Finally, I found the one I love! (Thanks to Karen from FamilyStyle Food for the recommendation!) It's a Japanese-style benriner, some times called a Japanese mandoline (or mandolin) or an Asian mandoline (or mandolin), some times called a V-Slicer.
Me, I call it extraordinarily handy in the kitchen, especially for transforming raw vegetables into perfectly thin and perfectly versions of themselves -- often this makes them edible (and enjoyable) uncooked, but for cooking small size means fast cooking.
In 2005, it was a technique for aggressively trimming broccoli that was 'life transforming' - at least the vegetable area of my life! In 2007, it's the Benriner that allows two of my four tips for transforming mundane vegetables into something new and exciting.
So yes, I'm sold.
Will the Benriner replace knives? No. Sorry, the knives aren't destined for Goodwill and they'll still need regular sharpening. Even so, there's no matching the perfectly thin and perfectly even slices that emerge from a mandoline. And the three interchangeable blades create different widths of vegetables.
- The 'fine' blade creates light fluffy bits of vegetables, almost like a microplane does for lemon zest and Parmesan.
- My favorite is the 'medium' blade, for 'noodles' of vegetables along with matchsticks.
- The 'coarse' blade cuts narrow batons.
Is the Benriner better than the food processor for slicing? Yes. I love my 20-year old Cuisinart but don't like how it slices, except narrow vegetables, like carrots.
So you're sold, Alanna. How how do you use a Benriner?
To my mind, the benriner is very intuitive since there are only two knobs to adjust and one place for one of three blades to be inserted. But after pulling it out of the cupboard once or twice a week for a couple of months now, I'll pass along a few tips. I'll add new ones as more experience is gained but please, feel free to add your own tips in the comments.
Technique Tips for the Benriner
- DO USE THE FINGER GUARD (unless you're happy to visit an emergency room)
- Work slowly and deliberately, taking care each time you move.
- If you're in the habit of pouring a glass of wine while you cook -- do so after using the Benriner! You know the warning, "Do not operate heavy machinery while sleepy or distracted or under the influence"? It applies to the Benriner, too.
- Set the blade where you think you want it. Then do a test slide to see if the thickness / width of the vegetables is what you want.
- Use a light touch. Don't push, just slide. This lets the Benriner do the work.
- If it's 'hard' to slide, lighten your touch. Honestly, lighter is easier.
- Vegetables seem to have a grain. If sliding one way is a little tough, turn the vegetable another way, again if necessary.
- Whenever the area underneath is full, the Benriner will stick. It helps to 'count' to know how many slices that'll be.
- Follow the Benriner's tracks. Keeping a straight edge along the side helps too. Some times it helps to actually cut a straight edge on the vegetable so it's automatically guided along the edge.
- The finger guard is designed to run perpendicular to the Benriner but it works the other way too, making it easy to switch directions.
- If the finger guard can't keep a grip because of an irregular top surface, after a slide or two, turn the piece upside down, flat edge on top so the finger guard can get/keep its purchase
- Be prepared to throw away (or save for compost or vegetable stock) end bits, you just can't get that close, especially with the finger guard.
- So far, what slices beautifully: potatoes, beets, celeriac, zucchini, kohlrabi, radishes, young turnips, carrots (though with carrots, be prepared to leave behind a good inch since you can't use the finger guard) -- and fingers, are you using the finger guard???
- So far, what hasn't sliced well: green papaya
- Rinse the Benriner right away, especially the blades. This means right away, not after five minutes, not after supper. You really don't want the bits of very thin (and thus easily dried) vegetables to stick to the blades.
- They're apparently dishwasher-safe but after a good rinse, I figure there's no need to risk the dishwasher heat warping the plastic. (And for the record, I one of those who puts everything that fits into the dishwasher, knives, cookie sheets, plastic. The blender. The food processor bowls. Well, okay, I don't put the cast iron skillet in there.)
- I dry the removable blades on a paper towel, then wrap them in a clean towel and store in a small freezer bag. (The blades are truly sharp. You don't want to risk a bad cut by keeping them in a drawer, for example, even the mandoline box.)
- The brand I'm happy with is from Benriner Co, Ltd and is made in Japan.
- The model is the 'narrow' Benriner and has a 2 1/2 inch (64mm) sliding surface. So far, this width works fine and is so small it's handy to pull out a few times a week.
- But if I were to purchase another, I'd be tempted to order the larger Super Benriner (95mm or 3 3/4 inches but sorry, Amazon seems to no longer have that item available) or even the still-larger Jumbo Benriner (115mm or 4 1/2 inches).
- More important than width, however, might be getting one with a container that rests underneath to catch the vegetables as they fall -- at least, that's what I thought at first, since I had no luck operating mine over a bowl, as hoped, nor with balancing it on its end. Now I think it's a matter of personal choice and it might depend on how you'll use it since even a container underneath would fill up and it's lots easier to just lift up the Benriner than to open up a container. So: a choice.
What I Don't Know is how to pronounce Benriner! My mind pronounces it ben-REE-ner but of course, that would not be the phonetic Ben-RINE-er. Thoughts?
FROM THE ARCHIVES I'm so happy with the Benriner (and think you will be too) that there's a special spot in the Recipe Box for dishes where I use (or wish I'd had used) a Benriner. So here you go - the Benriner recipes.