Oh god, not another 1.5 pounds of green beans to dice.
September 10, 2011 3:34 PM   Subscribe

I love to cook. I hate to chop vegetables. (Not so much that I'm willing to buy pre-chopped vegetables, though.) Press-ganging my long-suffering roommate into chopping them for me not a long-term effective strategy. Looking for suggestions of tools, brain readjustments, or ways to develop leet knife skillz (tm) to make cutting up veggies faster, less boring, or ideally both!
posted by dorque to Food & Drink (45 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Get a really fabulous knife! A super sharp awesome knife will make cutting vegetables a joy. I strongly recommend Global.

I enjoy find my cuisinart mini-prep very handy. Even better is the chopping attachment on the cuisinart hand blender because it's easier to clean.
posted by rainydayfilms at 3:37 PM on September 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

We were given a turning slicer as a gift. It is awesome. I may think this particularly because I prefer my vegetables to be sliced very, very thin... But it's also enormously fun. There's just something silly and hilarious about it.
posted by meese at 3:38 PM on September 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

-I dump my vegetables in a colander and, as I wash them off, place then in my dish drainer since generally I have too many veggies for just a colander

-I save the tops/guts/peels/etc of vegetables in a ziploc in the freezer for stock, so I'm pretty lazy about lopping the tops/bottoms off peppers and such so I just have the flat easy to cut part left; it's not like I'm wasting anything, it'll all end up as food eventually

-I have some sort of off-brand Slap Chop thing that I use only when I'm dicing very very fine; I'll do a rough chop by hand and then go to town

-Food processor with a slicer attachment? Mandolin?
posted by Juliet Banana at 3:41 PM on September 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I guess, learn how to actually sharpen knives (as in: grind and hone. Using a set of waterstones), and go from there. It is ab-so-lutley amazing how much easier all things chopping become when your hardware is up to the job.
posted by Namlit at 3:41 PM on September 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Make sure you're using a large, sharp chef's knife. For some reason, my mom always did all of her food prep with a paring knife--I grew up knowing no other way. IT'S SO MUCH EASIER WITH A REAL KNIFE OMG.

If you want to thinly slice things, use a mandoline.

Green beans? Those are easy. After you wash them off, put a handful on your cutting board. Slide the blade of the knife into them, so they all line up. Chop the ends off. Side the blade of the knife into the other side to line them up the other way, then chop the ends off that side. Then run a slices through the middle of the group (or a few slices if you're dicing) and you're good to go. Takes about a minute to get through 1.5 lbs.
posted by phunniemee at 3:42 PM on September 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yeah and here. SO says: "Large cutting board." Quiet so.
posted by Namlit at 3:43 PM on September 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

One option is to buy a high quality food processor and a mandoline. Many veggies can be chopped much faster (in exchange for some extra cleanup).

The major skill for chopping vegetables easily is to basically reduce whatever you are chopping to a cube or rectangular solid, and then chop that up. If you have a reasonably sized (8 inch) reasonable quality (high price optional) chef's knife or santoku, it will be a lot easier and more fun. But I like chopping, and always have.
posted by contrarian at 3:43 PM on September 10, 2011

A mouli-julienne or a mandoline will work for julienne cuts, but a good, sharp knife and a wee bit of directed practice towards the right cuts for a dice or slice will go a very long way.
posted by holgate at 3:44 PM on September 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is sort of stupid, but in addition to pre-chopping some veggies that I use often which freeze well [onions, peppers, celery, carrots] I also have a lot of cute little bowls that I like. When I am preparing food that involves interminable chopping, I enjoy putting the chopped vegetables into little individual bowls when I'm done with them. it makes me feel like a lady on a fancy cooking teevee show and amuses me in my own dumb little way. So, in addition to all the other fine suggestions, think about some little bowls.
posted by jessamyn at 3:48 PM on September 10, 2011 [29 favorites]

Seconding an appropriately sized (large) very sharp knife that you love and is a pleasure to use (ALL cooking will be made more pleasurable if your equipment is lovely and correct), good cutting board, and also food processor and mandoline. Be sure when you cut with a knife that your stance is correct and comfortable. Wear comfy shoes, have everything at the right height.

Also any place that offers cooking classes should have a basic knife skills class, and/or you can hire a pro (private chefs frequently offer lessons, as do cooking instructors) for one-on-one help. I can try to help you find someone if you memail me your location.

You can learn a lot from youtube/books/etc, but having a life human helping you can be very valuable.
posted by pupstocks at 3:49 PM on September 10, 2011

sigh. a LIVE human!
posted by pupstocks at 3:50 PM on September 10, 2011

Good knives. Yeah. In my house we have other knives, but apart from special-purpose knives (bread knife, tomato knife), I think you really only need two knives for 99% of all knifery: a lightweight paring knife with a very thin, flexible blade, and a really sharp 8" chef's knife. The chef's knife in my house that gets the most use is a relatively cheap carbon-steel one that I got in a Japanese grocery store for the equivalent of about $30. I'm not sure if it would qualify as a santoku, but it does have more of a bullnose shape than most chef's knives. Carbon steel seems to hold an edge better than stainless, but knives made of it are not commonly seen in the USA, perhaps because it requires more care.

We've got a couple of 10" knives, but they seldom get used.

I'm not a big fan of cooking shows, but sometimes you can pick up good knife-handling technique from watching one. And ISTR a whole website about it that got featured here on metafilter years ago. Aha. Here it is, although the author has gone and put most of it into a book, apparently
posted by adamrice at 4:05 PM on September 10, 2011

We have some very nice Henckels knives that I have aloways loved, but when I added a Santoku blade to the set my "desire to chop things" went up five fold. Also, practicing knife skills can be very helpful; it makes the job go faster and once you're in the zone it can be kind of Zen-like.
posted by blurker at 4:08 PM on September 10, 2011

If it were socially acceptable to publicly cuddle with my mandoline and 14" wusthof I would do so regularly.
posted by elizardbits at 4:22 PM on September 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've found kitchen shears to be way more fun than chopping. You can use them for greens, celery, green onions, fresh herbs, some cooked/raw meats, etc etc, thus reducing/eliminating(!) the amount of chopping required for your meal prep.
posted by unknowncommand at 4:24 PM on September 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

What helped me was distracting myself from the boringness. Our desktop computer is in the kitchen and I stream television shows while I cook.
posted by something something at 4:31 PM on September 10, 2011

Looks like you've got equipment suggestions covered (and I'm seconding adamrice on brushing up on your knife handling skills - makes it more fun!).

I use my prep time for meditation. (Staying mindful is somehow easier when I'm wielding a sharp piece of metal near my fingertips!)
posted by catlet at 4:35 PM on September 10, 2011

This is a very fast and simple way to simulate actual knife skills:

Line up a small handful of whatever you're chopping and hold it steady with one hand. Hold the tip of a long sharp knife on the cutting board past the stack, in such a way that rocking the blade down onto the stack will cut off the tip of the stack. Lift the blade, leaving the tip on the board; nudge the stack a bit under the blade, rock the blade down again, continue until chopped. The tip of the blade never moves more than a bit forward and back, it's just the fulcrum on which the rest of the blade turns.

To dice, just do this twice, turning the board ninety degrees once you're through the stack.

Watch the fingers on your non-knife hand. Try to hold the stack using your fingertips with the nails up, so when you inevitably try to chop off the tips of your fingers the nails will save you.
posted by ook at 4:45 PM on September 10, 2011

Just chiming in to mention you don't need to get a food processor to get a mandolin. you can get a good handheld and/or stand one for much cheaper. Hell, you can get a plantain slicer for like 10 bucks and that'll do a lot of the job, too. But yeah, get a big-ass cutting board which gives you plenty of room to work, sharpen the hell out of your knife and learn the basic knife skills if you don't already know them.

Also, you don't need to slice sideways into onions when you're dicing them since they're already layered. Saves a step on one of the most common vegetables you prep. (Maybe you already know this, but I was led astray by tv chefs for years.)

The annoying-but-true thing is, a lot of it's just practice. The reason most chefs are so incredibly quick with prep work is that they've spent thousands of hours prepping food for tens of thousands of people. If you've learned the proper techniques, then speed is mostly a matter of practice.
posted by Diablevert at 4:46 PM on September 10, 2011

WHAT about chopping vegetables don't you like? Is it the repetitive nature of it? Is it that you don't know how to properly chop vegetables? Is it your hardware? Let us know because it would help with answers.

As for a good knife, forschner makes a good, cheap knife that is perfectly suitable for what you will be doing.
posted by TheBones at 5:10 PM on September 10, 2011

For the 'less boring' bit, I like to listen to an audiobook or my awesome music while I chop veggies. Or likejessamyn said, pretend that I am a world famous chef (with all my favorite celebrities as guest stars naturally)

And if you can stand to do it, just chop up TONS of veg in one go and freeze them. Then you won't have to do them a bit at a time as you go. Like, green onions and corn are great in water bottles, and you can just shake a little bit out. (which is a tip I got from Lunch in a Box, sadly seems to be abandoned, but full of great tips)

Oh, and like Ook and Diablevert mentioned, technique goes a long way. The America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated people have some great videos on how to dice up things quickly. Thanks to them I can chop up an onion pretty quickly, and wince whenever I watch my dad awkwardly hack at it and declare it 'so hard.'
posted by Caravantea at 5:11 PM on September 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get good knives, yes. Get a mandolin, yes. But most of all, take a knife skills class, and get good at the act of chopping.
posted by anildash at 5:19 PM on September 10, 2011

I've had a Salad Shooter since its "as seen on tv" days, and it's awesome. It's easy to use and easy to clean. I mostly use it for grating stuff, but it chops and slices too.

Good knives are awesome, but for the truly lazy, nothing beats a Salad Shooter.
posted by lesli212 at 5:22 PM on September 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

When I have to prep a lot of stuff, I set it all up in bowls and take the cutting board and knife to my desk. That way I can watch something on Hulu while I'm prepping.

I guess this sounds less weird if you realize that I live in a 400 square foot cabin, and my stove is literally within arm's reach of the desk. But now that I think about it, I bet this is why so many people have televisions in their kitchens.
posted by ErikaB at 5:45 PM on September 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

High density polypropylene cutting boards won't dull your knives, are dishwasher safe, and are available in a variety of colors (if you like), so you can keep straight which you've used with various foods (handy for maintaining food safety when cooking with other people). And polypropylene boards are available in sizes, large and small, to suit every job and counter top layout. But, they're not meant for use with cleavers; if you're chopping meat/poultry/seafood with a cleaver (to break bones at joints, do initial deboning in poulty, seperate ribs) you should have a wooden end grain board, too, like a bamboo board.

And although the meal assembly kitchen concept of a few years ago seems to be falling on hard times, if you can still find one convenient to your home, they can be a terrific, cost effective way to cook, with someone else doing all the marketing, washing, chopping and clean up. And if you explore all your local grocery stores, you might find some that are putting out in-store vegetable trays/packs, with chopped onions, carrot sticks, chopped celery, sliced fresh mushrooms, chopped green peppers, and other non-browning vegetable staples, for very little money over non-prepared versions of the same vegetables. But, for foods like potatoes, turnips, yams, and most fruits, where quality quickly degrades by oxidation once cut, you still have to do that at home, or find canned or frozen prepared equivalents which are acceptable for you - and if you look, with an open mind, you might find more of those, than you think are out there. Canned/frozen equivalents preserve nearly all the flavor and nutritional value of fresh foods, as they are processed within hours of harvest, and the modern versions of the canning and flash freezing processes are a lot less destructive to food quality than what they used to be.
posted by paulsc at 5:56 PM on September 10, 2011

I took a "knife skills" class which was, I'm fairly sure, held at Macy's. It was maybe two or three hours long and might've cost $75 for two, but was well worth it. I watch tons of cooking shows and at the time was working with lots of prep cooks for my non-cooking job in a studio, so I had the idea down, but I wasn't entirely sure how to actually do it correctly.

As someone said above, yes, you can hold what you're cutting in one hand and basically just roll the knife up and down using the front third of the blade or so as your fulcrum. When holding what you're cutting, you curl your fingertips under and use your knuckles to guide the blade as you sort of creep what you're cutting along under the blade with your fingertips. The knife mostly goes up and down, your "holding hand" is moving everything. You don't have to worry about being cut because if you're doing it correctly your fingers never even get close to the knife. Since I took the class I can count on one 3.5 fingered hand how many times I've been cut.

The other thing I learned is that there is a commonly accepted way to cut everything, with the goal being speed, efficiency and uniformity. Think about someone preparing mise en place for their entire night....if you have 10 lbs (or whatever) of something to chop every night, you want it done as fast as possible, right? Maybe you can poke around youtube and find some videos about the best way to handle every vegetable.

Honestly, I used to hate preparing veggies, and I'm a vegetarian! Since the knife class, I can whip through anything pretty quickly with just a knife and a cutting board. And honestly, it's fun...when you're not worried about cutting your fingers off and you can really move quickly, it can become almost like a game...can I make a whole salad one minute faster than last night? Etc.
posted by nevercalm at 6:10 PM on September 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I remember reading some blogger who swore by a mezzaluna. I haven't tried it myself, but it does LOOK like fun. Like how Klingons would chop vegetables.
posted by hishtafel at 6:16 PM on September 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would avoid making dinner because I really hated chopping garlic. It seemed like so much work for not very much to show (yes, I realize garlic is a jackpot of flavor). And I really hated the lingering smell on my hands. I bought a garlic twist mincer and it has changed my life. I recommend getting a small spatula also to scoop out garlic from the nooks and crannies.
posted by lannanh at 6:18 PM on September 10, 2011

Get a mandolin. Use the hand guard.
posted by gnutron at 6:51 PM on September 10, 2011

rainydayfilms: "Get a really fabulous knife! A super sharp awesome knife will make cutting vegetables a joy. I strongly recommend Global."

I came in to say this *exact* same thing. Which is sort of weird. Global knives are so lovely that I don't mind cooking if I get to use one.
posted by theredpen at 6:54 PM on September 10, 2011

Good Eats did a full episode about knives and knife skills. I found it pretty informative, especially his method for dicing onions and mincing garlic (found in part 2.)
posted by contraption at 6:55 PM on September 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

oops, that first link should've gone to part 1
posted by contraption at 7:00 PM on September 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, a good quality knife will make this easier for you. I generally use chef's knives for my chopping. I own a Mundial and a Wustof, and would recommend both heartily. Check out youtube for knife skills videos.
Make sure you keep your knives sharp. A knife sharpening service will do a better job of this than you ever will.
Alternately, you could buy a Benriner slicer. They are fully adjustable, and fairly cheap. They will also julienne for you if you like. The guard is garbage, so keep your hands clear.
posted by Gilbert at 7:06 PM on September 10, 2011

how you cut certain veggies can make a big difference in how long it takes AND the mess involved, "proper leet french knife skills" be damned. for example, when you cut bell peppers, lop off the top AND the bottom, slit it lengthwise, and then it should lie flat making chopping or slicing easier. onions are easier to cut if you halve them north to south pole, lie flat, and slice north to south, not east to west. melon is easier when once you've halved it, scooped the seeds, and cut it into long curving slices you slash it consecutively horizontally which will allow it to lie flat, making it safer and easier to cut the rind from the fruit without getting rind or leaving too much fruit connected to the leftover rind. potatoes have similar approaches that may not be immediately obvious. stuff like that. with that, i hate to say it but...it's just a matter of practice, regularly enough you don't forget what you subtly pick up about doing it efficiently, a sort of muscle memory thing.

and not my tack, but some people almost exclusively use those chopper things, or mezzalunas, or small food processor prep electronics, or mandolines + knife-safe mitts. you could peel things like carrots and zucchini instead for salads, or press garlic and ginger (no it's not the exact same but maybe you don't care, at least not enough to trump your dislike of knife stuff).
posted by ifjuly at 7:20 PM on September 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Two other strategies that don't involve knives:

Stew the veggies whole in a crockpot first. Slice them as you eat them. Large fat carrots are wonderful this way. You can stuff cabbage leaves into the crockpot for cool down and use the residual energy to cook the leaves. Asian style cooking really takes advantage of different cook times for foods in this way.

Buy babies and eat them whole. Baby vegetables. Not babbys, which is totally off the menu.
posted by effluvia at 7:35 PM on September 10, 2011

Don't be embarrassed to use those slap chop things as long as you have other skills to back it up. If my cutting board is otherwise occupied I am definitely gonna slap chop my pine nuts before.I mortar and nestled them .
posted by yesster at 7:41 PM on September 10, 2011

posted by yesster at 7:42 PM on September 10, 2011

I might be married to jessamyn, because I got a holiday present once of the exact bowls they use on America's Test Kitchen. Also, a good radio program makes the chopping go much faster; I save up podcasts just for the weekend chopping. Brain readjustment 2: I pretend like I am teaching someone how to make the dish, including all the knife skills. One day there will be the youtube channel that makes me famous.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:50 PM on September 10, 2011

If you're wondering how to peel the garlic without driving yourself nuts, try this.
posted by utsutsu at 9:03 PM on September 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you get a mandoline, get a cut-resistant glove as well.
posted by zamboni at 9:40 PM on September 10, 2011

I advocate for knives and knife skills too, but I'm so lazy sometimes. You can get a "chopper," a small-volume food processor (sometimes as part of a full-sized food proc.). Those can do the job, and are less to take out, clean, and put away than their full-sized cousins.

Also, slap-chop does the job, but won't win any awards for evenness or whatnot. They are a chore to keep clean, in my experience. YMMV.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:34 PM on September 10, 2011

If you're wondering how to peel the garlic without driving yourself nuts, try this

Peeling ginger with a spoon is even better. I used to avoid using fresh ginger, and would reach for ginger powder more often than not, rather than deal with peeling it with a knife. How is it that no one showed me this spoon thing until I was in my mid-30's?

Nthing the recommendation that you feed your brain with nourishing media while doing your prep work... I use the time to catch up on podcasts. Hell, I have nothing new to say: big cutting board, sharp santoku, lots of prep bowls.
posted by mumkin at 12:10 AM on September 11, 2011 [6 favorites]

Adjust the height and fit of your work area. Adding the height of a thick cutting board on top of your kitchen bench might be forcing you to work with your wrists above your elbows: not good. Or the whole thing could be too far below your elbows that you end up hunched down or with your arms nearly straight/wrists flexed. Being uncomfortable (even subtly so) will suck a lot of the pleasure and efficiency out of the task.

Ergonomic standards for using your keyboard/mouse are widely available and just as relevant for chopping, slicing, and peeling tasks.
posted by janell at 2:28 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing a good chef's knife, a mandoline/turning slicer if you like thin slices/squiggles of veggies, and the Cuisinart mini-prep. For some reason, mincing garlic annoys me more than most tasks, so I if I'm not already getting the baby Cuisinart dirty, I'll use a garlic press (to the amusement of my SO, who finds it a useless gadget.)

I also freeze odds and ends for stock, which eliminates the need to be too careful about waste. And like jessamyn, I find putting ingredients in small bowls immensely satisfying.
posted by desuetude at 8:20 PM on September 11, 2011

I got one of these as a house warming present and I use it and love it.
posted by kookywon at 7:49 AM on September 12, 2011

« Older Hiiiiiii-YA!   |   Me, 3.0 Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.