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How to cut into intimidating fruits and veggies
Crack the code of produce like spiny pineapples and rock-hard coconuts
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Peel back the tough outer leaves of artichoke to get to the soft core.

Some fruits and veggies in the produce section are downright scary.

A few look so difficult to cut and prepare - with spikes, spicy-hot juices or an impenetrable outer shell - they make you run to the canned aisle.

Well, don't let these little monsters scare you; think of them as nature's goodness in hard-to-open packages.

Take pineapples - these tropical beauties look daunting but have a sweet, tart flavor when cut fresh.

"A canned pineapple is going to be much sweeter because they pack it in juices or syrups," said Timmy Lee, chef and owner of Sweetfire Lodge in Gainesville and Prime Parc in Buford. "I always prefer a fresh pineapple."

Lee added that some folks do get concerned about cutting into certain fruits, but they shouldn't be worried.

"A pineapple or a mango are usually the kind of fruits that people get a little iffy about how to cut through," Lee said.

Other troublesome produce includes coconut, fresh ginger, artichokes and hot peppers.

So, we talked to some local chefs to give us direction on getting into these tricky items.

Coconut

If you are having visions of Tom Hanks from the movie "Cast Away," hurling the coconut onto a rock to crack it open, don't worry. You don't have to be that dramatic at home.

But a cleaver and a hammer could make your life a lot easier when cracking open a coconut.

"You basically have to have a cleaver and you have to crack that sucker open," Lee said. "It's not something you just cut easily into."

Once the coconut is cracked, pry open the top, pour out the coconut milk and cut up the meat inside.

Pineapple

A pineapple is a wonderfully delicious and juicy summer treat and actually doesn't take long to prepare.

To chop a whole pineapple, chop off the top and the bottom then stand the fruit up and cut off the spiny sides.

"I would cut about 1/2-inch or 3/4-inch each side and stand it up," Lee said. "I recommend using a serrated knife for this ... at that point you want to start peeling the edge off the pineapple starting at the top and going about maybe a 1/4-inch from the outside. Move your blade with the curve of the pineapple."

Ginger

Fresh ginger for marinades, Asian or seafood dishes is a perfect flavoring.

But when you see brown, knotty ginger root at the grocery store, do you stare and look perplexed?

Well, the piece of ginger is one of the easiest roots to control.

"First you have to skin it," Lee said. "What you do is take a spoon or a take the back edge of a knife ... and scrape it along, hold the ginger root in one hand against the table or counter top and then peel the skin off that way. At that point you can either chop it to your specifications or use a box grater like you would for cheese."

Artichoke

The artichoke is a delicacy, according to Luna's chef Albert Lunalover, but many people think the vegetable is too difficult to prepare and is too expensive.

He said if you know the steps to prepare the artichoke, you can use the vegetable in multiple recipes.

"You take the whole artichoke and you take salt, water, lemon juice, you can take a bay leaf, thyme, even garlic and onion with water and bring it to a boil," Lunalover said. "Add the whole artichoke in there and make sure you put some weight on it, so the artichoke will be all the way submerged. Then you take a skewer ... to make sure it is done, if it goes through with a little resistance it is done. Then you want to cool it."

After the artichoke is cooled, then it's time to peel off all the leaves and trim the meat away until you are only left with the heart.

"Cut it in half, quarter it and take out all the fuzzy hair," Lunalover said. "If you clean the stem too, you can eat part of the stem."

Juan Luna, owner of Luna's, said he loves taking the artichoke and frying it.

"Take buttermilk and seasoned flour," Lunalover said. "You can dip in flour and fry it."

Hot peppers

Francisco Hernandez, a cook at El Paisa Restaurant in the Texaco shopping center on Dawsonville Highway in Gainesville, said hot peppers are easy to prepare as long as you take a couple of precautions.

"Wear gloves and don't touch your face," he said. "When you finish, wash your hands as soon as you can."

If you do touch your eyes, rinse with mild soap and water.

Hernandez recommended cutting a jalapeño lengthwise or chopping it into rounds before adding it to a salsa or other dish.

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