Over the years, I have learned from writing cookbooks and teaching cooking classes that recipe instructions for how to cut up ingredients can be confusing, especially to novice cooks not familiar with the lexicon of cooking words. For instance, one person might understand “coarsely chopped” as half–inch pieces, whereas another might imagine really huge chunks (easier to get through the task that way.) Then there’s “julienne,” “finely chopped” “thinly shredded,” and so on. Here’s a pictorial way to describe the words and take the guesswork out of how to proceed with the recipe instructions.
Starting on the top row left, there are:
- thinly shredded cabbage, cut to yield long, thin pieces, as for cole slaw. The term also can apply to basil, lettuce, or meats.
- carrot ribbons, which have been scraped off the carrot with a vegetable peeler. Parsnips, daikon, and zucchini can also be ribboned to use fresh in a salad composition or deep fry to crispness for snacking.
In the second row, left to right:
- coarsely chopped tomatoes, meaning cut into approximately 1/2-inch pieces without regard to shape.
- thin strips of yellow bell pepper, also called julienne, meaning cut into approximately 2-inch long x 1/16- to 1/8-inch wide strips. Slightly wider strips are matchsticks, and even wider, about 1/4-inch thick, they are batons.
- potato chunks, cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch or so pieces without regard to shape.
On the bottom row:
- strands of zested lemon peel. Zest means the finest possible slivers of, usually, citrus “skin.” There are various special tools for this; my preference is a fine rasp.
- minced jalapeno pepper, chopped so finely that there are no discernible pieces and juices are released.
- finely chopped garlic, close to minced but the pieces are still distinct, though quite small.
- (just plain) chopped red onion, the most general and most used instruction for cutting ingredients, especially vegetables, into 1/4- to 1/3-inch pieces, without regard to shape.
In addition, when the shape is important for the look of the dish, the recipe might call for:
- dicing, that is regular-sided cubes. Shown in the left column, top to bottom, are diced eggplant, tomato, and shallot of different sizes. Dicing can vary from 1/8-inch (brunoise) to 1/4-inch (concassee), up to 3/4-inch per side.
- thinly slicing, meaning cut crosswise 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick. Shown in the right column, top to bottom, are thinly sliced half moons of red onion, Anaheim chili pepper circles, and carrot ovals.