By Lisa Golden Schroeder
Who doesn’t want to save time and money? Or have a second pair of totally efficient hands assisting you in the kitchen? If you’ve got a food processor languishing in a cupboard or dusty corner of the kitchen, this is the season to pull it out. It does feel a little counter-intuitive to think about using a large machine now, when you’re trying to spend as much time outside as you can. But engaging a food processor—whether full size or a mini chopper—can speed up those repetitive tasks that slow down dinner prep.
When home kitchen food processors first appeared in the late 1970s, a version of a tool used by professional caterers and chefs, I was just entering college and catering small dinner parties for my parents’ friends. They were expensive and my mother didn’t have one, so I continued chopping by hand. But Julia Child, by then the undisputed queen of TV cooking shows, loved her food processor. Her effusive declarations that she couldn’t do without one catapulted them into kitchen stardom amongst passionate cooks. But it took a few more years before they became mainstream and affordable, and one of my favorite college graduation gifts was my first Cuisinart. As the years go by, I’m grateful that I don’t have to hand process everything I make, from puréed sauces like pesto to chopping lots of onions or julienning carrots for my kids’ favorite salad. But do you find your machine intimidating? Here are some basics to help you unleash your kitchen magician…
- Use your processor strategically. Not every kitchen job warrants pulling it out, but it’s worth its weight in gold if you want to make your own hummus for snacks (super simple) or just chop up lots of veggies for a pot of chilled summer gazpacho, or a spicy salsa or relish to spoon into grilled chicken tacos.
- Handle the metal blade carefully. That blade is as sharp as any knife you own, so be sure to wash it right away or put it in the top rack of the dishwasher, so it’s not hanging around the bottom of the kitchen sink ready to nick someone’s fingers. Take time to notice how the work bowl and lid fit together on the motor base—the machine won’t turn on unless all the pieces are lined up and closed properly, guaranteeing you won’t hurt yourself.
- Practice using all the blades and the pulse button. Once you’re familiar with how each blade works (you most likely have the all-purpose metal blade, a plastic dough blade for kneading bread or pizza dough, a slicer and a shredding disk), it’s easy to think about all the ways you can use them. Save yourself lots of money by buzzing up your own flax meal (not to mention the freshness) or shredding or thinly slicing sweet potatoes, beets, cabbage, or carrots for fries or slaws. Pulsing, or turning the blade on and off in short bursts, allows you to control the action and evenly chop everything.
- Take advantage of the feed tube. That narrow tube that extends from the top of the machine lets you run the machine, while slowly adding ingredients like olive oil for a sauce or small ingredients that you just want lightly chopped into a larger, more fully chopped mixture. The wider tube is for adding ingredients for slicing or shredding, like pieces of carrot or potato. Then you use the plastic pushers that fit into the tubes to lightly press on the ingredients as they are fed into the blades, rather than your fingers!
- Use your rubber spatula. Don’t be afraid to stop and open the food processor and scrape down the sides of the work bowl with a spatula if you’re chopping or pureeing ingredients. This shortens the time it takes to do the job and lets you control how coarse or fine the final mixture is.
- Pick the right processor for the job. If you know you want to regularly make recipes that need lots of chopping—or you frequently entertain family and friends—then a large- size processor will serve you well (look for an 11-cup capacity). But if you know you want to make smaller amounts of puréed herb sauces or salsas, or grind up flax seeds or nuts, then a mini chopper may be just the ticket. I’m not a huge fan of the ultra-large food processors with the nested work bowls, as you end up with extra parts to wash when you use the smallest work bowl.
I think a food processor can become an indispensable partner in making healthy, affordable meals. Once you use one, you’ll see they’re nearly foolproof in their design, making them terrifically easy to use and very safe. And you’ll have that efficient extra set of hands that will get you outside faster, eating with your family or on the deck enjoying your guests!