7 tips that'll help you cut and cook large vegetables

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Vegetables are delicious, and they can be a great way to amp up the nutritional value of any meal. But sometimes they're just not easy to deal with. Large vegetables, particularly those that have awkward shapes with no real flat side, can be tricky to cut - and dangerous too. If you're not very careful, your fingers could easily get in the way and end up where no fingers belong - under the blade of your knife.
But all of this doesn't mean that you have to give up your love of vegetables entirely. You can still enjoy all the veggie garden has to offer once you know a few tricks and tips for cutting even the largest of vegetables. So grab your knife, and let's get to work.
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1. Use a very sharp knife
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It can't be said enough. If you're going to be cutting and chopping in the kitchen, you need to be using a razor sharp knife. Many people have heard the saying that a dull knife will cut worse than a sharp one, and it's true. When using a dull knife you have to apply a lot more pressure to get it through the food you're trying to cut, and that force can do a number on your hands, fingers, and even wrists; especially when cutting large vegetables that are awkward to cut. So before you try cutting anything run your knife through an electric sharpener, use a sharpening stone, or even just run the blade along the bottom of a ceramic mug.
2. Peeling and cutting butternut squash
Butternut squash is a favorite of many. It can be eaten on its own, tossed in salads, or turned into a creamy soup. But first you have to cut and peel it, and that can be pretty difficult. But it doesn't have to be.
Start by cutting both ends off the butternut squash and then slicing it straight down the center. Remove the seeds with a spoon and pop both pieces into the microwave and microwave for just about 2 minutes. This will soften it up enough so you can easily peel and cut the rest of the squash.
To peel the squash, use a sharp vegetable peeler and discard the peel. Then, cut each of the pieces in two again so you end up with four pieces. Lay the flat side of each on a cutting board one at a time and then chop and dice the squash to the size you need. Then it can just be added to chicken stock to make a delicious soup, or roasted in a hot oven when adding to salads or serving as a side.
3. Peeling and cutting rutabagas
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Rutabagas are delicious, and should not be mistaken with turnips. Rutabagas are significantly larger than turnips, which can make them more difficult to cut; and they're also often covered with a waxy coating for storage, which only adds to the difficulty of preparing them. No vegetable peeler, no matter how sharp, is going to be able to get through both that wax and the thick skin of the rutabaga, but there is an easy way to do it.
Start again by slicing both ends off the rutabaga. The, slice it lengthwise into four to eight pieces, leaving the skin on when you do. Once you have many smaller pieces, you can then just use a paring knife to easily remove that skin. Once you're left with the bare vegetable, chop and dice as you like and roast it in a hot oven.
4. How to peel and slice/dice sweet potatoes
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Sweet potatoes are becoming all the rage, and you don't have to wait until you're gathered around the holiday table to enjoy them. While these are much sturdier than white potatoes, which makes them more difficult to cut, it can be done.
Start by peeling the sweet potato with a very sharp vegetable peeler. Then chop the ends and the sides off to create a square sweet potato. Try not to waste too much of the sweet potato when making this square. It doesn't have to be perfect and you're really just trying to give yourself a flat surface for cutting. Once you have the square, slice it into smaller squares or rectangles and then lay those flat. Then you can just make several cuts both horizontally and vertically to create the size of the dice you need.
5. How to cut cabbage
If you need whole cabbage leaves, don't cut it at all. Just place it in a pot of boiling water and as soon as it's cool enough to handle, just peel the leaves off. But cabbage is so much better than those cabbage rolls that requires the use of whole leaves; and things like coleslaw will call for that cabbage to be shredded. And that can be intimidating when you have a large head of cabbage rolling around in front of you on your cutting board.
To do it, place the cabbage so that it's standing up and the core end of it is on your cutting board. Cut the cabbage straight down the middle and then place both halves flat side down on the cutting board. Cut each piece one more time straight down the middle. You'll now have four pieces that still have some of the core attached. One by one, pick those pieces up and, starting at the top of the core and working your way down, slice the core out. Then you can lay the cabbage back down and dice it if you're using it in a stir fry, or make small slices to shred it.
6. How to cut romaine lettuce
Romaine lettuce is the base of Caesar salad - one of everybody's favorites. But with its leaves that can spread out to cover the entire cutting board, it can also be more difficult to chop than it seems at first. Here's an easy way to do it.
Gather the leaves together, twisting them slightly if they insist on fanning out. Keep your hand close to the root end of the head of lettuce and make two lengthwise cuts up each side of the lettuce leaves. Then cut across the other way so you end up with bite-size pieces that are perfect for salads.
But what if you're tired of Caesar salad and you want to try something else? Leave it whole, without making one single cut in it and drizzle it lightly with olive oil before tossing the entire thing on a hot grill or in a hot cast iron skillet for just two minutes. The char on the leaves make it even sweeter and, if you're using a grill, will even infuse some smoky flavor into it. Plus, the lettuce will wilt slightly so even if you're going to chop it, it will be a lot easier to do.
7. How to peel and clean a pumpkin
Okay, so this won't work for those pumpkins you carve for Halloween, but it will work perfectly the next time you need to cook a pumpkin for soup or to make pumpkin pie from scratch. Make sure your knife is sharp for this one, as it does make cutting pumpkin easier, but there's no getting over how large pumpkins can be.
Start by slicing your pumpkin straight down the center. Don't worry about the end of the vine that may still be attached; this will come off later with the skin. Once you have two pieces of pumpkin, scoop out the seeds with a spoon and then cut each half in half again, laying them on the flat cut side when you do.
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Once you have four pieces of pumpkin, place them into the microwave and cook them for just two minutes, working in batches if all four pieces won't fit in your microwave. When they come out, carefully slide the skin off the pumpkin. It will be hot, so use oven mitts or a kitchen towel to do this. Once the skin is off, lay each piece on its flat side and chop and dice into the desired shape for your recipe.
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