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Learn Basic Knife Skills by Making Salsa Fresca

By June 20, 2022Nutrition
Reading Time: 5 minutes
The next Whole Life Challenge starts in:

I handed my daughter the knife. I asked if she was ready. Standing nearby with a bandage, my wife shot me a nervous glance.

My five year old daughter smiled. “I’m ready!” she exclaimed. She picked up the jalapeno beside the cutting board and sliced into it.

You Have to Know the Alphabet Before You Can Read

My daughter is learning how to read in kindergarten. But the teacher isn’t handing her a book and saying, “Here, read this to me.” The teacher is assembling all of the components of reading.

My daughter learned the alphabet first. Then, she learned to put those letters together into words. Words into sentences. Sentences into stories. And now she can read.

I’m teaching her how to cook the same way. How about you? Are you trying to read books before you can read words? Did you try to make the Roasted Garlic Rosemary Lemon Chicken Salad? Or the Pretty Easy “Pasta” Bolognese? Or attempt the One-Pan Method?

Did it not come out like you expected? Maybe it took forever?

The celebrity chefs you see on TV have a secret to unlocking their delicious arsenal of recipes. They have skills. They went to school and learned the language of cooking. They know how to use a knife.

So it’s not that you’re bad at cooking. You just tried to read books before learning to read words.

How to Make Salsa – One Knife Only

Let’s learn basic knife skills together. At the end, you’ll have something you can eat that’s compliant up to the Whole Life Challenge Performance Level.

The only two pieces of equipment you’ll need are a sharp chef’s knife and a wooden cutting board.

Basic Knife Skills Tutorial

All you need is a cutting board and a good knife.

Get all your ingredients ready and set them beside your cutting board. It helps to also have two bowls handy – one for prepped ingredients and another for trash.


  • 4 large tomatoes
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 medium white onion
  • 1 jalapeno
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • Pinch of salt

How to “Pinch” the Knife and “Claw” the Vegetable

Pinching the knife will boost your control and balance. Use your dominant hand. With your thumb and the side of your index finger, grip the knife directly in front of where the blade meets the handle. Now wrap the rest of your fingers around the handle.

Forming “the claw” will protect your other hand as you cut. Curl your fingers into a claw with the thumb away from the other fingers. Place the tips of your index and middle finger at the top of the vegetable where you’re going to cut. As you slice or chop, move your fingers back to keep your grip. If the knife slips, it will hit your fingernail or knuckle and decrease the risk of you drawing blood.

Now, stand at a 45-degree angle to the cutting board. The knife should be at a 45-degree angle to the vegetable. Your claw wrist should be parallel to the cutting board.

Pro Tip: Use your thumb to “feed” the vegetable through as you cut it.

How to Dice an Onion and a Tomato

Once upon a time, I would cut off both ends of the onion and then dice. Now I just cut one end off. It makes the whole process faster and your cuts more precise.

  1. Slice off the top of the onion roughly half an inch from the edge.
  2. Flip the onion up on the cut end and slice it in half through the root.
  3. Peel the outer layer back from both halves and place in your trash bowl.
  4. Hold root end with your claw. Cut face is out. Make vertical incisions (toward the cutting board) all the way to the root end but not through.
  5. Make horizontal incisions (parallel to board) all the way to the cut end but not through.
  6. Make vertical incisions parallel to the cut face about a quarter inch apart all the way to root. This will finish the dice. Discard root. Repeat on other half and for remaining onions.

We want the onion and the tomato pieces to be the same size. Repeat for the tomato once you finish with the onion.

How to Mince Jalapeno and Garlic

Mincing is just a finer cut than dicing. The basic technique is the same as the dice. You can also work the jalapeno and garlic into finer and finer pieces by holding the tip of the knife against the cutting board with your hand and rocking the blade quickly across your cut vegetables (rock chop). Watch the video for specific directions.

How to Mince Cilantro

Roll up and compact your cilantro to make it easier to slice. Then use the same rock chop technique as the garlic to finish mincing.

Final Assembly of Your Salsa Fresca

Combine all ingredients in large bowl (don’t forget the salt). If you’re not eating it immediately, cover and place in the refrigerator.

Salsa Fresca recipe

Practice your skills and make some tasty salsa fresca!

If My Daughter Can Do It – You Can Do It

I love cooking with my daughter. It reminds me of cooking with my family when I was a kid. I’m so proud of her and I love seeing her enjoy the process. I don’t need her to be a professional chef, but I do need her to be able to cook for herself. Here’s a video of us together in the kitchen.

I want everybody to have those same skills. You don’t need to be a pro, but you do need to be able to make simple, healthy meals for yourself.

So grab a knife, and get started.

Do you use a different method for cutting and chopping? Do you like cooking with your kids? Let me know in the comments.

1. 2014. “Knife Skills: The 4 Knife Cuts Every Cook Should Know.” Accessed November 20, 2015.
2. 2014. “Cooking School Day 1: Knife Skills.” Accessed November 20, 2015.
3. 2011. “Kitchen Fundamentals: Basic Knife Skills.” Accessed November 20, 2015.


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Peter Haas
Peter helps people to master the fundamentals of movement technique and nutrition to amplify their performance and carve out new levels of leanness. Find out more about him at Train Smart Digital.