Introduction

Welcome to How to Chop a Carrot!

I was lucky enough to grow up with a mum who, while not a great chef, is a very good cook. She knows how to put together a good meal quickly, and she taught me to cook too.

Cooking is really hard to learn without a teacher! If you look at even a ‘simple’ recipe, each step in the method contains three different things to do, half the ingredients are pre-prepared, and they all seem to think you know what terms like ‘finely diced’ mean. This blog is different.

Each month I want to introduce to you a handful of new cooking techniques, as simple as “How to Chop a Carrot”, and then bring them all together in a yummy dish at the end. I’m going to share with you some of my favourite dishes that I grew up with, and some of my newest inventions. Hopefully there’ll be something for everyone.

Before we get cooking though, I’ve taken the first four posts to cover some kitchen essentials – basic kitchen equipment (here) and a little health and safety (knife, heat, and food safety). Please take the time to read them – it’s not nearly as exciting as yummy food, but it is important.

I’m really looking forward to continuing this kitchen adventure with you all; I hope you love it as much as I do!

(Updated 5/1/2019)

How to Chop Cauliflower – into (mini) florets

If you haven’t already, please make sure you’re familiar with basic knife safety before starting this tutorial. (link)

Cauliflower is very similar in structure to (if a little denser than) broccoli, so the cutting method is almost the same. (You can find my broccoli chopping tutorial here.) And just like broccoli, cauliflower can trap a lot of water so try to avoid washing it if you can.

Hand drawing of a head of cauliflower with outer leaves attached

Cauliflower usually comes with some green outer leaves attached. You can eat these just like you can cabbage, but to get to the cauliflower itself you’ll need to remove them. You might be able to pull them off by hand, but the bigger ones tend to have rather strong stalks. To remove these, turn the cauliflower upside down and slice through the thick white stem at the base.

Hand drawing of a cauliflower leaf with cutting guideline (grey dotted line)

 

You might also sometimes find small brown spots on your cauliflower. They’re usually only in very small patches on the surface, so you can just chop off that little bit of cauliflower.

Just like with broccoli, we start by chopping cauliflower into florets. Remember, work from the outside in, hold the cauliflower by the stalk, and chop downwards.

Hand drawing of a head of cauliflower with cutting guideline (grey dotted line)

To turn each floret into mini florets, it’s simply a matter of repeating this process on a smaller scale. Aim for mini florets about 1-2cm (½-1 inch) in size. It’s even easier to do this with the top of the cauliflower – it basically comes off in mini florets anyway!

Hand drawing of a cauliflower floret with cutting guidelines (grey dotted line)

You can also use the stalk of the cauliflower – just chop it into cubes about 1cm (¾ inch) square.

Hand drawing of a cauliflower floret with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Cauliflower has a mild, almost creamy, flavour, but it can also absorb a lot of flavour from herbs and spices. This makes it perfect for one-pot dishes with a rich sauce. It takes about 15 minutes to boil.

Cauliflower is also great roasted! If you chop it into full-size florets, you can add it to oven-cooked dishes like pot roast (link) or casserole (link). Just add it halfway through with the other soft vegetables like parsnip (link) and sweet potato (link).

How to Chop a Carrot – diced carrot

If you haven’t already, please make sure you’re familiar with basic knife safety before starting this tutorial. (link)

Oh look, it’s carrots again! This tutorial is for diced carrot, which is perfect when you want all the flavours in the dish to mix together.

Just like before, start by making sure your carrots are clean and chopping out any discolouration or blemishes.

Hand drawing of a carrot showing a close up of a small blemish and cutting guidelines

Next, cut off the top and bottom (or ‘top and tail’) of your carrots.

Hand drawing of a carrot showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

The next step is to chop each carrot into chunks that are easier to handle, and are a roughly consistent width along their length. You can then deal with each chunk in turn.

 

Hand drawing of a chunk of carrot showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

 

 

 

 

Start by chopping each chunk into long slices about 1cm (half an inch) wide. Depending on the size of the carrot, this could be thirds, halves or quarters.

 

 

 

Continue to cut the chunks into sticks, about 1cm (½ inch) wide. (A little larger than in last month’s tutorial for carrot sticks (link).) If you can, try and avoid breaking them apart for now.

Hand drawing of thick slices of carrot showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Finally, cut in the other direction, to make little cubes of carrot about 1cm (½ inch) square.

Hand drawing of thick slices of carrot showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

If you’re really looking to save time, you could even try chopping more than one layer of sticks at once! I’d recommend starting with just one and working your way up though.

 

Diced carrot cooks a little faster than slices or sticks, but still takes about 15 minutes to boil, especially if you’re cooking it in a sauce.

How to Chop an Onion – 2 Ways to Dice an Onion

If you haven’t already, please make sure you’re familiar with basic knife safety before starting this tutorial. (link) Please remember to give onions special consideration because of their shape, texture, and tendency to make your eyes water!

We’ve been gradually reducing the size of our onions – going from onion chunks (link), to onion slices (link), and now diced onion! Dicing onions is a great way to get a lot of flavour out of them in a short cooking time.

This tutorial contains two different methods to dice an onion. The first method is simpler, but it does take a little time. The second is so fast your eyes barely have time to water, but it is a more advanced technique.

Method 1

Start by chopping your onion into slices. Just follow the tutorial from last month (link), although you can skip cutting the onion into quarters and just slice the halves.

Once you have your slices, lay them down to dice. I like to cut a sort of lazy grid pattern, but you could also cut it into triangles (sort of like a mini pizza; see picture below).

Hand drawing of two onion slices with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

To save time, you can cut through multiple slices at once. I would recommend you start with just one and work your way up slowly to find how many slices you’re comfortable chopping at once. Make sure if you’re stacking slices that you have the largest one on the bottom and the smallest on the top – it’s important that your stack doesn’t fall over during cutting.

 

Method 2

I actually learned this second technique from the anime sweetness & lightning. It’s a little tricky, because it involves breaking my second rule of knife safety (see my earlier post here). But it’s so much faster that I’ve diced onions this way ever since.

To start, remove the skin and top of the onion, but leave the root end on. (This will help the onion stay together as you chop it.) Cut the onion in half.

Hand drawing of half a red onion, peeled but with the root end still attached

Next, cut into the onion towards the root end. You don’t need to cut all the way through, but you’ll need to use your non-knife hand to steady the onion.

Hand drawing of half a red onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Now cut downwards. You don’t need to cut right to the edges, because of the layers in the onion. I usually find just three cuts is plenty.

Hand drawing of half a red onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Finally, cut as if you were slicing the onion. Perfectly diced pieces of onion will simply fall off the end!

Hand drawing of half a red onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

As you get towards the end of the onion, you may find that it starts to fall apart a bit. Hold it together if you can, but you can always deal with those parts that do fall off separately.

This technique definitely takes a bit of getting used to, but if you can master it it’s so worth it!

 

Diced onions can be used to add flavour to a huge variety of dishes, including stews, soups, and curries. They’re especially great in dishes where you want a little bit of everything in every spoonful.

You can fry diced onions in about 15-25 minutes, although it rather depends on how soft you like your onions! Onions can be eaten raw, or very well-done, so it’s really a matter of taste.

Bonus Post – How to Break The Second Rule of Knife Safety… Safely?!

You may have noticed that, at the start of every “How to Chop” tutorial, I keep plugging my post on knife safety. In fact, if you haven’t read it yet, here it is again (link).

The reason basically boils down to, I would hate for anyone to get hurt. And, particularly relevant to this blog, I would hate for anyone to be put off learning to cook because of it. But I have a slight confession to make: I break my own rules of knife safety.

Are you shocked? Anyway, the rule that I break on a regular basis is rule #2 – Always Cut Away from Yourself.

 

Now if you are going to break rule #2 of knife safety, it’s extra important that you have a good, sharp knife (rule #1). (I would also recommend you use a smooth, rather than a serrated, blade.) I know it seems counterintuitive, and I don’t mean razor-sharp, but you need to be able to push your knife through whatever you’re chopping with gentle pressure.

Which brings me to my second point – don’t slice. The type of motion you use with a knife will make a big difference to how safe it is. You are unlikely to cut yourself using just gentle pressure, but if you use a back-and-forth, sawing motion you probably will.

 

The safest way to cut towards yourself is actually to use your knife and thumb like a pair of scissors. This is a great way to peel or cut the blemishes out of vegetables. (My mum taught me this technique after I found out the hard way that I’m no good with a kitchen peeler…)

To make a ‘scissor grip’, hold the handle of the knife in the palm of your hand. Support the back of the blade with your forefinger for control, and use your other three fingers to make sure you have a solid grip. You can then use your knife and thumb like a really flexible pair of scissors! Why not try out the grip and pincer motion a few times to see how it feels, and if you want to try it on a vegetable?

 

If you are just getting to grips with basic knife skills, you may want to save this one for later. (I certainly didn’t start out breaking any rules – I was already quite confident with a kitchen knife before I tried this one!) But if you can master this technique, it can help you cook faster, and quite possibly freak out your friends in the process…

 

How to Make Stir-Fry (or should that be Steam-Fry?)

We love stir-fry in our house, in fact it’s kind of the default meal option! Now a proper stir-fry is cooked hot and fast, and preserves a lot of the vitamins and minerals in your food. This dish that we call stir-fry is really more of a steam-fry – it starts with a little frying to really get the flavours going, then gently steams the vegetables in their own moisture.

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a wok or deep saucepan with lid

and the ingredients (for four people):

  • a little oil
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2-3 carrots
  • 1 bell pepper
  • beansprouts
  • leafy green vegetable such as baby spinach
  • frozen prawns or unsalted cashew nuts

 

Start by placing your pan on a gentle heat. Add a little oil (less than a teaspoon is fine), and slice your onion. (You can find more detailed instructions here: onions)

Add your onion to the pan, along with any spices you want to use. This recipe gets plenty of flavour from all the lovely veggies, but a little ginger or Chinese five spice is also nice.

Photograph of a wok with a layer of sliced onions, lightly sprinkled with powdered ginger

While your onion is gently frying, cut your carrots into sticks, then add them to the pan. (More detailed cutting instructions here)

Photograph of a wok with a layer of carrot sticks on top of sliced onions

Once you’ve added your carrots, put the lid on so the vegetables can steam. The dish will take about 20 minutes from this point.

Cut your bell pepper into strips (chopping tutorial here), then add them to the pan.

Photograph of a wok with a layer of red pepper strips on top of carrots & onions

While your other vegetables are cooking, check your beansprouts and leafy greens over for any that don’t look tasty.

Five minutes before serving, add your prawns (if you’re using them) and beansprouts to the pan.

Photograph of a wok with a layer of prawns on top of red pepper, carrots & onions

Photograph of a wok with a layer of beansprouts on top of prawns, red pepper, carrots & onions

Finally, add your leafy greens. (You could use frozen peas instead, but they’re harder to pick up with chopsticks!)

Photograph of a wok with a layer of pak choi on top of beansprouts, prawns, red pepper, carrots & onions

The stir-fry is cooked when the greens wilt down ever so slightly, and turn a brighter shade of green – this usually takes less than 5 minutes.

Photograph of a wok with a layer of pak choi on top of beansprouts, prawns, red pepper, carrots & onions

Stir everything together before serving. If you’re using cashew nuts instead of prawns, add them now.

Photograph of white bowl filled with stir-fried vegetables and cashew nuts on egg noodles

This dish looks like a rainbow on a plate! I like it with rice or noodles, but it’s also delicious just as is. Serve with soy sauce; you can add some during cooking but I think it’s nice to let everyone season to their own tastes.

If you want a sweeter dish, try adding a tin of pineapple along with the beansprouts. And if you fancy a little chilli kick, some sweet chilli sauce goes beautifully!

If you make stir-fry with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!

How to Chop a Bell Pepper – into strips

If you haven’t already, please make sure you’re familiar with basic knife safety before starting this tutorial. (link)

Hand drawing of a red bell pepper

 

 

Bell peppers are actually a fruit, but they’re great in savoury dishes. Like carrots, you can eat them both raw and cooked, so you can use them in dishes from salads to stir-fries.

 

You can wash bell peppers if you want, but they have a natural waxy coating that helps to protect them while they’re growing.

 

 

The easiest way to start chopping a bell pepper is by cutting it in half. Bell peppers have smooth, shiny skin, so to prevent your knife from slipping place it in one of the grooves of the pepper. Then cut straight down. (You may also see a small black stick at the base of the pepper – this is just part of the old flower; you can pull it off with your fingers.)

Hand drawing of a red pepper showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Cut each half in half again, so you can get to the pith – the white parts of the flesh. The pith is edible, but it has a bitter taste so most people prefer to remove it. The pith is found mostly at the top and joins of the pepper, and is easiest to cut out where it joins to the brightly coloured flesh.

Hand drawing of a red pepper showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Now you’re ready to cut your pepper into strips. Start by cutting each quarter in half from side to side. (You can skip this step if you want, but I find that it’s easier to get even-sized strips when you deal with the top and bottom halves separately.) Then take each of these chunks and cut off strips about 1cm (½ inch) wide.

Hand drawing of a quartered red pepper showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)Hand drawing of a chunk of red pepper showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can eat bell peppers raw, or lightly fried. (If you cook them for longer than about 15 minutes they tend to get a bit soggy and fall to pieces.) Bell peppers also work well in rich, tomatoey sauces where they add a hint of sweetness!

Bell peppers don’t last long once they’ve been cut, so it’s best to use them within a day or two. If parts of the pepper are squishy, it often means it’s already started to break down. Cut out these squishy bits and discard them – I find it easiest to do this right at the end.

How to Chop a Carrot – into sticks

If you haven’t already, please make sure you’re familiar with basic knife safety before starting this tutorial. (link)

We’ve already done a few How to Chop a Carrot tutorials, but carrots really do feature in almost every meal I cook, so bear with me! They’re also a great vegetable to practice on, because they’re inexpensive and can be eaten both raw and cooked. In today’s tutorial we’ll be making carrot sticks.

The first few steps are the same as we’ve learned so far. Wash your carrot with clean water (and a scrubbing brush if you want), but try and leave the skin on to preserve the mineral content.

Check your carrots over for any discolouration or blemishes that you want to cut out. Just like before, cut them out using a small ‘V’ shape.

Hand drawing of a carrot showing a close up of a small blemish and cutting guidelines

Chop off the top and bottom (or top and tail) of your carrots.

Hand drawing of a carrot showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Next, cut the carrot into chunks the same length as the sticks you want to end up with. I usually aim for about 4-5cm or so (a little under 2 inches).

Hand drawing of chunks of carrot

 

 

 

 

With each chunk, start by chopping it in half. This gives you a flat surface to rest the carrot on, which makes the rest of the chopping safer. There are a couple of different ways to go from here.

 

 

 

 

The way I always used to make carrot sticks is to just keep halving until you end up with sticks that are about half a centimetre (¼ inch) at the fat end.

Hand drawing of three sticks of carrot, each one half the width of the last

Recently I’ve found, however, that it’s more efficient to cut carrot sticks using a kind of grid pattern. Slice each chunk into four lengthwise, then cut each thick slice into sticks. You can even stack your slices to make chopping faster!Hand drawing of thick slices of carrot showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Hand drawing of a carrot showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not only are sticks great finger food, you can also boil them like slices (link). However, my favourite way to cook carrot sticks is in a stir-fry, which is the recipe we’re working towards this month!