We eat with our eyes before any morsel of food touches our lips, so creating food that is as beautiful to look at as it is to eat is of vital importance. Sure, it’s easy to just hack all the ingredients and toss them together knowing that they’ll harmonise well and taste fantastic, but people are more likely to taste new dishes when they’re appealing to the eye.
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Also known as a “matchstick” cut , sturdy vegetables such as carrots and potatoes are cut into lengths measuring approximately 1/8 inch × 1/8 inch × 2 & 1/2 inches.
This is a very elegant cut that would work well for any salads involving root vegetables, as they hold their shape well and will keep their firmness even when cooked. Summery dishes that would benefit from allumette cuts would be Tunisian-style carrot salad, anything involving raw apple, or perhaps a raw zucchini salad with plenty of fresh herbs. Mexican-inspired dishes would be gorgeous as well, with jicama as the primary ingredient, cut into these beautiful, delicate little strips.
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Another use for those fancy little matchsticks is to transform them into perfect little dice: the ideal brunoise cut creates cubes that are 1/8 inch x 1/8 inch, although a fine brunoise is comprised of 1/16 inch cubes. Good luck with those.
Although these pretty little cubes are usually used as a garnish for soups (like consommé), they can also be very attractive in salads. Their even size brings an almost Bauhaus-like geometric style to food, and a variety of colours and textures used together can create a thoroughly enjoyable culinary experience. Try pairing diced apples, pears, and cucumbers with shaved red onion and goat cheese, with a balsamic vinaigrette and a scattering of arugula sprouts as garnish.
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That sounds so pretty, doesn’t it? This is a technique you’d use to cut leafy greens into long, delicate strips: the leaves are stacked, then rolled, and cut across to create thin ribbons of deliciousness. You can chiffonade basil leaves as a garnish for Caprese salad, or create feathery strips of raw kale and toss them with grapefruit wedges and toasted hazelnuts.
A green salad created from multiple leafy veggies cut in this fashion is very pleasing to both the eye and the palate, as the uniform cuts contain a variety of different shades of colour, as well as flavour. Consider the difference in taste and texture between lettuces such as Boston, romaine, and iceberg, let alone vegetables and herbs like radicchio, spinach, chard, sorrel, and mustard greens. Tossing those together and topping them with toasted seeds and nuts with a simple oil and lemon dressing creates a gorgeous taste experience.
You can use this technique with heavier greens as well, such as collards, which can then be wilted and served as a base for a salad of roasted beets, pears, and walnuts.
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This is a medium-dice cut, in which the cubes you create are 1/2 an inch all around. It’s most often used for potatoes, as there’s a certain elegance to a salad that’s comprised of ingredients that are of uniform size and shape. For a potato salad that’s a step up from the standard mayo-slathered variety, use a mixture of white and sweet potatoes, with brunoise-cut red peppers, fresh corn kernels, and a cumin-scented buttermilk dressing.
These are just a few of the traditional cuts that you can use to make summer salads a bit more festive, but there are countless other creative cuts that you can use as well. Like balls, for example. (Be polite, thank you.)
Melon balls were ridiculously popular back in the 1980s, but if you can get over associating them with that era, you might actually appreciate them. Much like with large cube cuts, balls created from fleshy fruits and vegetables can be quite elegant, especially when used together in colourful dishes that celebrate all the freshness of summer produce. Cucumber can also be carved into ball form, as can squash, zucchini, and pumpkin.
Do you like radishes? Try to avoid cutting them into roses unless you’re aiming for a particularly twee aesthetic. Radishes are firm, crunchy, and spicy, and their texture allows them to hold their shape beautifully when cut. You can halve them and peel away portions of the red skin to create ladybugs , for example, which are adorable for a kid-friendly vegetable platter or salad dish. Carrots also hold their shape well, so you can carve large ones into flowers or other interesting shapes.
Ultimately, you’re only limited by your own creativity: it’s great to know solid, classic techniques, but it’s also important to play and indulge your imagination. Experiment with different cuts and shapes, see how they work together, and develop some fabulous ideas of your own.