A DICEY PROBLEM

Is a vegetable chopper worth the cupboard space? Our expert panel puts five such gadgets to a stringent test
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WITH supermarkets now selling fresh vegetables ready cleaned and chopped, preparing your own produce could become a dying art. Some people, though, may regard buying ready-sliced onions or pre-shredded carrots as the height of extravagance, or of laziness - or they may simply prefer their vegetables freshly sliced and diced.

But however worthy chopping your own may be, it can be a drag to prepare large amounts. We've tested some gadgets that are intended to make life easier than if you simply wield a knife. We asked a panel of expert testers, all experienced in vegetable cookery, to try them out.

In general, they found that the choppers had little advantage over a knife - in skilled hands, at least. The vegetarian cooking writer Rose Elliot, for example, said: "My student nephew thought he would find one useful, but when I showed him how to cut a carrot into tiny dice by cutting it lengthwise one way, then the other, then across, he was amazed how much quicker that was. A little time spent learning chopping techniques and practising could be more useful than some of these gadgets." The vegetables also still have to be chopped into chunks before processing. One advantage of the machines, however, is that you avoid streaming eyes when chopping onions.

THE PANEL

Jane Stimpson, Head Chef at the vegetarian restaurant Food for Thought in Covent Garden, London, and author of New Food for Thought (Andre Deutsch, pounds 8.99); Rose Elliot, author of more than 40 vegetarian cookery books, including Vegetarian Cookery (Harper Collins, pounds 15.99); Liz Riches, freelance chef and food stylist; Judy Ridgway, author of The Quick After-Work Vegetarian Cook-book (published in paperback this month by Piatkus Books at pounds 9.99).

THE TEST

The members of the panel used each gadget to chop parsley, carrots and onions. They gave them marks for how easy they were to set up and use, how convenient they were to clean, how efficient they were at chopping and value for money.

***CULINARE AUTOCHOP CULO31

pounds 9.99

This is an updated version of a gadget of the Seventies and Eighties; you place the vegetables in a transparent plastic cup and push up and down with a plunger. Three choppers in our test work on this principle; the panel liked this one best because it was the easiest to use and the most efficient. "The best of all this type. It has a smooth spring action, which made it easier to use than the other two," said Liz Riches, although she found that it bruised the parsley. It was Rose Elliot's favourite of this kind, too. Judy Ridgway commented that the Culinare Autochop was hard to get going if you used pieces of vegetable that were too large. But, she added, "it chops onion very well, fast and evenly. It also chops carrots and parsley evenly, but it takes time." The Autochop can be used for meat, fruit and nuts as well.

BRABANTIA FOOD CHOPPER

pounds 8.95

The least successful of the three "autochop" type gadgets. Testers found that it was much harder to use and gave poorer results than the other two. Liz Riches said: "This one had an awful chopping action. It was temperamental and the blade often didn't revolve. The carrot and onion dice were uneven and took a lot of effort. It mangled the parsley, which was bruised and battered, not chopped. The 'scoop' type chopping board was a good idea, though." Rose Elliot found it the hardest to use of the three we tested: "It took the most force to push it up and down." It was also Jane Stimpson's least favourite, although she found all versions of the "autochop" type of gadget an effort to use, causing a lot of wear and tear on her wrist and elbow: "I'm not sure which would give way first, the chopper or my arm." Judy Ridgway added that the Brabantia was difficult to clean as food gets stuck in the curly blades."All round, a bad buy," she summed up.

**ZYLISS RAPID A1 FOOD CHOPPER

pounds 9.95

The third version of the "autochop" type, this one wasn't quite as popular as the Culinare. Judy Ridgway found it pretty similar, but Rose Elliot commented: "I didn't find it quite as easy to use nor were the results quite so even." Liz Riches found it hard to get the hang of it. "The spring action seemed too strong, and I had to be quite heavy handed. I found it difficult to get into a rhythm, tending to hang on to the pump handle, which then upset the rotation of the blades. It was difficult to follow the cleaning instructions, too." The Zyliss can also be used for nuts, chocolate and even ice cubes. The cup has a lid, so that it can be used to store left-overs.

****KENWOOD MINI CHOPPER CH100

pounds 19.99

This, the only electrically powered machine in the test, was the easiest to use and most efficient at chopping of all the gadgets we tested, making it our overall winner. "Wonderful, after all the hard work that went into the three earlier ones," said Judy Ridgway. "You do have to cut the food to fit round the blades, but it made short work of quite large chunks of carrots and quarters of onions. Very fast, very easy." The main drawback (apart from the price) is the machine's limited capacity - only 4fl oz/125ml - and it is a bit fiddly to set up. "It chops herbs and garlic quickly, but is not particularly useful for onions and carrots as the quantity you can process at one time it so small," said Rose Elliot. "Very neat and perfect for preparing ingredients for one or two people," commented Jane Stimpson. "But I'm not sure if I could be bothered to set it up and wash it, just to chop one onion." This machine can also be used for chopping nuts, meat and fish, pureeing fruit and making mayonnaise.

***DIVERMENTI MEZZALUNA

pounds 17.95

The kitchen of no self-respecting foodie would be complete without this double-handled chopping blade, which is curved (hence the name, "mezzaluna", meaning half moon in Italian). Two of our panellists were keen. "Simplicity itself: take it out, use it, clean it and put it away. Very good with parsley and the rocking action would deal well with soft herbs like basil. It takes longer than the 'autochop' type of choppers, but it's probably no more effort and gives a better-controlled result. Perhaps a little expensive, though," said Liz Riches. Jane Stimpson liked it too: "It takes up little space in a kitchen of any size and requires just a wipe to clean it. The only disadvantage is that it's difficult to sharpen." Judy Ridgway warned, however, that beginners should be wary. "This is a messy and awkward tool if you have never used one before. Carrot pieces, for instance, tend to go spinning out of control." She would rather use a knife, as would Rose Elliot, who admitted that she had never liked the things. "Give me a good, sharp cook's knife any day," she asserted.

STOCKISTS

Zyliss: Harrods, Selfridges and most good cook shops; Divermenti: from shops at 45-47 Wigmore Street, London W1 or 139-141 Fulham Road, London SW3 or mail order (0171-386 9911); Kenwood: telephone 01705 476000 for stockists; Brabantia: from good hardware and kitchenware shops; Culinare: telephone 0181-868 4355 for stockists.

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