Pots, pans, (big) stainless bowls, large roasting trays, sturdy cutting boards, and sharp knives. These should be the givens in any cook-worthy kitchen. But what about the extras that just make things easier? I’m not want to endorse vapid consumerism, and I wouldn’t be suggesting these tools if I wasn’t convinced of their ability to make eating vegetables quicker, and easier. If they warrant cabinet space in my tiny kitchen, they should in yours, too!
It’s about to be salad season, and a salad spinner is worth the cabinet space. This is the one I use. Having clean and very dry greens is vital to getting the most of your greens. Well-dried greens will not only last longer in the fridge, but they’ll also more easily accept oil-based dressings which will slip off of wet leaves. Even though it takes up a lot of fridge space, I’ll often store washed and dried greens directly in the spinner, in the fridge. (Have you ever seen the giant salad spinner we use at the farm to dry your leaves?)
My friend who is a butcher first turned me onto the idea of a vegetable cleaver. Before getting a cleaver, most of my vegetable prep happened with either a big chefs knife or tiny paring knife. But since getting a cleaver - one smaller than what you might use with meat - it’s my go-to vegetable knife and a kitchen without a vegetable cleaver feels foreign. I’ve been coveting this one from Made-In (an Austin-based company), though there are plenty of great options, varying in price range, out there. Like a good pillow, invest in your knives.
In college, my friend Anne gifted me a mandoline. At the time, it felt like a very random and extravagant gift… but Anne knew what was up. Using a mando, salads of thinly sliced roots come together in a jiff. It’s great if you’re making pickles or escabeche, and I won’t make coleslaw without it. Like the salad spinner, a good mandoline is worth the space. We’re technically a two-mandoline household these days - one that has an arm brace and various blade settings (that’s the one Anne gave me), and one that is simpler, paddle shape. They’re both great. Please watch your fingers.
Julienne Peeler or Zoodler
If you don’t have either of these tools, I’d recommend starting with at least one. I’m not sure that you really need both, but you definitely need one. A tool which quickly transforms veggies to thin stringy things is useful beyond just a noodle-replacement. You can use thinly-sliced or noodled vegetables as salad or stir fry components. I like this Japanese peeler that comes in a thick or thin-juline size. And as for a zoodle-maker, I have two at my house: a big crank-version, and a small hand-held version. I used the big version once when it was gifted to me, and prefer the small-hand held version ten fold. Takes up minimal space, and feels like an easy option to deal with a pile of zucchini.
I do a lot of freezing at my house. Greens on their way out with no plan in sight? I quickly saute, then freeze them. Bumper harvest of parsley from the garden? Frozen chimichurri for the year. Sauces like ragu or curries, soups, leftover braised meat… it all gets frozen, more often than not, in Souper Cubes. (Here’s my hands demonstrating how I often use the 1 cup trays during tomato season.)
It’s immersion blender season, baby. I use an immersion blender in place of a food processor and regular blender, both. Why? Because it’s easy to clean and I actually don’t dread the act of pulling it out and cleaning it. (Literally it just takes a quick rinse.) I make hummus, spreads, pestos, and blended soups all with my immersion blender. In the wintertime, a quick pureed soup is only a moment away. I have my mother in law to thank for my immersion blender. It was a Christmas gift years ago, and still works like new.
Becky single handedly turned me onto the power of a classic, inexpensive, box grater. When we were buying supplies for our Club Home Made cooking classes, she insisted we buy a class set of box graters… a tool I had previously only used for big blocks of sharp cheddar. But a simple box grater is an excellent tool to have around if you’re working through a lot of vegetables. Grated radish can become a quick pickly condiment. Grated onions are excellent mixed in a salad, or dissolved in a sauce. Grate carrots for a classic French or Indian salad. Grated raw beets, quickly tossed in a bit of vinegar, make for an excellent salad topping. Grate a tomato, strain, and spread on toast for a Spanish pan con tomate. You get the idea.
For having such a limited scope of use - zest, garlic, ginger, and the occasional nutmeg - my microplane gets a lot of use. If you’re a CSA Member, a fridge often stocks with incredible local produce, you know that you don’t need to do much to make the veggies sing. Garlic, lemon, salt, and olive oil are often all that’s needed to transform a vegetable from a raw crop to a delicious dish… and a microplane can help you with the garlic and zest bi. Also, just a side note, if you’re often buying citrus (limes and lemons), but not using the zest… you’re missing out! Even if you don’t have an immediate use for the zest, you can let it dry out on a plate, and then store in a jar for future use. Dried zest is great sprinkled on veggies, over a salad, mixed in a batter, or even steeped in a tea.