand wash my knife (never put good knives in the dishwasher) and try to get it sharpened once a year. Sur la Table stores offered free knife sharpening last Christmas, which was awesome!
Paring knives and serrated knives: I love Kuhn Rikon 4-inch paring knives ($8 to $13.50) because I can grab one for slicing a lemon and then throw it right into the dishwasher. I bought a few when I found them on sale early this year and they’ve held up great so far. I also use this cheap Victorinox serrated knife ($9.50) for slicing tomatoes, muffins and bagels. Someday I’ll get a larger serrated knife for slicing through big loaves of bread evenly.
Also essential: Cutting boards. I like plastic boards because hand washing wooden boards is no fun. I stock up on Ikea’s Legitim chopping boards ($1.50!) when I visit the store. They’re great for small, simple tasks like slicing citrus or peeling fruit. They fit neatly into the dishwasher. I also have a couple of bigger cutting boards with recessed rims around the edges that catch the run-off from juicy fruit. Those are good to have, too. I buy those at Target.
Food processor: I’m going to qualify this machine as necessary. I use my 7-cup Cuisinart food processor ($99) to make pesto and hummus, grate carrots, slice cucumbers, shred Brussels sprouts and so much more.
I’ve mentioned this before, but I briefly owned a large, fancy-pants food processor. I hated it and sent it back. I prefer my small Cuisinart because it comes with fewer accessories (less to store!) and the bowl doesn’t take up my entire top dishwasher rack. If I’m prepping lots of vegetables and fill up the bowl, I just dump the contents of the bowl into a serving bowl and carry on. If you’re feeding a large family, you might want a bigger food processor, but this one is great for my purposes.
Colander: This stainless steel colander ($20) is very nice to have. I can set it in the sink to rinse fruit or vegetables and drain pasta. I bought this model because it’s recommended by America’s Test Kitchen. Two years later, it looks as good as new. (Note: The holes are a little too large for rinsing uncooked rice or quinoa, so I use Sur la Table’s 7-inch, handheld fine mesh sieve ($23) for that.)
Salad spinner: If you want to make great salads, you need a salad spinner. Why? If you toss damp greens in salad dressing, the dressing won’t stick. Water and oil don’t mix! I like my OXO salad spinner ($25). I have the small size, which is easy to store and dries enough greens for one large individual-sized salad or a couple of side salads. If you’re feeding a family, you’ll probably want the larger size.
Mixing bowls: Crate and Barrel’s glass nesting bowls ($30) are awesome and I use them daily. They’re great for prepping fruit and vegetables prior to cooking, for baking, for serving, for everything. The nice thing about nesting bowls is that they only take up as much space as the largest bowl.
Vegetable peeler (necessary!): I generally prefer Y-shaped peelers because I can hold the peeler at an angle and get the blade closer to the cutting board. I love Kuhn Rikon’s cheap peelers but got tired of replacing them every six months or so (they rust). I recently purchased Williams-Sonoma’s stainless steel peeler ($10) and it’s been working great.
Julienne peeler (unnecessary, but so fun!): These peelers have serrated blades that slice vegetables into skinny noodles instead of wide strips. I use my stainless steel Kuhn Rikon julienne peeler ($20) to make carrot, zucchini and cucumber noodles.
Citrus juicer: I juice a lot of limes and lemons so this guy ($22) is super handy. Unlike my previous metal juicer, there is no paint to chip off into my food (gross!). The sturdy plastic design magically squeezes out every last drop of lemon and lime juice.
Garlic press: A necessity in my book. I love garlic, but I hate mincing garlic by hand, so garlic presses make my life easier. I have two of them. Oxo’s Good Grips Garlic Press ($16) is reasonably priced and works great. I recently got excited about Kuhn Rikon’s Epicurean Garlic Press ($36) because you don’t have to peel the clove of garlic beforehand. Despite the thousands of great reviews, I’m not sure it’s worth the money. Every time I put a big clove of garlic in the press, some of it gets shoved out the sides in chunks. Unless you absolutely hate peeling garlic, I’d go with the Oxo.
Cherry pitter: Unnecessary, but super handy if you buy cherries every summer. Pitting cherries without a pitter is a messy, time consuming process. Oxo’s cherry pitter ($13) makes it easy. I bought it based on all of the great reviews and I can’t imagine that any other cherry pitter would work better than this one.
Microplane grater: A lot of recipes call for a Microplane grater ($15). I use it to zest citrus and grate Parmesan and chocolate very finely. Just be careful because it’s easy to scratch your knuckles or lose a fingernail on the blade.
Muddler: I use my muddler to mash up summer fruit and herbs in my cocktail shaker. I just used it to make my cucumber gimlet. I have this Metrokane muddler ($10). It works great, although the thin handle can be difficult to grip at times.
Mandoline: I recommend this mandoline ($23) with caution. I use it to make super thin slices of radish, onion, cabbage, etc. Beware that the sharp blade shreds and slices anything it comes into contact with, whether that’s an onion or your fingers. It comes with a finger guard that is a nuisance to use. I’ve bought protective kitchen gloves to protect my gingers but they tore when they brushed up against the blade, so I can’t recommend them. The nice thing about mandolines is that they fold up flat and allow you to quickly slice produce thinner than you ever could with a knife or food processor. Just be careful, please!
Ice cream maker: Unnecessary, but awesome. I love my 2-quart Cuisinart ice cream maker ($88). I use it to make ice cream, frozen yogurt and sorbet. The machine works as well today as it did when I bought it three years ago. The only downside is that the bowl must be frozen at least 24 hours in advance. I keep my bowl in the freezer all the time, but I couldn’t always do that when I had a smaller refrigerator. On the other hand, I also have a large, heavy and outrageously expensive Breville ice cream maker that I got for free last year. It has its own compressor, so you can flip on the machine and make ice cream any time, but the Cuisinart makes better ice cream.
Ok, that about sums it up! What am I missing? Which tools are indispensable in your kitchen?