Even though I'm somewhat of a minimalist at heart, I like having little extras that can make life easier. I could fill my whole house with all the nifty-looking kitchen gadgets in catalogs and stores, BUT kitchen drawer space is limited. I have to choose carefully.
I have a basic rule to help me decide whether or not I'm willing to devote precious real estate to a kitchen tool: if it only does one thing, I better use it a lot, and it better be easy to use, clean, and store. A garlic press is a perfect example (everyone should own one). As it turns out, so is a julienne slicer—plus it cost me less than $10, and it helps me eat my veggies.
It looks and works a lot like a vegetable peeler, so it couldn't be easier to use. The only real difference is that it slices off rows of thin matchstick-like strips. I can clean it with just a quick rinse in the kitchen sink (you can run it through the dishwasher if you're anal about these things), and it fits easily into my utensil drawer (alongside the vegetable peeler!).
All of this means it's super-easy to grab it, use it, and put it away again—so I'm more likely to actually use it. That's how I like to cook!
But still you ask, "Why do I need this thing?"
First of all, carrots. You know they're good for you (and they're cheap!), but, unless you're roasting or boiling them, carrots can be a pain to cook because they're so dense. But when they're julienned, they cook quickly enough to sauté or stir-fry. Besides making it easier to cook carrots, the julienne slicer also makes it easier to use them raw. Julienned strips of raw carrots are great for salads, slaws, and sandwiches; big, hard chunks of carrots, not so much.
Sure, you could use a grater, but the carrots come out in stubby, thin shreds. And it's hard work. I don't know about you, but I always wind up grating a knuckle or fingernail. I'd rather just skip the carrots if they have to be grated. At one point, I tried using a mandoline, but that's too fancy for me, and it is NOT easy to use, clean, or store (anyone want to buy a used mandoline?).
Here's another reason you need this tool: broccoli stems. If you hate wasting food, or if you just like free food, you can use the julienne slicer to turn your broccoli stems (destined for the trash) into broccoli slaw.
Personally, I don't care for the stuff as a salad or slaw, but it's great stir-fried in a little oil and seasoned with rice vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil. (You can also julienne some carrots to throw in with the broccoli.)
VOILA! A tasty vegetable side dish that's almost free. You can have the broccoli tops one night and the stems the next. And don't forget to save the carrot peels for making stock (see Don't throw away those carrot peels!)—more free food!
I'm just getting started with this julienne slicer. I know I'll find more uses for it. OOOO! Here's one: beautiful, long strips of parmesan cheese. Maybe it will work as a lemon zester...