Never before has our cornucopia overflowed with vegetables and grains in such a profusion of colors, textures, and varieties. Thanks to improved methods of transportation and storage, home cooks today have a glorious abundance to choose from at the market, regardless of season. Our recipes celebrate this magnificent bounty.
We will show you everything you need to know to prepare vegetables, grains, and legumes. The techniques are simple, but fundamental: how to trim and shape any vegetable to preserve its flavor, cook it evenly, and enhance its appearance; and how to turn raw grains and beans into savory dishes. You will use these skills over and over again in all your cooking. Nothing is more elementary than an understanding of the differences between cubing, dicing, and chopping, for example, or how to cut foods into julienne strips or on the bias. Each technique is clearly demonstrated and described, so you can prepare any recipe with confidence.
A large 6- or 8-in (15- or 20-cm) chopping knife and a small 3- to 4-in (7.5- to 10-cm) paring knife are essential tools for vegetable preparation. A chef’s knife with a wide, slightly curving blade is a kitchen workhorse: Use it for chopping, slicing, and mincing, and to transfer cut pieces from work surface to cooking pot (its broad side serves as a scoop). A paring knife is like an extension of your hand -- just the right size for peeling, removing bruised areas, or slicing small shapes. Although a substantial investment, quality knives will last a lifetime with good care. A good knife not only eases preparation, but is a form of insurance against kitchen accidents because it is easily sharpened and holds an edge longer. Sharp-bladed implements do their job with little effort; a dull blade can slip and cut you rather than the food. To prolong the life of any knife, always cut on a resilient surface like wood or plastic; hard surfaces dull the edge. A vegetable peeler is another indispensable tool. Buy one that will hold its edge (stainless steel is best) and feels comfortable in the hand.
Use a vegetable peeler for thin-skinned vegetables like carrots, parsnips, radishes, asparagus, and potatoes. Trim away the leafy tops and root ends, if any. Scrub the vegetables well, then peel off the skin with long, steady strokes.
Use a sharp paring knife for thick-skinned vegetables like swedes and turnips. Slice off the stem end, then cut off skin in spirals (some flesh will be attached).
Halve an onion from root to stem, then peel. Place one half, cut-side down, on a work surface. Make a series of horizontal cuts parallel to the surface, almost to the root end. Then make vertical cuts from top to bottom. Finally, slice across, as shown, to create pieces.
To prevent the vegetable -- in this case, celery -- from slipping as you cut it, anchor it firmly to the work surface with your fingers. With a sharp knife, slice across with a swift, clean cut. Move your fingers back for the next cut or push the vegetable forward to keep the slices even. When slicing rounded vegetables such as carrots or potatoes, halve them horizontally first so that one side is flat.