Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Essential Tools (and some fun gadgets) for a Busy Vegetarian's Kitchen
Good knives: If you are going to be chopping veggies frequently, a good sharp knife will make your life much easier. Your prep will go much faster, and you're more likely to have nice, even pieces. While on the pricey side, these Wustof knives have made my prep go much more smoothly than my bargain basement ones. In all fairness, we got ours as shower and wedding gifts. In other words, they make a great gift for the vegetarian cooks in your life! But, you can easily get good, sharp knives at different price points - ask a salesperson for their recommendations.
Saute pans: I do a lot of stovetop cooking. It's a healthy way to prep food, and it's often faster than anything you'll make in the ovedn. Having a nice big saute pan helps with cooking everything evenly, and it's great for one dish concoctions like the ones I often make during the week. A pan with a lid, like this Calphalon one, also helps when you are steaming down greens like spinach, kale and chard. Or, get an oven safe pan that you can use both on the stovetop and in the oven for things like frittatas.
Steamer Basket: I like to stream fresh broccoli, cauliflower and lima beans, rather than reheat frozen. You get a much more vibrant color and better texture. We do so much steaming that we registered for this nice insert, but we've also had luck with this simple metal one and this silicone one.
Glass Lock Storage Containers: These are my favorite containers for leftovers. They've got nice, secure latches for bringing meals to work or on the road, and they are microwave and dishwasher safe. We have a whole stack of them, and it's cut down on our plastic container and bag usage quite a bit.
Mini Whisk: A large whisk can be cumbersome if you're only beating two eggs or making a small amount of vinaigrette. Having a few mini whisks on hand makes mixing small portions of food less clumsy, and it takes up less space in your kitchen drawer than a standard whisk.
Fun Additions That Won't Break the Bank
Pizza Stone: Making homemade pizza is a lot of fun, and it's great for parties. You can make your own dough or buy a store bought crust. Either way, sprinkling your dough on cornmeal and baking it on a pizza stone in a hot oven makes things extra tasty. This one by Oneida is very affordable and gets good reviews on Bed Bath & Beyond.
Mini Chopper: I've had this mini-chopper since I got my first apartment after college. It's great if you have a small kitchen or aren't cooking for a lot of people. I use it to make pesto, to mince onions and hot peppers for guacamole and to shred carrots for kugels and other baked dishes. We now have a big food processor for when we're making a bigger recipe, but I still use the mini when I'm cooking for just the two of us. A similar product that's also good is this hand chopper. I use mine to mince garlic almost every day.
Microplane: Adding citrus zest is a great way to incorporate a bright flavor into baked goods and other dishes. A microplane helps grate lemon, lime and orange peels finely. You can also use it on hard cheeses.
Rice Cooker: If you're making a lot of rice, it might be worthwhile to invest in a rice cooker. I prefer the texture of rice cooker rice to boiled rice. It also cuts the cooking time down, and you can essentially ignore it while it's cooking. I've steamed rice with water, and made yellow rice with veggie broth and tumeric. You can also use it for quinoa. We have one that's essentially a family heirloom of the fiance's, but if we're ever in the market for a new one, I'd probably get something like this.
Stand Mixer: My lust for a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer became a running family joke. My mother got us one as a housewarming gift last summer, and it's been in rotation ever since. I do bake a lot, so I use it for cake batter and pie crusts. It's also great for pizza dough, kugels and anything you'd normally make with a hand beater.
Mandoline Cutter: My mother got this mandoline for us as a shower gift. It helps make even slices, as well as cut your vegetables with some texture. I anticipate using it for eggplant dishes, vegetable napoleons and to make crinkle cut oven baked "fries."
Panini Press: We're big panini fans. There's endless vegetarian combinations - roasted red peppers, spinach and portabello mushrooms with cheese or a vegan cheese are particularly yummy. I'm looking forward to using this Griddler to make paninis, along with some fun breakfast items. If you're not up for a splurge, you can get a similar effect with a countertop sandwich maker or a George Foreman grill.
Photo courtesy of Michelle Meikeljohn.