Vegetables: Preparation and Usage Tips

Sometimes you meet a new vegetable, and you don’t know what to do with it. Or you’ve never cooked before. Or maybe there’s a trick to making things easier to use. I’m going to put down what I know here, and please do share your wisdom too. I try to put most of my vegetable trimmings in a compost pile or give it to our worms.

This list is alphabetical.

Top and tail means to cut off the top part, where the stem would be, and the bottom part, usually where the root begins in root vegetables.

This page is a work in progress. Please be patient.


Buy beets which are firm and not wrinkled or blemished. The greens are edible.

Beetroot stains! When cutting beets, don’t use your best wooden chopping board or wear your best white clothes. Try not the get the juice on you. Top and tail the beet. Wash well. Use a peeler to peel off the skin and cut into the desired size.


When buying celery, try to avoid older, yellowing, or very thick stalks.

When cutting, cut off a thin slice from the bottom, to get any ingrained dirt off that can’t be washed out. Cut off and discard the outer leaves. You can use a vegetable peeler to “destring” the tougher celery stalks.


Chard is a lovely, flavorful green, with a delightfully crunchy stem. When buying chard, look for leaves that aren’t wilted, or too bug-eaten (although if you buy organic or from a farmer you might find a few holes). They should be bright green, not very dark green, grey, or brown. The stems should be firm, not soft, and should not be blemished. Make sure to look in the middle of the bunch, in case there are wet or rotting leaves hiding there.

Wash chard well to make sure you get all the dirt off. We grow our own, and didn’t use pesticides, so sometimes had to pick insects and slugs off it. So if you are growing yours, wash it very well! Cut off a thin slice off the very bottom of the stems and discard. Cut the leafy part off the stem and set aside. You can cut up the stems and use them in whatever you are cooking, or save them for another recipe. They are delicious, though, so don’t discard them. Use them right away or they will wilt.

Place the leaves on top of each other. Roll them up a bit and cut them across the width into thin ribbons.

Fennel bulb

Wash well. Cut off the fronds and stems. I think you can use the leaves for seasoning. I use the leaves all the time.Cut off the root portion (a thin slice off the bottom).


Buy garlic that is whole, no pieces missing, not sprouting, and doesn’t look like it has black under the skin. If it looks very yellow, it is probably old, so don’t buy it. I prefer to buy garlic with larger cloves, since they are easier to peel and chop.

To peel garlic easily, slice it almost (but not fully) in half lengthwise, across the fat end of the clove. Pull the halves apart gently, and the peel will come right off. You can also smash it with the flat of your knife, or microwave it for a 5-7 seconds, but I prefer the first method. If your recipe calls for minced garlic, use a garlic press and don’t worry about peeling it.


Cut away the root part of the leeks. Also cut away the green leaves that have separated.

Cut the leek lengthwise, and then cut it lengthwise again.

Gently separate the tops of the leaves and wash the dirt off. Make sure to rinse it well, or dirt will remain trapped between the leaves.


Whether you are using mild peppers, like bell peppers/capsicums, or hot peppers, the same rules apply.

Buy peppers that are firm, not soft and wrinkly, and have a good color for their variety. No spots.

When cutting rounder peppers, Cut them from the side. Slice off a side of the pepper, more toward its edge than middle. The inner seeds and lighter part will be exposed. Cut another slice off the side, avoiding the lighter part and seeds. Keep cutting in slices around the sides until you have cut away all the pepper, and all that remains are the seeds and the lighter inner portion. Discard that, and cut pepper as needed for the recipe.

When cutting longer, chili peppers, cut off the stem portion. Slice them lengthwise. Using the edge of your knife, scrape off the seeds and lighter, inner portion. Rinse before using. If you are going to put them in oil, pat them dry before doing so.

When cutting hot peppers, try not to get the seeds on your hand. If you have sensitive skin, you might want to use surgical gloves while handling them.


When buying potato, look for taters that are not soft, nor should they have large black spots, too much green, or wrinkled skin.

Do not eat the green parts or the parts that are spudding (sprouting).

The skin on a potato adds great flavor to dishes. Use a vegetable brush, or a hard toothbrush, to brush off all the dirt. Rinse well.

To cut potatoes small, slice them lengthwise, then lengthwise again. Keep slicing them lengthwise until you have the thickness desired, then cut them horizontally to the desired width.

I often boil the potatoes before cooking sabzis (vegetable dishes) with them, such as when I cook them with peas or cauliflower. That way, I spend less time actually watching them in the pan. Boiling also helps to peel them quickly.

Potatoes work great in curries because they absorb the flavors of whatever you put in the curry, e.g. coconut milk.

Too much salt in your curry? Add a raw peeled potato. It will absorb some of the salty liquid and, when it does, you can remove it and add more liquid if needed. The salt will be reduced. Don’t throw away the potato! Eat it!


Choose tomatoes that are brightly colored and firm to the touch, but not hard. Do not buy tomatoes which have wrinkled skin, green patches, or black spots. If you find your tomato has a few very small black spots, and they are only on the skin, it is safe to cut them off and eat the tomato. Press the tomato very gently. If you leave a thumb impression, it is a little overripe.

To cut a tomato: cut it lengthwise, just next to the green spot where the stem was. Use a very sharp knife. If you don’t have one, a serrated blade might help.

Make two cuts in a V shape on either side of the green spot to remove it. You will have a little triangular piece of tomato. You can discard this. Cutting it this way minimizes the amount you discard.

If you need to remove the seeds, scoop them out with a spoon.

To blanch a tomato, boil water in a pan. Drop the tomato into the boiling water for 15 seconds, then run through cold water. The peel will come off easily.

Preserving tomatoes: The best way is to freeze them. It preserves taste and nutrients. Chop them up and put them in a freezer-safe container or a Ziploc bag. The next day, you can vacuum-seal them. You won’t be able to vacuum-seal them before you freeze them, because the liquid will interfere with the vacuuming process.


Buy turnips that are firm and not discolored.

Peel them before using them.


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