Jump into Fall Veggie Prep With This Guide
With fall in full swing, those knives are about to slice through some hard, starchy veggies that come to our tables around this time of year. And with the holidays right around the corner, you might want to do an inventory check to make sure you have the right tools for those big holiday get-togethers. To help you with a little bit of holiday meal planning, let’s go over the best options for cold season vegetables.
Which Knives to Use for Fall Vegetable Prep
When most people think of fall and winter veggies, the first thing that might come to mind is hard winter squash, which covers several varieties including pumpkin, butternut squash, acorn squash, or maybe even sweet potato. But there is actually a plethora of fall vegetables that are just as common and sometimes overlooked – but just as seasonally delicious!
Those hard vegetables will need a larger and more substantial knife, while some others may need a smaller knife with a little extra finesse. No need to stress though because this guide will not only give you a full rundown on fall and winter vegetables, but also a list of the essential tools you'll need to get the job done.
Now let’s get to the veggies!
Oh My Gourd, Winter Squashes
Starting with the fall showcase of all veggies, winter squash and gourds are an immediate picture of fall when conjured up mentally (or googled). Think pumpkins, acorn squash, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, and delicata squash. If you’re familiar with these, then you know they’re the toughest veggies to slice through.
But fear not, dear chef, because with the right tools and just a little bit of confidence, you’ll be slaying these tough veggies like a boss! So about those tools – having different types of knives is helpful for whipping up delicious fall creations, but if there’s one tool you need to get the job done, it’s got to be the chef’s knife.
The sturdiness of the chef’s knife and it’s hefty heel will help you slice through large gourds like a warm knife slices through a wheel of soft cheese. Just make sure it’s sharp enough! And if you’re not sure your knife is up to the task, then check out these top signs of a dull kitchen knife.
When it comes to slicing up large gourds, it does depend on the recipe, of course, but for a quick and easy side dish, cutting it in half lengthwise and putting it in a baking dish with a little water may be the way to go. But, when the goal involves roasting smaller pieces or blending into a puree (as it will be for this amazing pumpkin ricotta tart!), then wielding a knife will be necessary.
Start off by cutting the round varieties in half crosswise and cutting the ends from the longer varieties (like butternut). At this point, you’ll also want to have a few other tools handy, mainly a spoon to scoop out the stringy insides and seeds, and a peeler or paring knife for the skin.
You can use the peeler to get around the outside of the skin if it’s not too thick, otherwise, default to the knife. If using the paring knife to peel the outer layer off, carefully focus on slicing downward without cutting away too much of the inner layer. Make sure to save as much as you can to make your favorite recipes, or try a new one like this delectable pumpkin ravioli with parmesan cream sauce.
Once the skin is peeled, use the chef’s knife to cut into smaller pieces or the desired size to use in your recipe or creation. If you’re struggling with removing the skin, another option is a serrated knife, such as a bread knife, which can be used to grate away the skin. It’s a chef’s trick some swear by – give it a try and see if it fares better.
Knife Knowledge 101: Top Uses for a Bread Knife
Those Sweet Beets!
Ah the beet – a hard and fibrous veggie that will stain your hands and tastes of the earth in which it grows. People either love them or hate them, but one thing is for sure, it’s a one-of-kind veggie!
When it comes to preparing beets, there are two options for slicing, along with a few different knives to choose from. If you plan on cutting into raw beets, you need a good chef’s knife to get through these tough veggies with ease. Whether you reach for a Western or Japanese chef knife, either will do – although the Santoku knife may be best if your recipe calls for thinly sliced beets to be roasted, like this recipe.
Knife Knowledge 101: Top Uses for a Santoku Knife
Your other option is one that is quite common in most restaurants and involves cooking before prepping. Whether roasting or boiling, this is ideal if you want to use cooked and chopped beets in a recipe because you can then easily peel them using a paring knife. The bird’s-beak paring knife is perfect as you can slide through the cooked beets and go around the curves smoothly and quickly.
Once peeled, the beets are no longer a hard, starchy obstacle to wrestled and the paring knife, or any sharp knife, will smoothly slice right through!
Grab the Cabbage
A versatile and common fall veggie, cabbage is used both cooked and raw in a variety of ways (and comes in a variety of types). The density of cabbage doesn’t make it difficult to cut up, but the size makes a difference here. The best option here is the Western chef’s knife. The length and pointed tip are both very beneficial here.
For slicing through a large cabbage head, the length of the Western chef’s knife is perfect for slicing through the whole head without having to chop through and flounder in the middle. The pointed tip is a nice addition here, as well, because it’s helpful when scaling the stem or core out of the head.
So whether you’re slicing up some cabbage for these bacon and cabbage hand pies, or dicing it up for a slaw to top off this Instant Pot pulled pork recipe, the Western chef’s knife really can’t be traded.
Carrots and Parsnips, Oh My!
As you chop, dice, slice or mince carrots, you can get by using one knife for the job or change it up with different knives for different purposes. You’ll use the same knives for parsnips as well, though the likelihood of a recipe calling for minced or diced parsnips is quite low.
The best overall choice for cutting your carrots, or parsnips in a variety of ways is either a Western chef’s knife or Japanese Santoku. The Western chef’s knife can make quick work out of a variety of knife cuts, from julienned to baton, while the Santoku knife is perfect for recipes that call very precise, uniform cuts.
Now, if you’re making a nice, warming pot of Bolognese and want the small mince of a brunoise, then that Western chef’s knife is interchangeable. Either way, using Japanese or Western knives here will get you the desired cut, so it really just depends on your preference.
If you find yourself with some delicious, multi-colored carrots or small, sweet parsnips, the utility knife is actually an ideal tool for slicing them into halves for roasting, or for recipes that call for oblique cuts. Since carrots and parsnips are smaller and cylindrical, the difficulty of welding a large chef’s knife is not ideal for safety or precision.
Knife Knowledge 101: Top Uses for a Utility Knife in the Kitchen
The utility knife can add the control and ease needed for these small, delightful veggies – give it a try with this recipe for ginger beer glazed carrots, or use them for your mother sauces like espagnole steak & potatoes or paleo chicken sauce tomat.
And if you’re wondering what to do with parsnips, then here are a bunch of recipe ideas!
Wild, Wild Mushrooms
While mushrooms can be found year-round in grocery stores, this is the season of fresh 'shrooms! During fall, when the ground is lush with falling leaves, the cool air and moist forest ground starts sprouting with seasonal wild mushrooms. This means those baby bellas and creminis should be left on the shelves as you reach for some of nature’s fall favorites like chanterelle, oyster, porcini, trumpet, and so many more.
Grab Some Porcini for this Recipe: Porcini Mushroom Risotto
When using mushrooms in dishes, you may want to slice or at least break down large varieties of these fungi in order to meet your needs. You’ll want to have a paring knife, utility knife and a chef’s knife on hand.
A fall favorite, and anytime delicious crowd pleaser, stuffed mushrooms are easy to prepare using the paring knife to hollow out those round cups. Then simply pop off the stems or use the paring knife to clean them out before stuffing them full of your favorite ingredients.
When it’s time to start slicing, grab that utility knife and make sure it’s sharp enough to easily slice right through the soft, sponge-like fungi without tearing. Using a utility knife when breaking down mushrooms into slices or smaller pieces is ideal as the size of mushrooms won’t be a hindrance when holding them in place.
The utility knife is great for precise slicing as the chef’s knife may be too large for achieving consistent cuts (and for protecting your guide hand from injury). But if you don’t have a utility knife on hand, then no worries! You can still use the chef’s knife, or even the Santoku, but with a little extra care.
The best advice for using a chef’s knife while cutting mushrooms, though, is to keep it sharp! Using a dull, or not quite sharp enough knife on these naturally slippery veggies can be a dangerous endeavor. At the very least, the knife may break the mushrooms and leave less than desirable looking pieces for the masterpiece intended. But no need to dirty up more knives when only one is needed.
Snuggle up to Some Mushrooms With This Recipe: Easy Beef Stroganoff
Don’t Cry for Me Onions
Onions will forever be on your kitchen counter for use in all seasons and cuisines. Fall cooking, however, is the epicenter of onion flavor, from sauces, stews and soups (like chicken tortilla soup), to chilli recipes (like Instant Pot turkey chili) and fresh salsas (like double-spiced salsa) to flavoring meats for various dishes.
Fall onions can also be used as the star ingredient in many dishes, like in this delicious caramelized onion dip or simply roasting them as a side dish since they’re at their best after a long summer of growing sweet.
Now let’s talk about how to prep these eye-watering bulbs (without crying). Get that cutting board ready and make sure that chef's knife is sharp. Onions have a small layer called a membrane that keeps the inside layers moist and, in turn, slimy. These little layers are the reason you start crying when you cut up a particularly strong onion – and why the knife may slip if it’s not sharp enough.
The chef’s knife is the ideal tool for slicing, chopping, and dicing the many varieties of onions and getting them ready for the baking sheet. You can try cutting the onion in half to roast with fall flavors, or slice them up and roast them with other fall favorites like winter squash and mushrooms.
There’s something so satisfying about watching an onion being diced, but also something so intimidating when you’re still mastering your knife skills. Having a sharp knife is essential to wrangling the onion.
So how do you tell your knife is sharp enough for the slippery onion? Here’s a test: Get a piece of paper (just a thin piece of printer or notebook paper will do, but not card stock), and hold it out in front of you while you slowly slice through it with the knife. Does it slice through smoothly? Or does it skip and snag, making you use a saw-like motion to get through it? If it goes through with some ease, it’s ready to slice up those onions, mushrooms, and any fall vegetables making their way to the dinner table.
Try slicing up some onions for this recipe for bechamel vegetable lasagna or this elk standing rib roast (it’s easier to make than you think). If the weather cooperates enough to get the grill going, then enjoy some onions on skewers like this recipe for Greek lemon chicken kabobs. And if you love dicing up onion, then get it ready for this recipe for Instant Pot arroz con pollo or this one for Instant Pot butter chicken.
The options really are endless when it comes to cooking with this versatile fall vegetable.
RADicchio and Chicories
Just like cabbage, the best knife for slicing up radicchio and chicories is a large chef’s knife. The Western chef’s knife is ideal with its slightly longer blade and pointed tip, but the Japanese Santoku will perform well, too.
These bitter veggies are not quite as smooth to slice through like cabbage heads, but they’re an easily prepped vegetable for a quick fall dish. You can slice it, chop it, or just pull off the leaves and use them in salads both warm and cold. With the length of the chef’s knife blade, the radicchio should be ready within minutes.
Best tip for getting it ready? Use a large cutting board. If you use a cutting board that barely fits the head of radicchio, the pieces will fly off the board and all over the counter as you cut, leaving you with only just enough space to not slam the sharp knife on anything other than the cutting board.
More on Cutting Boards: The Best Ones for Your Knives
Of course, onions, carrots and beets are also root vegetables, but fall also brings in more unusual and often forgotten root vegetables that should really be staples in our warming meals. Turnips, rutabaga, celeriac, and kohlrabi are just a few of the more common options that could (and should) pepper the table in colder months.
Whether they’re roasted or tossed in winter salads, paired with those bitter chicories or a crunchy cabbage, these hard underground vegetables need a tough knife. The Western chef’s knife will be your best bet for any of these roots, but a peeler or paring knife could also be helpful. Most root vegetables involve the peeling and removal of skin before cooking, so a peeler or paring knife are good to have on hand.
A good tip for prepping these types of vegetables is to use a chef’s knife of choice, either Western or Japanese, and cut off the top and bottom to give you a flat surface to work with. Here is where you can try to use a peeler if the skin appears to be thin enough to shave off, as with turnips and rutabagas.
If you’re working with hardened and never smooth roots such as celeriac and kohlrabi, it’s best to use the chef’s knife to cut downwards along the sides after making sure they’re safely balanced on a flat surface.
Sweet Potatoes Galore
A favorite of fall vegetables is, obviously, the sweet potato. With a peeler and sharp knife on hand, they can be cut in a variety of ways to add that perfect touch of sweet and savory to a dish.
While the peeler may not always be necessary, a sharp knife almost always is. When choosing your knife for this job, the weight and size are the most important aspects to keep in mind. Grabbing your chef’s knife is the best route here, as you want that knife to be a bit bigger and heavier in order to cut through the starchy, orange mass of a sweet potato.
Which style of chef’s knife works best? Either the Western or Japanese-style will work again, though the weight and size of the Western knife may be easier to handle if you’re dicing the sweet potatoes up for roasting, like this sweet potato bowl recipe. But if you’re slicing thinly or into strips, the Japanese Santoku offers just the right precision.
Just remember those sweet potatoes are hard and starchy, so you may want to be close to the sink or keep a damp rag on hand to wipe the blade periodically as the starches may stick and make cutting through large batches more. And, or course, make sure that knife is sharp! When applying the heavy pressure necessary to cut through a sweet potato, you’ll want that blade to slice right through without slipping (and cutting something other than the potato).
If you can only have one knife for slicing through those tough fall vegetables, the chef’s knife is the obvious way to go (especially if it’s F.N. Sharp). But if you’d like to have them all on hand, then check out the F.N. Sharp 6-knife set which features all of the essential (and exceptionally sharp) knives needed to complete any kitchen arsenal, while the F.N. Sharp magnetic knife block offers easy storage for keeping those fall veggie-cutting knives in tip-top shape!
More on Veggies: The A-Z Guide to Cutting Vegetables