In the kitchen, cooking enthusiasts and chefs alike keep their most cherished tools within an arm’s reach. Perhaps it’s a sharp knife with a comfortable grip, a wooden cutting board that’s just the right size or a cast-iron skillet for sautéing veggies to fiery perfection. But as the weather heats up, the last thing you’ll want to do is turn on the stove.
When the season changes, so will the kitchen gadgets you gravitate to. Warm weather leads to lighter eating. This includes a menu filled with more fresh vegetables, fruits and lots of crisp salads!
Although gourmet-looking salads seem like they require an hour or more of rinsing, drying, chopping and tossing, they don’t! You just need to equip yourself with the right tools.
Here are my top six salad-making kitchen tools you can’t live without.
1. Salad spinner
The last thing you want after assembling a vibrant salad is finding dirt lingering on your leafy greens—rich in nutrients? Yes. Flavor? Not quite. Do yourself a favor and invest in a salad spinner. It’s a quick, efficient way to get this messy job done correctly.
What to look for: From two-quart capacity to 4.5 quart, find the size that’s right for you. Salad spinners generally come in three parts: a sturdy main bowl, a strainer and a lid with a pump, pull-cord or turn-handle that clips on top. Some models have beautiful bowls that are nice enough to serve in.
In addition to removing dirt and grit, greens should have most of cleaning water removed. According to Good Housekeeping test reviews, it is estimated that the most efficient models can remove up to “90 percent water content.” The less amount of water left on your greens, the longer you can store them in the refrigerator without them wilting or rotting.
How to use: Rinse and spin! It’s as simple as that to clean delicate salad greens and fresh herbs without bruising.
Most home cooks find ways to use this relatively inexpensive kitchen tool daily. A peeler is essential for food prep, so you may want to consider having a few on hand.
What to look for: You can choose a Y-shaped blade, which works to remove the skin by peeling toward you. Y-shaped blades are often used in professional kitchens. If you like to get your kiddos involved, opt for a swivel blade as it’s easier to use.
Peelers are available with high carbon stainless steel, stainless steel or ceramic blades. Ceramic blades tend to maintain a sharp edge for a longer period of time but can break if dropped. High carbon stainless steel keeps its edge and is durable. Look for one that’s easy to clean and doesn’t clog.
How to use: Use to quickly peel carrots, potatoes, beets, broccoli stems and the outer rind of citrus fruits to flavor salad dressings. You can also use a peeler to shave asparagus, carrots and summer squash into thin ribbons to resemble spaghetti (cooking tip: dress with avocado oil and fig-infused balsamic vinegar). For best results, replace peeler every two years or so depending on how often you use them.
3. Handheld Juicer
When a recipe calls for a small amount of citrus juice, this tool will save you time and money by getting the most juice from your fruit.
What to look for: Wooden reamers, vintage glass reamers and hand-held metal juicers are all options for this task. Wooden reamers and glass reamers are easy to use, letting the reamer doing its job by pressing it into cut citrus fruit and collecting the juice. Strain juice to remove pits and pulp.
Long-handled metal juicers with dual-gear construction are best, ensuring more juice and less hand strain. These are also great when making cocktails! Some require hand washing and others are dishwasher safe.
4. Food Processor
A food processor is a big-time assistant in the kitchen when it comes to food prep. After use, easily disassemble the components and place in the dishwasher—easy!
What to look for: Choose a food processor that best fits your needs in size and budget. A larger size capacity, 14 cups, gives you the most flexibility. Look for a simple design with “on-off” button and pulse feature. A stainless steel base and heavy motor are good if this is a piece of equipment you plan to use a lot.
Your food processor should include a plastic S-shaped blade for making dough, (think pizza), a metal S-shaped blade for chopping along with shredding and slicing discs. A wide-feed tube makes it easier to process food without having to cut it down too much beforehand.
How to use: This gadget is great for grating and shredding vegetables to add to pasta dishes or bean salads. Easily fix up a quick fruit salsa, hummus or pesto. Slice, chop and shred vegetables or fruit beforehand and store for quick grab-and-go cooking. This tool can chop nuts and seeds or mince fresh herbs as well.
5. Handheld grater and zester
These come in a variety of sizes. You can use a shorter grater with a wider blade base or a longer, thinner one (this is the one I prefer). This handheld tool takes up very little room in your kitchen and can be used for so many things from zesting citrus peels to grating ginger, cheese and even soaps for homemade detergents!
What to look for: Razor-edged cut holes will give precision cutting with little effort. As a result, zest will collect under the blade after a few simple swipes across the cutting surface (one gentle tap will release the zest). Use caution when handling this tool, the cutting edge remains sharp after many uses. Choose the size that is easiest for you to hold with a soft, comfy non-slip handle.
How to use: Add citrus zest to your salad dressings and marinades to add a bright punch of flavor. Use it to quickly shred garlic and fresh ginger instead of using a knife. Hard cheese and dark chocolate are transformed into delicate shreds for garnishing a fresh salad or fruit salad.
6. Jars for dressings and sauces
Sometimes, simple is best—especially when you can recycle something you already have.
What to look for: Keep a jar or two, with tight-fitting lids, designated for homemade dressings and sauces. Canning jars with measurements on the side can be handy. Or, you can reuse a store-bought salad dressing bottle with a smaller top for easy pouring.
How to use: Add ingredients such as oils, vinegars, seasonings, herbs, mustard, citrus zest, capers or whatever you like. Secure lid and shake! Drizzle over your favorite dish and store the rest.