I think a good chef's knife is the most important kitchen tool, especially for vegetarians or vegans, because of the importance of vegetables in plant based diets.
If you're serious about a plant based diet, then learn how to use a chef's knife, because it's the safest, quickest, easiest, most effective way to chop vegetables.
Chopping vegetables with a dull paring knife is so slow and difficult - I think it's a major reason why people don't eat enough veggies.
People look at chef's knives and say "Whoa! That looks dangerous!" Or "I'm sure that's too difficult" or "I'm not a chef, why do I need a chef's knife?" Or "I can't afford fancy knives."
Well, I'm not a chef, I'm a home cook. I've been making family meals for 40 years, using a chef's knife, and I've still got all my fingers!
If you can brush your teeth, you can use a chef's knife. And besides, why should the chefs have all the fun?
My favorite knife is a Victorinox Fibrox. It's top rated by Cooks Illustrated, and costs about $30. The VF is light, strong, stays sharp and is comfortable to handle.
Forschner and Oxo brands are also highly recommended and inexpensive. An 8 or 10 inch knife is good for most people, maybe a 12 inch for big jobs or big hands.
Another Thing - Cutting Boards: Your knife will keep its edge best with a wooden or bamboo cutting board. My large bamboo board cost about $25.
I oil my cutting once a month with inexpensive mineral oil to keep it from drying out and splitting. After I use it, I wipe it with a damp cloth, dry it and store it upright.
I use a thin plastic cutting mat for stinky onion or garlic, or beets which stain the board. It's handy because it's very light and flexible, and you can wash it in soapy water.
First things first - sharpen your knife. Sharp knives are much safer than dull knives because they won't slip off whatever you're chopping and into your finger. Your fingers will be tucked back out of the way of the knife, but you don't want to tempt fate.
A sharpening steel is easy to use, and costs about $10 - a lifetime investment. Hold the knife and the steel in front of you like crossed swords, with the blade at a 20 degree angle to the steel. Pull the edge of the blade across the steel over and under, about 10 times.
Ceramic knife sharpeners work well too. A simple non-electric one costs about $20. To use it, just draw the blade from back to tip through the bottom of the vee several times.
A ceramic sharpener will also sharpen serrated knives - handy for bread knives. I sharpen my paring knives the same way because sometimes a sharp paring knife comes in handy.
Don't worry how long it takes to chop at first, and whether you get your slices even. Practice makes perfect.
Starting with a carrot: Get a grip on the carrot with your fingers tucked back out of the way. Then balance the tip of the knife on the cutting board, brace your index finger on the top of the knife, and chop downward with a rocking motion, making your way through the carrot in ¼ inch slices.
Carrot crescents: Trim the ends of the carrot. Then balance the tip of the knife at the head of the carrot, holding the carrot with your hand over top of the knife. Slice downward lengthwise through the carrot, using the palm of your hand for a power assist. Lay the flat sides down on the board and cut in ¼ inch slices. Chop diagonally for an interesting variation.
How about carrot sticks? Slice the carrot the long way, and then again, and then in sticks - however long you want them.
What about dicing the carrot? Slice in quarters, then in ½ inch pieces.
Use the same techniques to chop summer squash or zucchini or celery.
Chopping Cabbage: Set the cabbage on its base. Slice it in half, then in quarters, and then cut out the core. Set one quarter cut side down and slice, using the same rocking motion, only going for thinner slices.
Use the same technique for chopping onions. Don't worry if you're slow or your slices are uneven. You'll get better at it sooner than you think.
What about garlic? Easy. Hold the garlic clove with one hand, and cut off the stem end. Whack it with the flat of the knife to loosen the skin. Slice the clove in half and remove the little green sprout. Lay the clove cut side down and slice thin, then slice in the other direction. Then chop some more until it's in tiny bits.
Mince anything else the same way.
Cleaning Your Chef's Knife: Please don't throw your knife into soapy water in the sink. That's a great way to cut yourself. Wipe the knife clean with a soapy cloth, rinse it, dry it and put it away.
Store your chef's knife in a knife block, or use a magnetic knife strip. Don't just throw it in the utensil drawer with a bunch of other stuff. The blade will get nicked and dull, and it's also a great way to cut yourself.
Happy Chopping! Judith Kingsbury, Savvy Vegetarian
Part 2 of How to Chop Vegetables with a Chef's Knife shows you how to chop more challenging veggies like winter squash, onion, sweet potato, cauliflower and broccoli.