Ask CK: What Can I Buy Instead of a Food Processor?

If you have a question you'd like to ask Casual Kitchen, send it in!!
Reader Chacha1 asks:

This may be a phenomenally stupid question, but I am curious and it seems like you're the guy to ask.

I don't have a food processor and have no intention of buying one. What combination of manual tools is best for [foods like your Feta-Walnut Dip, spreads like hummus or other] preparations of this type? Can I just beat it all up with a wooden spoon?

Sadly, I'm actually not the guy to ask... because I honestly have no idea.

And I hear what Chacha1 is saying. We have a simple 7-cup Cuisinart with one switch and no features that ran us a relatively steep hundred bucks or so, which makes it by far the most expensive gadget in our kitchen. (And the heaviest too: the base must be filled with uranium, and I herniate myself every time I try to drag it out of the cupboard). The thing is, though, when we can instantly whip up things like a batch of homemade hummus or our incredible Feta Walnut dip, it always feels like that $100 (and a stray hernia or two) is well worth it.

But I do know that I have some of the most inventive and insightful readers out there who probably do know the answer to this question. Readers, what do you think? What would you use in place of a food processor? Or would you try to convince Chacha1 to rethink her position? Are food processors really worth it? Share your thoughts below!

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Anonymous said...

I don't own a food processor or a blender, but I have an immersion blender that I love and is a pretty good substitute for a lot of the functions of those 2 larger appliances. It's great for smoothies, pesto, hummus & other dips, batters, mousses & cream pie fillings, pureeing soups, sauces, etc. I've also used it to chop nuts & seeds. Of course it has its limits, but I've been surprised at its relative versatility and it's just about the best 20 bucks you can spend on a small kitchen appliance.

Erica Tesla said...

Seconding the immersion blender. The only food processor tasks it doesn't replicate well in my experience have been chopping hard items (like nuts not in a liquid or smooth dip, for which I use a knife), slicing/grating (I use a mandoline/grater or knife), and grinding my own meat blends for burgers (no substitute, which is why I'm glad my mom is returning our food processor - I love fresh-ground burgers). But if you're not using it for meat grinding, a knife, box grater, and immersion blender will do almost everything else.

Eleonora said...

The old style solution requires mortar and pestle, a half-moon knife and cutting board, a strainer and a potato masher/ricer. Lots of time and elbow grease.
If you don't own those tools (or don't want to play Laura Ingalls in your kitchen) I'd go with the immersion blender. It might be even cheaper than buying all that equipment!

Sally said...

I'm the only person I know who has an immersion blender and isn't in love with it. It's okay, but I don't think it's a good substitute for a regular blender. It is one of the highly rated and recommended immersion blenders. I think it was a waste of money.

I do have a basic blender and an equally basic food processor. I've had them for years and spent less than $100 total. I don't use them daily or sometimes even weekly, but I wouldn't want to be without them.

If you want smooth and creamy hummus, the food processor is the way to go. If you want it more rustic, anything you can mash the beans with will do.

I'd add a food mill and potato masher to Eleonora's list.

Karis said...

I'm also not in love with my immersion blender, and only use it for pureed soup. I just recently bought a 12-cup food processor to replace my mini 4-cup, and although the mini sometimes required multiple batches, it was more than sufficient. A mini food processor and/or blender are definitely sufficient for a majority of recipes.

The Calico Cat said...

My immersion blernder has an attachment that looks like a bowl... (Kithchen Aide KHB300) & consequently acts more like a food processor than just the stick blender.

gharkness said...

The second-best food processor I ever had cost me $5 at a garage sale. It's really equal to my $100 Cuisinart, but I figure I must have gotten SOMETHING from the C that I didn't get from the cheapie. The cheapie finally wore out, but only because I really worked it TO DEATH. If I were the questioner, I'd find me a FP at a garage sale or Goodwill, and forget about the immersion blender. I have one of those too, and it does nothing worth getting excited about.

Sarah C said...

I have one of these (not sure of the brand, but same look)

It's great for chopping nuts, garlic, onion, or herbs in small amounts. I also use it to mix vinaigrette since it mixes everything well and chops the onion.

Other than that, maybe a hand mixer for some things?

chacha1 said...

See, I knew this was the place - if not The Guy - to ask!

Sounds like I can do just fine - at least for a Feta Walnut Dip - with my knife, manual nut grinder, and potato masher. Meaning I don't have to buy any gear.

This is the kind of preparation I would only be doing a couple of times a year, so I really didn't want to add an appliance. Thanks y'all!

Eleonora said...

I forgot to mention that a great way to crush nuts (and chocolate) is to put the nuts in a large - sealable - bag, put the bag on a hard surface (a cutting board will do) and hit it with something heavy. A pan, a meat tenderizer, or a stone. When it's coarsely chopped, go on with a rolling pin. Just be careful: if the bag is small, or not well closed, you'll have crumbles everywhere!

Wet Coasters said...

If you reason for not wanting to buy a food processor is because it is an electric appliance, you can buy a manual food processor that will work great. I own one we keep on our boat and I can easily make the feta walnut dip with it. On the other hand if your reason is $$, check out your local thrift shop, they will probably have one for under $10. I bought mine, looked like it was used once, for $5.
Good luck!

Dave said...

The base on almost all blenders will unscrew and you can thread the blades onto a pint or quart ball jar - bingo, instant food processor.

Brittany said...

I use a crappy freecycled regular blender, which sometimes requires extra liquid, for dips, etc. I really really want a food processor. But not on an Americorps stipend, so I make do.

For hard things like nuts and dry bread (for crumbs), I generally use a can of food in a heavy duty zip bag or in a deep tupperware.

For squishy things (chickpeas, etc.) or to blend things up after you beat them with the can, a potato masher works well. A wooden spoon handle is a good mortar/pestle stand-in.

Diane said...

I don't own one, and I cook like a demon, including lots of Thai and Indian curries from scratch. I have a blender, and several mortars and pestles. I find that a good chef's knife, M&P and blender can do everything a food processor can do and more.

I make the curry pastes, pesto and spreads in the M&P. Hummus, creamed soups and dips in the blender, and use the knife to shred, cut, julienne, etc.

Lauren said...

I don't like to store, clean, or repair occasional use items, and am willing to suffer lumpy hummous as a result. I find my 2 favourite knives and a box grater get me through 85% of the time.
For tougher/hot jobs my hand mixer has an immersion blender (AKA "whizzy stick") attachment that can power through nuts etc. It doesn't come with the little onion house thing that some IBs have, otherwise it does everything I'd want a FP for.