How to Grate Anything (except your fingers)

A grater is a very useful piece of kitchen equipment; so much so that it made it into my top 20 (link)! It’s a great (or should that be ‘grate’) tool for quickly chopping ingredients very finely.

A grater is essentially a metal plate with sharpened holes in it. You can get a variety of shapes and sizes, but my favourite is a box grater because it has multiple sizes of holes in the one tool. Also, your grated ingredients (mostly) collect neatly underneath.

To use a grater, hold it steady in one hand. (Usually your non-dominant hand.) Hold your ingredients in your other hand, and apply gentle pressure as you rub your ingredients up and down the grater. Just keep your fingers out of the way – while graters aren’t as sharp as knives, they can still break your skin.

I think perhaps the most common ingredient to grate is cheese. Grated cheese is perfect for on top of pasta dishes, mashed potato, or in sandwiches. You can buy grated cheese, but it’s often much cheaper to grate your own, and it’s a good ingredient to practice grating. If you have, for example, a large block of cheese, you can grate quite quickly, especially if you’re not using all of it. However, the closer your fingers are to the grater, the more slowly you need to grate.

I also like to add grated vegetables (and even fruits like apple) to enrich sauces for dishes like pasta and curry. (All the flavours meld together in a blend of deliciousness!) The easiest vegetables to grate are those that are quite sturdy, particularly root vegetables like our old friend the carrot.

When grating a carrot you’ll want to chop the bottom (or ‘tail’) end off, and cut out any blemishes as usual. However, if you leave the top end on for now, you can use it as a ‘handle’ as you grate, to help keep your fingers safely out of the way. Other vegetables that come with their own ‘handles’ include parsnips and courgettes. With rounder root vegetables like sweet potatoes, you may find they need chopping into smaller chunks before they’ll fit on the grater.

There are many more ingredients you can grate, including chocolate and even some spices! But the best thing about a grater is that once you know how to grate one thing, you can grate most of the rest of them too! It’s a really useful kitchen skill.

How to Chop a Bell Pepper – diced bell pepper

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

We used strips of bell pepper (cutting tutorial here) in February for stir-fry (recipe here), but bell peppers are also perfect for adding a little extra sweetness and richness to tomato-based sauces.

Just like before, start chopping your bell pepper by cutting it in half. Steady your knife in one of the pepper’s grooves, and cut straight down.

Hand drawing of a red bell pepper with cutting guideline (grey dotted line)

Cut each half in half again, and remove the pith and seeds.

Hand drawings of red bell pepper half and quarter with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Cut each quarter into strips like before, but try to hold them together for now. Then, as you cut in the other direction, you’ll have diced bell pepper in no time!

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

Diced bell pepper can be fried in 15 minutes, or less if you like it crunchy. It’s great added to omelettes, but I like it best mixed with a load of other diced vegetables, whether cooked in a sauce or mixed into a salad.

Remember to use up peppers once you’ve cut them so they don’t go off!

How to Cook Rice

As well as being a staple food around the world, rice is one of my personal favourites! It’s also easy to cook, once you know how.

 

There are several different types of rice, but they all fall into short or long-grain, white or brown rice.

Short-grain rice is a short, fat, grain and tends to be stickier than long-grain rice. This is the kind of rice used for risotto, sushi, and rice pudding. It goes perfectly with all sorts of East Asian dishes.

Long-grain rice is longer and thinner, and (at least where I live) is more common than short-grain rice. It’s the perfect accompaniment to curries and chillis, and a ton of dishes from the Middle East and India.

White rice is rice that has been refined to make it easier to cook and digest. When most people think of rice, they think of white rice.

Brown rice is less refined than white rice, so it contains more fibre. Fibre is really good for you, and can help you to feel full for a long time after eating, but it does make the rice take a little longer to cook.

No matter what kind of rice you’re cooking, I find that a small cupful (200-250ml) of dry rice makes roughly three portions. Remember, it plumps up a lot during cooking!

 

Start by washing your rice. I always used to skip this step, and it’s not essential, but I find it makes the rice a little lighter and fluffier. There are a couple of different ways to wash rice. One way is to add equal parts rice and water to your saucepan, mix, and drain off the water. The method I prefer is to put my rice in a metal sieve, and rinse it under running water.

Put the rice in a saucepan and add cold water. For white rice, you need twice as much cold water as rice. You can use the same cup for rice and water, or use a measuring jug. (200ml of rice needs about 400ml of water, for example). Brown rice needs a little more water – about 20% or a quarter extra is fine. So for 200ml of brown rice, aim for a little less than 450ml of water.

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. Rice has a tendency to want to boil over, so try and keep an eye (or an ear) on it.

Once white rice has been boiling for just 5 minutes, you can turn the saucepan off! The rice will continue to cook in the steam, and absorb all the water. (This takes about 20 minutes.) This stops you overcooking the rice, and it also saves energy!

Brown rice will need to go on gently boiling for about 20-30 minutes, or until all the water is gone. Don’t leave the pan on once it’s boiled dry though, that’s how you end up with burned rice!

 

I love rice with all sorts of dishes, especially stir-fry (link) and curry (link). It’s a really versatile grain that goes with a huge range of flavours, so it’s well worth learning to cook.

Finally, although rice is a great food, it can cause food poisoning. As I mentioned in my food safety post (link), it’s important to cool rice quickly once cooked, and only reheat it once. This is because there’s a rather special kind of microbe that can live in rice. Rather than being destroyed by cooking, it can actually be woken up from a dormant state called a spore. It can then grow if the rice is left in a warm environment. (You can find out more from the NHS here.)

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…