How to Chop a Cabbage

Like a lot of green vegetables, cabbage is a terrible thing when overcooked. However, raw or lightly steamed it has a lovely flavour and crunch.

Hand drawing of two green cabbages - a savoy and a sweetheart

Just like lettuces, which I wrote about in an earlier tutorial (here), there are many different varieties of cabbage. And just like lettuces, cabbages share the same kind of leafy structure!

To chop a whole cabbage, you can just start chopping slices off the top! (For rounder cabbages like savoy, it’s easier to start by chopping them in half, then placing them on the cut side to chop.)

Hand drawing of a sweetheart cabbage with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Because the cabbage is made of layers of leaves, it falls apart into thin strips once sliced. For cooking, I’d recommend slices about 1cm thick, but for salads I’d try to chop slightly thinner slices.

 

However, although they keep better than lettuces, cut cabbages don’t last for very long. So if you only want a little cabbage, peel a few leaves off the outside of the cabbage by hand. You can then stack them to make your job easier, and cut slices just as above.

Hand drawing of a pile of cabbage leaves with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

These slices of cabbage take no longer than 5 minutes to cook, whether boiled, steamed, or stir-fried. It should become a slightly brighter green and soft (but not soggy!) when cooked.

(To make sure the whole cabbage is cooked at the same time, you may want to pull the leaves off the thickest, toughest part of the stem before cutting, but this is of course optional. )

How to Chop a Spring Onion

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

Spring onions (also called green onions) have a much milder flavour than mature onions. They’re less likely to make your eyes water, and they’re perfect for salads and sandwiches.

To prepare spring onions, start by chopping ½cm or so off the root end. Also, remove the dried out ends of the leaves.

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

If you have a whole leaf that’s dried out (like the top one in the picture above),  simply peel it off the onion.

Hand drawing of a trimmed spring onion

Now depending on what you want to use your spring onion for, you may want to cut strips or slices.

 

Strips of spring onion are my first choice for sandwiches, and they’re good for stir-fries too.

Start by chopping your spring onion into sections, the same length you want your strips to be.

Hand drawing of a trimmed spring onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Then simply halve each section twice lengthwise. Because of the layers inside the onion, you’ll get lovely thin strips.

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

 

Slices of spring onion are great for mixing in with salads, and I like them in soups too. Simply cut off slices about ½ cm thick. I recommend working from both ends into the middle, to help the onion stay together while you cut it.

Hand drawing of a trimmed spring onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

 

There are so many cold dishes that benefit from a little spring onion, including mixed salads that I wrote about here. They’re also great in potato salad and coleslaw! For hot dishes like stir fry (recipe here), I’d recommend no more than 5 minutes on the heat.

One last thing about spring onions – they don’t tend to keep as well as mature onions, so make sure to use them up!

How to Cook Pasta

Pasta is a popular and versatile source of carbohydrates, and once you know how it’s easy to cook too!

Pasta comes in all sorts of different shapes and colours, both fresh and dried. But all types of pasta are made from the same basic ingredients, so you can apply the same principles to cooking them.

 

Dried pasta is easier to store and transport, so it’s more common and cheaper than fresh pasta.

Start by measuring a portion of pasta. You can use your hands for this – the amount of dried pasta you can grab in a handful is one portion for you. (Remember: if you’re cooking for people who are bigger or smaller than you, their portion sizes will be different!) It often won’t look like enough when you first put it in the saucepan, but as the pasta cooks it absorbs water and expands.

Place your pasta in a saucepan and cover it with water. (Starting with hot water from a kettle will cook your pasta slightly faster, but cold water works fine too.) Your pasta does need to be fully submerged, but using as little water as you can saves time and energy.

Put a lid on your saucepan and heat it on the hob. Keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t boil over. Once it’s boiling (big bubbles in the water), turn the heat down to a nice simmer (small, regular bubbles in the water), and make a note of the time. The pasta packet should give you a cooking time, but generally small pasta like macaroni take as little as 5 minutes, while larger pasta shapes can take up to 20.

As dried pasta cooks, it goes from being slightly translucent to opaque, and becomes soft. To check pasta is cooked all the way through, cut (or bite) a piece in half. If it’s soft and the same colour all the way through, it’s cooked.

 

Fresh pasta is a little trickier, both to store and to cook. Because it hasn’t been dried out, fresh pasta cooks more quickly. However, the changes in colour and texture are harder to spot, so it’s easier to overcook fresh pasta.

(If you really want to push the boat out, you could try making your own pasta from scratch. It’s not as complicated as it sounds, but it’s still a bit beyond the scope of this blog!)

 

Once your pasta is cooked, you can mix it with a sauce*, herby pesto, or just a splash of oil and a sprinkle of salt. Pasta is great in a huge range of dishes, but for warm weather my favourite is a tomatoey pasta salad!

*(You can cook pasta in a sauce, but it will take a little longer than in water.)

How to Make a (Yummy) Salad

Salads sometimes get a bad rep, and it’s true that’s it’s very easy to make a boring salad. (The one I grew up with was lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes and no dressing.) But as a light summer meal, or as a side dish, salads can be great.

Salads are so simple to make that I think it’s a shame not to learn how to make them interesting. So in this post I want to share with you some of the tricks I’ve learned.

1. Mix it up

There is nothing wrong with lettuce, cucumber, and tomatoes, but have you ever tried grating some apple into your salad? Do you like beetroot, mushrooms, or olives? What about adding in some vegetables that you’d normally cook, like peas or cabbage? The more variety in colour, texture and taste your salad has, the more fun it will be to eat.

2. Season it!

The biggest mistake I (and I suspect other people) always made with salads was not seasoning them. It’s amazing how much difference even a little sprinkle of salt can make. But don’t stop at salt – try adding herbs, chilli, lemon, ginger, garlic, vinegar; even soy sauce or honey! You can use just as wide a range of seasonings on a salad as you can in cooked foods.

3. Add some fat

Salads are full of fibre, slow-release carbohydrates, and vitamins, but they don’t tend to offer much in terms of fat or protein. This can mean that they don’t make you feel full for long. Adding some healthy fats to a salad is a great way to make it more satisfying. You could add an oil such as rapeseed or olive oil, nuts, seeds, cheese, or even avocado! Personally I like poppy or sesame seeds, because they also add a little crunch.

Salads can be a really fun, interesting food, so it’s well worth experimenting with them to find some that you like. I’d love to hear about your favourite creations in the comments!

How to Chop Lettuce

Sorry to keep you waiting everyone! Let’s get back to cooking some refreshing summer dishes!

Lettuce is an ingredient that it took me a while to learn to love. I used to only like lettuce in one specific sandwich, but now I enjoy it in a range of dishes.

Hand drawing of two heads of lettuce

I say ‘lettuce’, but there are actually a whole range of lettuces – my favourites are iceberg and little gem. Different varieties of lettuce can look quite different, but they all share the same basic structure: larger leaves on the outside, getting smaller and smaller until you reach the stem in the middle. This means you can use the same technique to cut them all!

If you’re using a whole lettuce, the easiest way to cut most of them is to just cut slices about 1cm thick.  Start from the top, and work your way down to the stem. Because of all the layers, you’ll get beautifully shredded lettuce. (If you’ve got a big, round lettuce like iceberg, first chop it in half from top to bottom, then place it on its cut side to slice.)

Hand drawing of a little gem lettuce with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

However, once you’ve cut a lettuce like this, it won’t keep for long. So if you only want a little lettuce, start by peeling off the leaves you want by hand. To make slicing easier, pile them up, and then slice as before.

Hand drawing of a pile of lettuce leaves with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

For some dishes, you don’t even need to chop your lettuce! I like whole lettuce leaves in sandwiches because they fall out less easily.

And finally, there’s nothing worse than a limp lettuce leaf, so let me share with you a secret technique! If you chop a thin layer off the bottom of the stalk, and place it in a glass or bowl with a little water, it will suck up the water and crisp back up again!

How to Cook Quinoa

Quinoa is a small, round seed that can be eaten like rice or couscous. It’s full of protein and fiber, and it even comes in a range of different colours!

Being packed with protein and fiber makes quinoa very filling, so a small cupful (200-250ml) of dry quinoa makes easily enough for four people. And if you’re already familiar with cooking rice (link), cooking quinoa is pretty straightforward.

Start by washing the quinoa.  You can add equal amounts of quinoa and water to your saucepan, mix, and drain off the water or, my preferred method, put the quinoa in a metal sieve, and rinse it under running water.

Put the quinoa in a saucepan and add water. Quinoa needs a lot of water – three times as much water as quinoa! Use a measuring jug, or just the same cup you used to measure your quinoa. However, for really good quinoa, I would recommend cooking it in stock rather than plain water – it makes a huge different to both the texture and flavour!

Put the lid on your saucepan and bring to the boil. Once it’s reached boiling point, you can turn the pan down so that it’s just gently boiling. It then needs to be boiled for about twenty minutes, or until it’s soft and has absorbed all the water. Remember to turn the pan off once the water’s all gone!

 

Quinoa isn’t nearly as common as rice or pasta, but it’s a great way to add variety to your mealtimes!

How to Chop a Cherry Tomato

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

While I love tinned tomatoes for cooking with, my favourite tomatoes for salads or finger food are sweet little cherry tomatoes.

Hand drawing of three red cherry tomatoes with green leaves still attached

Like onions, tomatoes have smooth, slippery skin that can make them a little tricky to chop. So it’s important to use a good, sharp knife, preferably with a serrated blade. If you’re using a smooth knife I would start each cut by piercing the tomato with the tip of your blade – a great place to do this is the little green spot at the top of the tomato, where it would connect to the vine.

You can eat cherry tomatoes whole (minus the vine), but I find most of them are just a tiny bit big for my mouth. So for finger food, I like to halve my cherry tomatoes.

To halve cherry tomatoes, hold your tomato steady with a thumb and finger, and cut straight down between them.

Hand drawing of a red cherry tomato with cutting guideline (grey dotted line)

For mixed salads, though, I like to dice my tomatoes so all the flavours mix together. The easiest way to do this with cherry tomatoes is to cut them into eighths. Start by cutting them into halves just as above. Then, place each half on its cut face to cut into quarters.

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

Tomatoes are a great way to add pops of colour and flavour to plates of salad. And these sweet cherries are often popular with kids too!