After garlic comes the other basic ingredients you’d have to peel before they can be popped into the wok as your base ingredients for any meal. The usual suspects you’d have to deal with would be: Shallots, onions, ginger, maybe even turmeric and of course, chili (although this hot last one does not require peeling but de-seeding when you want to tone down their heat before serving them for dinner).
Any way you look at it, these flavor-enhancing staples that form the base of most of our dishes require arduous prep time, most of which revolves around peeling off their tightly-worn skins. To say the work is a pain in the tush is an understatement. Let’s face it ─ peeling shallots, onions and ginger is no fun.
Who has the time to peel them all?
Certainly not busy mums rushing about their day.
So to help you out, here are five invaluable secret peeling hacks that will definitely help mums get rid of food skins that stand in the way of her meal-making duties.
Shallots are worse to peel than garlic. They are small and slippery and have tissue-thin skins that cling on for dear life no matter how you try to remove it. Imagine if you are cooking for a kenduri for 500 guests tonight and there’s a mountain of shallots you need to skin before you can make the base for the Chicken Rending you’re cooking? Regardless of today’s food processing technology where you can mash and grind with the push of a button ─ you still need to remove those skins manually! And you can’t smash shallots like garlic. They fight back. You’ll get squirted in the eye with acid.
So how do you peel them?
Fortunately, there is a way you can get around skinning these shallots and it involves a bowl and boiling water.
- Place your shallots in a heat-proof bowl.
- Boil some water (you can use the microwave, just don’t superheat it) and pour it over the shallots until they’re fully submerged.
- Let them stand for two to three minutes or until the skins are soft ─ no hard and fast rule to this except for your power of observation.
- Remove shallots from hot water and dunk them into cold water like a running tap to stop the cooking process. You don’t want your raw shallots cooked.
- Cut off the top and root ends of each shallot
- Then use your hands to slide those skins easily off the shallots.
- And there you have it: A big bowl of shiny, clean shallots!
Storing Peeled Shallots
Peeled shallots can be stored for up to one week in the fridge in an air-tight container. Once peeled, they shouldn’t be exposed to air or they can become bitter.
Another thing ─ don’t microwave your shallots like garlic. Shallots have multilayered skin and once microwaved, they will stick together like glue and will become more difficult to peel.
Onions are used a lot in Indian and Malay cooking to pack a punch to their mostly rich and spicy concoctions. The luscious flavour of the onion makes it necessary for all these full-bodied vegetable and meat dishes.
The onion is a root vegetable, much like the garlic and shallot. Compared to shallots, the pungency of the onion is far greater. Who will not smell the sharp odour when you cut into a raw onion? The acid it releases can make you cry in more ways than one.
Why Do You Cry When you Cut an Onion?
Onions produce the chemical irritant known as syn-propanethial-S oxide. It stimulates the eyes’ lachrymal glands so they release tears. Scientists used to blame the enzyme allinase for the instability of substances in a cut onion. The synthase enzyme converts the amino acids sulfoxides of the onion into sulfenic acid.
That’s the science of why you cry when you cut into an onion or when you peel and prepare them for the cooking pot.
And whether or not you are peeling a red, white or yellow onion, the fumes will get’cha. Here’s a quick way to skin your onions without weeping.
- Cut the onion vertically. Place the flat side of the halves down on the chopping board to minimize the fumes of the enzymes getting into your nose and eyes.
- Cut off the root and the unusable parts of the onion. (Some people leave the root of the onion intact to hold the onion in shape while you dice it into perfect pieces. (See the video below)
- By lifting the skin at the edge of the cut onion, peel the outer layer of each half with your hands.
- Cut the onion vertically in half, and remove the unusable parts.
- Stab it with a barbecue stick or a fork.
- Preheat a teflon frying pan and hold the onion against the side of the frying pan.
- Then peel it with your hands (wait for it to cool off first before handling).
- Now that you know what makes you cry, don protective gear! Wear swimming goggles if you’re slicing a large amount of onions. Seriously! Doing so will prevent you from crying.
- Refrigerate the onions before slicing them up, and do so when they’re still cold. This will slow down the release of the chemical responsible for making you cry.
- Wrap your hands with plastic gloves to prevent them from smelling like onions.
Learn How to Peel and Cut an Onion into Precise Pieces
Ginger is one of the most versatile edible plants around. Often called a root by mistake, it is in actual fact an underground stem which grows horizontally beneath the surface. Bury a piece of ginger in the ground and in a few months, you will find it has spread far and wide below the surface.
Ginger is hot, sweet, and punchy, and can be pickled, powdered, crushed, candied, dried or cooked fresh as a spice flavouring.
Ginger has the kind of heat that makes it the ideal confinement food for mothers after birth across cultures. It is good for removing “wind” from a gassy digestive system
Apart from that, it has many other health and medicinal benefits, not to mention beautiful flowers too! Yes, ginger is a flowering plant and produces beautiful flowers which can be “eaten” as well. Guess what ginger’s flower is?
Bunga Kantan is native to Malaysia ─ isn’t that nice to know? ─ and its scientific name is Etlingera elatior. Otherwise known as the torch ginger flower, it is that very same flower cooked in our food that makes our Malaysian dishes so inimitably Malaysian.
And if those flowers are not due for the wok, you can use them for decoration or as ornaments. They will make your house look pretty and smell lovely because Bunga Kantan emanates a sweet, refreshing scent.
However, for all its fabulous usability, ginger can be frustrating to peel when you want to consume it. Considering that it is knobbly, knotty and has thin skin that clings on far tighter than shallots, skinning it is time-consuming. If you use a knife, you may lose half of what you’re peeling, not to mention, lose half of your fingers too if you’re not careful.
Do not use a knife or vegetable peeler but a spoon instead. Below is a video that demonstrates how you can peel ginger better, faster and cleaner with a spoon.
Watch How to Peel Ginger with a Spoon
Turmeric is a flowering plant too like ginger. Its scientific name is Curcuma longa and it belongs to the ginger family, Zingiberaceae.
Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its yellow colour. Most people know that turmeric contains Curcumin, its main active ingredient which has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a very strong antioxidant.
Turmeric is so well known for its health properties that people want to consume it in any way they can, not just through curries.
Here is one refreshing new and trendy way to enjoy both turmeric and ginger.
Nourish Yourself with Golden Milk ─ Iced Turmeric Ginger Latte
No Need to Peel Turmeric
Apparently you don’t have to peel turmeric although some people prefer to. If you want to peel turmeric, you should also do it with a spoon, like ginger. (Do watch the video provided below to see how it is done).
The skin of turmeric is ultra thin, so be careful of your clothes and fingers when you handle the root. Turmeric is infamous for turning everything a bright, neon yellow. Everything it touches will turn to gold, literally. Isn’t that good? But it is difficult to get the stains off. So wear a full-bodied amour, or at least an apron and gloves if you don’t want to appear in public with yellow finger.
To consume fresh turmeric whole, just wash the root of any dirt and scrub it well. You can grate it with a grater or smash it with a garlic press or pestle and mortar.
Watch How Easy it is to Peel Turmeric and Ginger with a Spoon
4. Chili (Deseeding it)
The chili needs no introduction in Malaysia. It is everywhere in our cuisine. When not placed in the pot, it is cut into strips and used as a condiment or side dip with kicap. Very often we use chili padi while the bigger varieties are reserved for the pot as well as eaten whole such as in Yong Tow Foo.
So we need to deseed the chili for its various purposes.
How to Easily Deseed Chili
Watch Dai Chow stall or restaurant cooks who deal with vast amounts of chili in their prep work before they can open their stalls. This is how they’ll de-seed their chilis.
- Hold a chili in between both hands upright and rub the chili in between your hands. Give it several rolls.
- Apply a little amount of pressure. This is to release the seeds.
- You may also press the chili a little to further loosen the seeds
- Then simply cut the top of the chili off and tap out the seeds.
- Tap into a small bowl to save cleaning up the seeds.
And there you have it. What an easy way to deseed a chili!
Watch how to De-seed Chili fast and “professionally”
For more amazing everyday kitchen hacks, go to Motherhood.com.my