The best gadget to make you more confident in the kitchen
As both a professional chef and home cook for over 20 years, my absolute favorite kitchen gadget for cooking more whole food is the box grater.
It makes quick work of almost any chopping task, and is especially helpful if you don’t yet have great knife skills. I have had a grater forever, but when I started to eat more vegetables from my local farm share box, I realized that I would go to my box grater, time and time again.
When I moved in with my husband, he already had one, so I figured I would just decide which one I liked better, but it turns out that I could easily use three. Which would be fine, because they are very inexpensive. You can pick up a stainless steel version for less than $15 or splurge for the Microplane for just under $40. The Microplane uses a photo-etching process on each hole that makes it really sharp, but I have only used the stainless type, and find it works just fine.
I do like one of my graters over the other because in addition to the large holes, it has small holes that I prefer over the spikey side that is meant to grate Parmesan cheese, like it comes in the can. (By the way, never buy a shelf stable dairy product, these should be avoided most of the time.)
Those small holes are also best to grate citrus zest, garlic, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon sticks. Garlic is my favorite of these, it is so much easier than using a knife. And, fresh ground spices make a world of difference in your cooking.
Of course, you can use it to grate cheese, but the large holes are the perfect tool for cutting up vegetables. Use them to grate carrots, zucchini, potatoes, kohlrabi, broccoli stems, turnips, beets, rutabagas, sweet potatoes and apples. My favorite recipe to utilize vegetables is to make fritters with whatever vegetables I have on hand. And, you can’t beat the grater to cut up vegetables for a fresh salad or slaw, just dress grated vegetables with salt, pepper, vinegar and oil and you are ready to eat.
You can also use them to grate tomatoes for sauce; it will leave the skin behind to easily discard. Onions, will make you cry, but by grating them you will have the task completed quickly. You can also grate cauliflower, to make the now ubiquitous cauliflower rice, but I actually would recommend using a food processor if you have it for this particular task, it helps to keep the cauliflower contained instead of it flying all over your kitchen.
For baking, I learned early on in my restaurant career to use a box grater to “cut” butter into flour for biscuits and piecrust. Freeze it first to avoid greasy fingers.
If you have a dishwasher, the clean up on a grater could not be easier, just knock off any excess food and stand it on the bottom rack. If you wash it by hand, wash if from the inside and go against the sharp edge, be careful, graters can be super sharp.
I would challenge any home cook to cut up vegetables as fast as you can cut them on a box grater. To make even better time and keep things easy, make sure you have enough leverage. If you are short, you might find that it works better to grate things on a lower table than regular counter, so that you are leaning over the grater. And a step stool is perfect for kids. Grating cheese was one of my first jobs in the kitchen as a youngster.
Here is my vegetable fritter recipe to use right now:
Winter Vegetable Fritters
4 cups grated vegetables such as, sweet potato, parsnips, broccoli stems, peeled kohlrabi bulbs, carrots
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons of oil
Grate the sweet potato, parsnips, kohlrabi, broccoli stems and carrots. Combine everything in a large bowl and add the salt, pepper and eggs. Mix well to combine. Heat a large nonstick or cast iron skillet, over medium heat, add the oil and drop 1/4 cup of the vegetable mixture into the pan. Help it to spread out a little then repeat 2–3 more times, so you have 3–4 small pancakes. Turn the heat down and allow them to cook for 8–9 minutes then turn the fritters over and cook for another 6–7 minutes. Remove them and cook another batch to use the remaining vegetables. Enjoy right away, they are also great reheated.
Julie Moreno is a chef and writer, now trying to get more people to cook their own food. She lives in the middle of California, trying to grow something other than almonds, grapes and dairy cows. Find her blog at The Wooden Cutting Board on Twitter @juliehouse and Facebook @thewoodencuttingboard