Professor Produce

Question: I love this season when there are so many great local greens (collards, chard, mustard!) to choose from, but I hate having to put all those thick, fibrous stems in the garbage. Do you have any ideas for creative ways to use them so I can be less wasteful?
– Audrey, Kenwood

Great question Audrey! I’m glad to see someone interested in cutting down on food waste, and I’m here to help you find a tasty way to do it. Now, not all food scraps, including your stems from hardy greens, are as inherently flavorsome as the main event. But they can be. It just takes a little TLC! Here are three ways to make the most out of all your greens, from stem to stern:

Blanch shock and awe

Stems can be an enjoyable part of a stir-fry or veggie sauté, but only if you blanch them first. Otherwise the exteriors will burn before they are cooked through, yielding bitter stems too tough to chew. To do this, bring a pot of water to a boil and drop in your chopped stems. Blanch for 3–4 minutes and drain. Transfer stems to a large bowl of ice water and submerge (this stops the cooking and also helps them keep a vibrant color). Leave in the ice bath until ready to use, then drain and add to your stir-fry or sauté. Try pairing with green beans, fresh runner beans, basil and a splash of red wine vinegar.

Make kale stem oil

Place kale stems in a sturdy sauce pot and cover with a neutral oil like grapeseed or peanut. Set over your oven’s pilot light overnight (at least 8 hours), then strain them out and store oil in glass jar. Use for vinaigrettes and marinades to infuse dishes with a fresh kale salad flavor.

Pickle ’em

Chop raw chard, collard, or kale stems and submerge them in a pickling brine* with for a few days or up to a week. The longer they pickle, the softer they’ll get. Eat them plain as a snack or add them as a garnish to everything from tacos to breakfast grain bowls to fried rice.

*Pickle brine recipe

(for 1 pound stems cut into 4-inch lengths):

  • 1 small shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. brown mustard seeds
  • 1 Tbsp. spices of your choice (try caraway and coriander, or red pepper flakes with garlic and star anise)

I hope this answered your question!
Until next time, keep sending your pressing produce ponderings to