As a professional chef, many of my friends and clients imagine that I have an enormous kitchen filled with fancy gadgets and expensive equipment.
Spoiler alert: I don't.
Although I love cooking with the fanciest of things, I've found that you don't need the most expensive, up-to date equipment to make a delicious, healthy, and fast meal. In fact, having minimal but quality equipment helps keep my small urban kitchen organized and easy to use.
However, lots of highly-touted kitchen tools--even quality ones--aren't necessarily conducive to healthy cooking and clean eating. (I'm looking at you, KitchenAid stand mixer.) So here's my list of my top 5 kitchen tools that will help make your work with vegetables and wholes foods fast and easy.
If you are new to healthy cooking or clean eating, start building your kitchen with these 5 tools:
1. Salad Spinner
It's kind of a running joke at The Chopping Block (a cooking school where I teach), that when I have a class on the schedule...it's time to dig out the salad spinner! In fact, I'm even featured on their website singing the praises of this nifty kitchen gadget.
The salad spinner makes it easy to eat leafy green vegetables--one of the most nutrient dense foods out there and a food group that we should ALL be eating more of. You chop up your kale, chard or herbs, rinse them in the basket, and then pump out the extra water in a couple seconds. It also helps you save money--buy greens in bunches from the produce section instead of the pre-washed boxed variety. It doubles as a second colander and mixing bowl too if you've got limited space in an urban kitchen.
2. Lemon Squeezer
Other than my knife this is the tool I use everyday. The acidity of lemon juice can heighten the flavor of almost any dish. If you are cutting down on salt or trying to add dimension to your cooking, lemon juice may be just the thing you need. (And in my book, lemon is the only ingredient you can't skip in a green smoothie! Well, that and something green.)
The lemon squeezer allows you to get the most juice out of your lemons and also keeps the seeds from slipping into your dish. Time and money saver. And it's fun to use, too! Even children and boyfriends can help with this task.
3. Sharp Knife
This one might seem like an obvious choice, but I'm always surprised to find expensive, yet dull knives in client's kitchens. If this is you, you are not alone! It used to be me too. Before I went to culinary school, I didn't realize that you should take your kitchen knife to a hardware store to get it sharpened a couple times a year (costs between $2-4). I just figured a "good" knife meant an expensive one.
A sharp knife makes chopping vegetables simple and much faster. My recommendation is to only spend $30-50 on your first knife, but commit to sharpening it twice a year. Then once you are comfortable with it and feel like an upgrade, you'll know more about your personal preferences in terms of size, shape and weight.
The knives in my kitchen are this great starter one from Mercer, and a more expensive and delicate Japanese-style blade from Suisin. The Mercer was my culinary school knife, and as long as I sharpen it regularly, it's still my workhorse in the kitchen. An 8-inch chef's knife in stainless steel is a great place to start.
4. Large Cutting Board
Every good knife needs a good cutting board. I love beautiful wooden or bamboo butcher blocks, but a more affordable (and dishwasher-friendly!) version is a plastic polyethylene board. The surface is easy to cut on, doesn't dull your knife, and sterilizes in the dishwasher or hot, soapy water.
The most important quality to look for in a cutting board is a big enough size (but not too big for your counter or storage space). Make sure you have enough room to work with big vegetables like squash and that your board has room to stack chopped ingredients. (Look out for a future blog post where I'll share another great tip for organizing your prepped ingredients!)
Pro tip? Stick a wet paper towel under the board to keep it from sliding around on the counter!
5. Food Processor
The food processor is definitely the most controversial item on this list: it's bulky, heavy, a little expensive and you probably won't use it every single day. But more than any other tool listed here, the food processor allows for the most creativity in the kitchen and has the ability to cut down your meal preparation time by A LOT.
With a food processor, you make make couscous out of cauliflower, shred up zucchini in seconds for vegetable fritters, and make all sorts of raw energy balls and bites with just nuts and dried fruit. Raw Peanut Butter Cookie Bites, anyone? Bottom line: it allows you to do more with all the healthy foods you want to eat, especially when it comes to making healthy desserts and little fried patties. Yes, please!
So that's my list! Any kitchen tools that you can't live without?