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Building a repertoire of vegetable-centric dishes you can lean on year-round only requires some basic kitchen tools to make those vegetables interesting. In fact, Chef Abra Berens likes to think of her kitchen must-haves in a utilitarian, even minimalist way.
These, Berens says, are her biggest kitchen workhorses. She likes to have a few different sizes to handle everything from a few eggs to a big family-style skillet meal. The way that cast-iron retains and distributes heat so evenly makes it ideal for nearly any task and yields incredible flavor.
Great for making stock from vegetable trimmings and odds and ends so that nothing goes to waste. Having a large enough pot means you can make enough stock or soup to eat for a meal and freeze plenty of extras.
Berens uses a lot of citrus zest in her cooking – a great way to add dimensional flavors to a dish. Citrus zesters or rasp graters are also aces when you need to quickly grate a clove or two of garlic, or a knob of ginger and busting out a knife and cutting board feels like a production.
Stock up on food storage containers "that you enjoy using!” Berens says. “Containers you can find the lids for, and that match up, are so worth the investment.” Look for containers that are BPA-free (glass is ideal) and transparent or clear: research shows we’re more likely to want to use up leftovers stored in a clear (not colored or opaque) container.
Every restaurant has these! They’re very, very straightforward and not expensive.” Berens uses these for everything from a double boiler over a pot of water, to making popcorn, to mixing basically anything.
Berens likes to be able to use one large board for multiple cutting tasks, so she likes cutting boards that are big enough to function as a true work surface. Wood is easiest on knives, and – don’t tell anyone – she’s not shy about washing her cutting boards with soap and water whenever they need it. An occasional wipe down with food-safe mineral oil is all they need to last for years.
These can often come with several attachments, which can be fun for creating different shapes or cuts. But Berens uses a simple, single-bladed mandoline for the many shaved vegetable salads featured in Ruffage. A mandoline can also come in handy for match sticking hardy vegetables: you can achieve uniform slices or planks of, say, carrots or celery root, then simply slice them thinly with a chef’s knife.
Check out more recipes, ideas, and tips from Abra Berens' Ruffage Cookbook.