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 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!

How to Chop an Onion – into slices

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!

The chunks of onion from our previous tutorial (link) are great for slow-cooking, but if you want fried onions then I like slices best.

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

 

 

 

 

Just like before, we want to take off the skin, top and bottom from the onion. You can start in the exact same way – chop off the root and the top of the onion, making sure to keep your fingers out of the way.

(For slices, you might actually want to leave the root end on for now – try it both ways and see which you prefer!)

 

 

Once you have a flat surface at one end of the ball, you can rest it there to cut downwards, slicing your onion in half. Then deal with each half in turn, starting with a cut right down the middle.

Hand drawing of a red onion showing a single cutting guideline right down the middle (grey dotted line)

When you’re chopping onions, it’s a lot easier and quicker to work with if all the layers stay stuck together. So, when you’re slicing, work from the thin end(s) into the middle. And if you need to turn the onion around to get to the other end with your dominant hand, try turning the chopping board instead.

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

 

 

 

Although very thin slices of onion are so impressive (I’ve always loved watching chefs cut off super thin slices at top speed!), slices about half a centimeter (1/4 of an inch) thick are great for everyday cooking.

 

 

 

 

These onion slices take about 15-25 minutes to fry, although it depends how soft you like your onions! Onions can be eaten raw, or very well-done, so it’s really a matter of taste. They’re a great accompaniment to fried meats like sausages or burgers, or (my personal favourite) fish. And they’re a great source of flavour in a stir-fry, which we’re working towards this month!

How to Make Friday Fish Supper

The market near where I live has lovely fresh fish, which makes for a great meal. But the thing I find tricky when cooking fish is timings – getting everything on the table at the same time. This recipe combines the oven-baked fish technique from last week (link) with some good, basic, potatoes and veggies.

You will need:

  • aluminium foil
  • a baking tray
  • an oven
  • oven gloves
  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a saucepan

and the ingredients (for four people):

  • 4 fillet(s) of fish
  • a little lemon juice
  • a pinch of salt
  • 4 potatoes
  • 4 carrots
  • half a head of broccoli

Start by turning on your oven to Gas Mark 4, 180° (160° fan).

Wrap each fillet of fish in foil, with a little lemon juice and salt. Start with oily fish – they take longer to cook. (More detailed instructions here: oven-baked fish) Place the finished fish parcels on a baking tray.

Photograph of three foil parcels on a baking tray

Cut your potatoes into chunks, and your carrots into slices. (You can find more detailed instructions here: potatoes, carrots) Place them in a saucepan, and mostly cover with cold water. Put the lid on, then heat gently on the hob.

Photograph of a saucepan half-filled with carrots and potatoes; water covers most of the vegetables but some are still poking up above the water line

If you’re use oily fish, put them in the oven now. (They take about 20-25 minutes to cook.)

While your other vegetables are cooking, cut your broccoli into florets. (More detailed instructions here: broccoli)

If you’re using white fish, put them in the oven now. (They take about 10-15 minutes to cook.)

 

Five minutes before serving, put your broccoli in with the carrots and potatoes. You can either put it directly in the saucepan (it doesn’t need to be covered by the water), or use a metal sieve inside your saucepan as a steamer.

Photograph of a saucepan (containing carrots and potatoes) with a metal sieve full of broccoli inside
If you line up the handle of your sieve with the handle of the saucepan, you’re less likely to knock it over

Make sure to check your fish and vegetables are cooked through before serving!

Photograph of a piece of smoked haddock; boiled potatoes, carrots, and broccoli; and fried leek and pepper on a white plate
My family loves veggies, so I added some fried peppers and leeks to this dish!

This meal is a bit harder than the one-pot recipes I’ve written so far, but it’s a great staple meal in our house! You can use a wide variety of fish, and for a bit of vegetable variety try replacing the broccoli with frozen peas or tinned sweetcorn.

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

How to Oven-Bake Fish

Fish is a great source of protein and essential oils. It’s also fairly easy to tell when it’s cooked – the flesh goes from being translucent (mostly see-through) to opaque.

Fish is one of my favourite foods, but it can be dry and tough when over-cooked. That’s why I like this technique; it gently steams the fish and gives you a bit of leeway in cooking times. The fancy name for this technique is cooking en papillote, which is just French for in parchment. I usually use foil though.

You will need:

  • aluminium foil
  • a baking tray
  • an oven
  • oven gloves

and the ingredients:

  • 1 fillet of fish per person
  • a little lemon juice
  • a pinch of salt

Start by turning on your oven to Gas Mark 4, 180° (160° fan).

Cut pieces of aluminium foil to size. It needs to be big enough to go around your fillet; I find that a square about half the width of the roll fits most pieces of fish.

hand drawing of a square of aluminium foil

Put your fish in the middle of the foil, and add a little sprinkle of lemon juice and salt.

hand drawing of a piece of salmon sitting in the middle of a square of aluminium foil

Fold the foil up around the edges of the fish, leaving space around the edges and sides, and roughly pinch it together at the top. The aim here is to make a little fish parcel that can fill up with steam, but it needs to let some of the steam escape so that it doesn’t burst.

hand drawing of a piece of salmon sitting inside an aluminium foil parcel

 

 

Place your foil parcel(s) on a baking tray and bake in the oven. Oily fish like salmon will take 20-25 minutes, while white fish like cod take only 10-15 minutes to cook.

 

After the cooking time has passed, open the fish parcel and check that the fish is cooked through. (Be careful – it’s hot!)

 

photograph of a cooked salmon fillet, served with sweet potato wedges and stir-fried vegetables
Sweet potato wedges and a rainbow of vegetables are delicious with fish!

You can try out a lot of different flavours in these little fish parcels, which makes them really versatile! Why not try adding some herbs like parsley or lemongrass, or spice it up with a pinch of chilli. You could also replace the lemon juice with vinegar for a different twist.

Remember to wash up and then reuse or recycle your aluminium foil!

How to Chop Broccoli – into florets

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

I think a lot of people have a bit of a love/hate relationship with green vegetables, but broccoli is a firm favourite of mine. Broccoli is an interesting vegetable because it’s actually the flowers of the broccoli plant!

If you can, try not to wash your broccoli. A lot of water can get trapped between the flowers, which can make it rather soggy to eat.

Broccoli is sold in ‘heads’, and the individual ‘branches’ are called florets (see the picture below). In this tutorial I’ll teach you how to cut and cook the florets.

Hand drawing of a broccoli
The grey circle indicates one floret

For cutting, it’s easiest to work from the outside in. Hold the broccoli so that the floret you want is as close as possible to the chopping board. (I like to hold the stalk with my left hand as I cut with my right.) Slide your knife between the floret and the stalk, and chop downwards.

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

Carry on chopping, working from the outside in, until you have enough broccoli. (Depending on the size of the florets, I usually allow 1-3 florets per person.) The very top of the broccoli can be a little tricky because the florets become less clearly defined. Just try and cut it into pieces about the same size as the florets you’ve already chopped.

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

 

 

 

 

It’s a really common mistake for people to overcook broccoli; one of the reasons is that the stalk cooks more slowly than the flowers. To combat this, place the broccoli florets upside down and cut about halfway down the stem. Try and make sure all the pieces of stem are smaller than about ½cm (quarter of an inch).

 

 

Broccoli only takes about five minutes to cook, whether you’re boiling, microwaving, or steaming. (If you’re boiling or steaming, place the florets with the stalks at the bottom.) Once cooked, broccoli turns a slightly brighter colour than when it’s raw. It also looks a little shinier! And just like carrots and potatoes, cooked broccoli is soft enough to easily poke a fork into.

How to Chop a Carrot – into slices

Happy New Year, and a special welcome to anyone joining How to Chop a Carrot in the wake of New Year’s resolutions!

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

Carrots were almost always part of a hot meal when I was growing up. I’ve already made a tutorial for carrot chunks (here), but slices of carrot cook much quicker!

First, take a carrot. You don’t need to peel it (a lot of the minerals are right underneath the skin), but you might want to wash it. Use clean water to wash off things like soil, and if you want to be a bit more thorough you can scrub you carrots with a clean washing-up brush.Hand drawing of an orange carrot

Next, check your carrots over for any discolouration or blemishes. These aren’t dangerous, they just don’t taste or look very good. If they are on the end of the carrot, you can just cut the end off. If they’re in the middle of the carrot, first place the carrot flat on a chopping board or plate with the blemish facing upwards. Then make a small cut either side of the blemish, making a small ‘V’ (see picture).

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

We also don’t want to eat the very top or bottom of the carrot. (These are often known as the top and tail – to top and tail your carrots means to chop the top and bottom off.) Leave the top of the carrot on for now – it’s useful to hold on to while you’re cutting slices.

 

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

Next cut slices about half a centimetre (¼ inch) thick, working up the carrot from the tail. Don’t worry if your slices vary a little in size. Hand drawing of a carrot showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Carrot slices can be eaten raw in salads, but I usually eat them boiled. Place your carrot slices in a saucepan and add enough water to just about cover them. Heat on the hob until they start to boil, then turn down the heat a little and keep them boiling gently for about 20 minutes. Once cooked, carrots should be soft enough to easily poke a fork into. Just try not to boil them to death – you’ll lose all those lovely vitamins.