Can You Hack It?

The following text is an excerpt from my latest cookbook, Real Food, Really Fast. Get more speedy tips and tricks, along with over 100 delicious, lightning-fast recipes inside! Better yet, if you’re in the SoCal area this weekend, catch me at the California Vegetarian Food Festival on Saturday, September 29th, where I’ll be demonstrating my infamous Garlic Bread Soup. Come early to snag a seat, and come hungry for generous samples!

The single most important ingredient in any recipe can’t be measured in tablespoons or cups, nor can it be bought, borrowed, or stolen. That extra piece of the puzzle that most cookbooks fail to address is you, the intrepid cook, boldly venturing forth to explore new culinary territory. Anyone can read a recipe and it doesn’t take a classically trained chef to chop an onion, but there are certain steps that can be taken to speed through prep work in record time. To better prepare your vegetables, you must prepare yourself. Move with intention and a sense of urgency; know your next step before you get there to keep dancing through the routine with grace. That also means reading through each recipe from start to finish so there are no surprises halfway through the hustle.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a new cook, the following suggestions should help tune up your techniques to get food on the table faster than ever before.

  • Citrus: Always zest lemons, oranges, and limes first, before slicing or juicing. While they’re still whole you’ll have more surface area to work with, and a better base to hold so you’re less likely to grate your fingers at the same time. Then, to extract the most juice as possible, microwave for 10–15 seconds to gently warm, and roll them firmly against the counter to break down some of the cell walls before cutting in half and squeezing.
  • Garlic: Separate the cloves and give each one a sharp whack with the side of your knife to instantly loosen the skins. You should be able to pick the peel right off. Once cleaned, you can continue smashing and mashing them with the side of the knife, rather than the blade, to yield a quick, coarse paste that can be used instead of a fine mince.
  • Ginger: Don’t bother breaking out the peeler to remove the tough outer skin. Use a paring knife to shave away the exterior if needed, but better yet, buy very young, fresh ginger that doesn’t need to be peeled in the first place. In Japanese markets, this is referred to as “myoga.”
  • Cauliflower or Broccoli: Pare away the leaves and trim down the excess stem. Place the head in a large, clean plastic bag, and twist it closed. Bang the whole thing down on the counter repeatedly, stem-side first, to easily break it down into bite-sized florets.
  • Cherry Tomatoes: Instead of chasing around each tasty red marble and slicing them in half one by one, slash straight through a whole batch in one fell swoop. Place a generous handful between two plates and gently press down to keep them all stable and still. Use an exceptionally sharp knife to cut horizontally through the center to cleanly halve tomatoes.
  • Corn: Once cooked, shuck corn quickly by slicing off the bottom of the husk and simply pushing the ear out, leaving the messy silk behind.
  • Cherries (and Olives!): Don’t bother with a unitasking cherry pitter if you’re unlikely to use it more than once or twice a year. Place each cherry on top of an empty glass soda or beer bottle, and use a chopstick to poke out the pit, pushing it straight down into the bottle.
  • Non-Dairy Milk: Whip up an instant dairy-free beverage by simply combining 2 tablespoons of your favorite nut butter (almond and cashew are my favorite options, but sunflower, peanut, and pecan are also excellent alternatives) with 1 cup of water in your blender. Blend until smooth and use as is for savory cooking or baking, or add up to a tablespoon of sugar, agave, or maple syrup to sweeten it for drinking.

Why cut and chop with conventional techniques when you can hack your way to faster food prep? Some specific foods hold secret shortcuts that will leave traditional methods in the dust.

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