Fancy vegetable shapes aren't just for garnishes or salads. Vegetables in certain shapes may actually be the most appropriate for specific recipes, such as for soups and stews. However you serve them, vegetables cut in fancy shapes may lead to your family eating -- and wanting -- more.
Fancy vegetable cuts, and their equally fancy French names, include julienne, jardiniere, chiffonade, ruban, mirepoix, brunoise and paysanne cuts, as well as an oblong shape called “turned vegetables a l'Anglaise." Each cut is a version of a basic stick, strip, square or oblong shape. To determine which fancy cut is the most appropriate for your recipe, consider the type of vegetable and how you intend to use it, such as whether you plan to eat the vegetable raw, use it in cooking or display it as a garnish.
Julienne and jardinière stick cuts are common ways to cut vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, zucchini and bell peppers, for cooking or to use as a garnish. While both average about 2 to 3 inches long, the thinner julienne stick averages about 1/8-inch wide and a jardinière averages about ¾-inches wide. Large 1- to 2-inch mirepoix squares -- often called “rough cut” squares -– and 1/8- to ¼-inch diced brunoise squares are most appropriate for carrots, onions and celery you plan to use in cooking. “Turned vegetables à l'Anglaise” -- also called barrel shapes -- are usually 2 inches long by about 1 inch thick and suitable for root vegetables, such as potatoes and rutabagas.
Decorative cuts include paysenne, or variations of square shapes such as diamonds or “crinkles,” as well as chiffonade confetti and the long, rectangular ruban ribbon. Square shape variations are common for cutting french fries, and paysenne shapes are useful for enticing your children to eat raw vegetables. Select and use a chiffonade cut when you want to use a leafy green as a garnish. Stack and roll greens into a cigar shape, slice across the length of the roll, then fluff the thin strips with your fingers. Chiffonades take on the appearance of confetti on top of a salad, another vegetable or meat. Ruban ribbons are easy to bend and twirl, and a good way to use high-moisture vegetables such as cucumbers or zucchini as a garnish. The trick to ruban ribbons is to make each slice as long and thin as possible.
Fancy vegetable cuts require both standard and specialized tools. Peel fresh vegetables with a standard vegetable peeler, and use a chef’s knife for making standard decorative stick or square cuts. Purchase a French mandoline for better control over thickness when you cut vegetables to use as a garnish. Cut crinkle shapes with a crinkle cutter, and use a variety of different cookie cutter shapes to help you cut vegetables into “fun” shapes sure to encourage your family to dig in and enjoy eating vegetables.