Kitchen Confidence

Eat All Your Vegetables: How to Use Stems and Roots

By • January 2, 2014 • 9 Comments

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Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: One person's discarded vegetable parts; another's dinner.

How to Use All of Your Vegetables on Food52

"It's easy to forget, leaves and stalks are parts of a vegetable, not obstacles to it," Tamar Adler explains in An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace. After going through the effort of buying quality produce, it's defeating to finish prepping vegetables, only to throw away (or compost, rather!) the majority of their parts.

Instead of asking the friendly farmer's worker to behead that bunch of carrots or turnips, bring it all home. (Although, once at home you should remove the tops from bottoms and store them separately, as they leech moisture.) It takes a fair amount of resources to grow vegetables, and we should make use of all that plant energy!

Don't blame yourself if you, like most people, aren't prone to using the tops of carrots, the stalks of broccoli, the stems and ends of greens. Read on for a few different routes you can take with each of these -- and enhance the natural qualities of typically-discarded parts.

How to Use All Your Vegetables on Food52

Well, Duh, Vegetable Stock

One of the first things that comes to mind in using up vegetable parts is to throw them all in a pot with water -- and boil, boil, boil. Homemade stock is a fabulous way to get more out of spare vegetable parts before tossing them. A great strategy for storing up vegetables is to keep a running collection in the freezer, working towards stock-quantity -- just think of it as motivation to eat more vegetables. 

The vegetable-to-water ratio can vary, but you should have roughly enough to fill a 5-quart pot. Think carrot tops, the green part of leeks and scallions, woody cores of cabbage and cauliflower; really any vegetable part will work (but avoid beets, as they will discolor the broth). Simply add vegetables, water, herbs, and garlic, simmer for an hour, and strain.

How to Use All Your Vegetables

As the Main Attraction

Broccoli stalks, however reptilian in appearance, can hold their own in a salad; first remove the outer peel, and then shred thinly. When cut in smaller pieces, the stalks of broccoli and cauliflower roast just like their floret counterparts -- and will have a similar flavor. Broccoli stalks can make a great sub for Brussels sprouts, like in Merrill's salad. The leaves of broccoli and cauliflower are most definitely edible -- and should be thrown in salads or sautés. Beet and turnip greens need no doctoring; use them wherever greens are called for. 

More: How to remove the stalks from kale.

How to Use All Your Vegetables on Food52


In Root-to-Stalk Cooking, Tara Duggan suggests making a salsa verde using finely chopped carrot tops as a substitute for parsley. She warns of their bitterness -- so taste before adding an overabundance of them. Adler uses her stems and cores to make a pesto, following the traditional pesto route -- except boiling and puréeing the cores in place of basil or other greens. Love and Lemons puts kale stems in her pesto. If you're roasting whole vegetables for meal, why not create a sauce out of those same vegetables instead of buying an additional haul?

More: Read our interview with Tara Duggan. 


How to Eat All Your Vegetables on Food52


Although not everyone wants to pickle everything under the sun like the crew from Portlandia, pickling is a great means for making excess vegetable parts more edible. On the blog Purple Kalebroccoli stems become pickles -- and consult our archives for how to pickle chard stems (pictured above) and watermelon rinds.

A few more recipes with less commonly-used vegatable parts:

Anna Klinger's Grilled Swiss Chard Stems
Warm Beet Greens with Sour Cream Dressing
Turnip Greens Frittata 

What are your favorite ways to use vegetable scraps? Let us know in the comments!

Jump to Comments (9)

Tags: vegetables, kale, stems, roots, chard, broccoli, salad, pickles, how-to & diy

Comments (9)


9 months ago Bevi

I make a great, fresh slaw with broccoli stems and radishes:


9 months ago claire miller

Seriously? Who hasn't been eating broccoli stalks forever? It's the best part of the vegetable! I can't believe people throw them away. It's ridiculous!


12 months ago Kate

Thank you, I so needed this article! Tamar Adler's core and stem pesto idea saved me from throwing away half my CSA last summer, but these other ideas should provide some variety. I only wish I'd read this before dinner tonight instead of after: sauteed carrot greens are pretty boring.


12 months ago EmFraiche

I love to dip sticks of peeled broccoli stems in homemade ranch dressing.


12 months ago zahavah

Inspired by Tamar Adler, I once made a broccoli stem soup that was really lovely. I also made carrot top pesto, adding a carrot or two, some lemon juice, and hazelnuts to temper the bitterness (recipe: http://koshercamembert...)


12 months ago Elana Carlson

Looks amazing, Gayle!


12 months ago pagesinthesun

I saved your recipe in anticipation of my CSA's carrot season! Thanks!


12 months ago HalfPint

HalfPint is a trusted home cook.

I have always preferred broccoli stalks over the florets. The texture of the stalks have nice crispness that makes me want to happenly chew it. In stark contrast, the spongy texture of the florets makes my skin crawl. I think broccoli-haters really hate those florets.


12 months ago Elana Carlson