Choose from firm vegetables such as raw fennel, carrots, onions, potatoes, taro root, celery root, cucumbers, daikon, zucchini and cabbage. Firm fruits such as apples, pears, lemons and limes also work well. Roots such as turnips should first be partially cooked. Hard cheeses can also be grated with a mandoline.
- Don't worry about waste when using a mandoline. It's better to have a little left over than to run the risk of cutting yourself.
- Mandoline blades are extremely sharp. If you're not using the safety guard, protect yourself by wrapping a towel around your hand or invest in a pair of Teflon or Kevlar gloves.
- To hold a Japanese mandoline in place, set it on a damp folded towel or in a steadied bowl.
- To julienne vegetables into perfectly even lengths, cut them crosswise into the length you prefer before slicing them with the mandoline.
- To make tiny diced vegetables that are ideal for soups and garnishes, use the julienne blade first, and then use a knife to dice by cutting them crosswise.
All Kinds of Mandolines
Long before Cuisinart was a household name, mandolines were making home cooks look like pros. Bron-Coucke, the maker of a crème de la crème French mandoline, surmises that mandolines have been around since the 1500s. Their web site explains, "The first illustrated culinary book was published in 1570 by Bartolomeo Scappi, who was Pope Pius VI's cook. One of his book's illustrations shows a small board with a central cutting blade and other small perpendicular blades to cut vegetables into thin sticks."
The body of Scappi's mandoline was most likely made out of wood, as some old-style European versions are now made. Today, some of the best choices include the inexpensive plastic Japanese mandoline made by Benriner; Matfer's version, made of stainless steel with a black fiberglass frame; and Bron's model, made completely of stainless steel with attached blades.
All mandolines work on the same principle: The user slides the vegetable through different stainless-steel blades to produce a julienne, French-fry cut, straight slice, waffle cut or ripple cut. Knobs or levers also adjust the thickness of each cut, down to the most transparent, paper-thin slice.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma TASTE (Summer 2001), "Using a Mandoline," by Sarah Deseran.