Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Chop, Chop


I recently attended a potluck dinner, which I knew was short on salads. I thought long and hard about what to bring and finally settled on a chopped vegetable salad. I chose it because it was brightly colored and looked good, and also because it would be easy to serve and eat.

This one was a snap to make: two plum tomatoes, one English cucumber, one yellow and one red bell pepper, and one bunch of scallions. The dressing was a simple lemon vinaigrette flavored with fresh basil and parsley.

As I was preparing the vegetables, I realized how much I enjoy chopping by hand. It is such a basic, elemental daily task. Yes, I have a food processor, but I use it only for large-quantity cooking, because I also have a wonderful assortment of knives. Some were inherited from my great-grandfather. Although I have several stainless steel paring knives and one stainless bread knife, my favorites are made from carbon steel. I own a pretty impressive collection: a roast beef knife, a ham slicer, boning knives, several all-purpose knives, including one that has always been known as a pig sticker, and a few Chinese cleavers.

One cleaver has been my general slicing tool for decades. It fits my hand perfectly, and it slices vegetables quickly, cleanly, and effortlessly. Recently, though, I sliced through some chicken and nicked the blade, leaving a gouge in the straight edge. Although the knife had been bought in an Asian grocery store, it looked remarkably like a chalef, the ritual knife used in kosher slaughtering. Such knives  are not allowed to have any imperfections on their blades. My imperfect blade now speaks silently to me, telling me either to fix it or buy new. I have to find out whether the old blade is fixable, but I hope that it is, since a new knife requires serious getting-used-to. Who would have guessed that an old knife would become such a friend?

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