Getting straight to the point: if you are serious about cooking, you should own a kitchen mandoline. This wonder tool has been around a long time and is a favorite of everyone in the Cooking Light Test Kitchen. We use our mandolines all the time, saving ourselves the frustration and time it takes to get the same results with a kitchen knife.
If you don't know what a mandoline is, imagine a small guillotine with a stationary blade for fruits and vegetables. The oft scary tool is usually wielded by professionals operating at break-neck speeds, instilling the fear of slicing off finger tips in the less initiated. In reality, they are no more dangerous than a chef knife. Both cutting with a chef knife and a mandolin require concentration with deliberate motions to avoid injuring yourself.
Most mandolines come with lots of attachments and safety guards, which are usually intimidating and cumbersome. My favorite mandoline (as well as the entire Test Kitchen's) is the Japanese-style Benriner mandoline. This is my favorite because the blade is sharp (safer to use), big enough for most vegetables, has minimal attachments, is easy to clean, stores away quickly, and is only $25.57 on Amazon!
With a mandoline, you can create paper thin slices of vegetables that make for a very quick and elegant salad. A mandolin can turn cabbage into thinly sliced slaw for fish tacos and can make raw fennel bulb and red onion slices delicious and less "bitey" when eaten raw. Cutting potatoes on a mandoline is the trick to making beautiful Potatoes Anna and was key to making White Sea bass with Orange Fennel Relish in 20 minutes.
3 tips on using a mandoline that I have learned:
1) Watery vegetables like cucumber and zucchini are easy to cut on a mandoline and keep your hands away from the blade; practice slicing these first.
2) Pushing the food across the blade with your palm or guard is safer and easier than pulling.
3) Trimming off only one end of your food will leave more to hold onto when slicing, keeping your hand safer.
If you are looking for a great gift for your foodie friend or a treat for yourself, the mandoline is it.