Sunday, January 18, 2009

Tips and tricks - chilis, cucumber, and chopping

Every once in awhile on this blog I'm going to share some tips I've learned - usually in my cooking class but also from reading food mags and watching cooking shows. It's amazing how the simplest techniques and basic knowledge of ingredients can make a huge difference in a finished dish.

Here are three things I've learned in the past week:

1) Chilis - I always thought it was just the seeds that made those tiny red chili peppers hot, but the ribs (the whitish part inside the chili) add major heat as well. So when a recipe calls for a chopped, seeded red chili, make sure you remove not only the seeds but the white part too. Do this by opening up the chili and scraping the ribs off with the edge of your knife blade. You'll want to wash your hands well after, especially if you've touched the seeds and the ribs, because the heat will stay on your fingers and will transfer to whatever else they touch.

2) Cucumber - As you know, cukes are full of water, and sometimes when you chop them up and put them in a dish the liquid seeps out of them and makes everything else soggy. I'd read about salting them first to coax some of the excess moisture out, but here's another way: if you're using the cucumbers for a salad, cut the cucumber lengthwise, and then into quarters, so you have four long pieces. Then, take your knife and slice away the inner, seed-filled portion. That's where most of the water resides. What you're left with is the meatier, less watery part of the vegetable. Chop it up, add it to your salad, and either eat the seedy part on its own or add it to something else you want infused with cucumber flavour, for example a raita.

3) Chopping - Chopping veg is probably my least favourite part of making dinner, and also seems to be the most time consuming, but in my cooking class I learned a few techniques that help make the process faster. Peppers - first, cut the top and bottom off, then cut through one side, position your knife flat against the interior of the pepper, and open the pepper up, scraping away the seeds and ribbing with one motion before julienning or dicing. Roma tomatoes are essentially the same process - cut off the top and bottom, cut into one side but only about a half inch into the tomato, sit the blade of the knife against the interior, and then slide it along, as if you're unrolling the tomato. The half inch or so of tomato meat sitting against the skin is what you want to then chop up and use in your dish. The interior part, not unlike the cucumber, is mainly water and seeds. That's not to say you can't use it. Save it and throw it in soup or stock for a hit of tomato flavour.

So those are my tips and tricks for this week. If you have any you'd like to share, email me at or add your comments below.



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