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How to Use Kale Stems

April 19, 2014

There are so many great conversations on the Hotline -- it's hard to choose a favorite. But we'll be doing it, once a week, to spread the wealth of our community's knowledge -- and to keep the conversation going.

Today: We love kale's leaves, but its tough stems stump us. In honor of Earth Day, we're about to change that.

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We love kale, and that's no secret. We have no problem eating its leaves in bulk -- in salads, soups, pilaf, beans, at breakfast -- really, pretty much everywhere except dessert. (And even that's not totally off the table. We like parsley in cake, so you never know...)

But when dinner's over, kale's stems still stump us. Where its bitter leaves will relax for a raw salad, its tough stalks don't let down their walls -- deep-tissue massages and mood lighting are no use. In honor of Earth Day, we're about to change that. Felicia M asked for ways to use kale stems beyond the compost pile, and the community was full of ideas:

  • Naomi cooks them fresh: "I cut them into small pieces, sauté them first (they take longer to cook), then add the cut-up leaves, and then some freshly grated nutmeg, minced fresh garlic, salt, and pepper at the end. Can't be better (or any easier)."
  • Break out the canning jars and try your hand at preserving, like claire miller, who pickles them or breaks them down in a food processor to ferment, kimchi-style.
  • Several of you suggested the classic scrap treatment: a good simmer in the stockpot. Says Eliz.: "We're told that members of the brassica family are too assertive for such use...but kale does not overpower." First We Eat agrees, but suggests adding other vegetables to balance the flavor.
  • Try blending them into your juice and smoothies, like lisina does. The fibrous stems are best paired with creamier add-ins -- think banana, avocado, or yogurt.
  • ChefJune and magpiebaker both wondered about the possibility of prepping them as one might prep chard stems -- braising or dredging and frying à la The Zuni Café Cookbook. The jury's out on this one -- others note that kale's stems are tougher than chard's -- but it may be worth a shot for the experimenters among you. (If you try something great, let us know!)

How do you use tough vegetable stems? Tell us in the comments!

31 Comments

Gundega K. January 23, 2018
I include stems in a very finely chopped kale-cranberries-almonds salad (honey-lemon dressing). Once they're chopped to millimeter size, they're tender. Also use them, less finely chopped, in coleslaw (along w/broccoli stems).
 
Carol July 19, 2015
I put the kale stems on one side of the baking sheet and the leaves on the other. When I take the kale chips out, I spread the kale stems out more and continue to bake the stems until they turn brown and they are crunchy good. I used to dredge them in olive oil & salt & lemon juice or wasabi powder, but I am on a diet now so I wash them and bake them. Tastes better when dressed, but not bad without.
 
Well S. July 16, 2015
I put them in the freezer. They make it great dog treat. My dog loves frozen kale stems!
 
Julianne W. July 16, 2015
Pesto, with almonds and parmesan and garlic scapes.
 
Vik C. July 5, 2015
I could see them in south Indian sambar (soup accompaniment to dosa's etc.)
 
Francis June 14, 2015
KISS is my way of enjoying the stems of kale.<br />Cut into small pieces add to pan with garlic, cumin and ginger BEFORE scrambling eggs.<br />Add pieces to soups BEFORE the water boils<br />And last but far from least, toast a piece of flat bread and add pan warmed stems with guacamole spread, cut flat bred into bite size pieces and enjoy as you read a book a REAL BOOK
 
Shawn M. February 23, 2015
dice them and add them to any long simmered veg soup.
 
Eva B. January 21, 2015
My friend from Ethiopia slow cooks them in a saucepan with minced ginger, sliced onions and garlic. They're delicious and tender.
 
Nancy October 7, 2014
Finely sliced, blanched, frozen, then tossed into minestrone to simmer with other vegetables.
 
Kitty August 31, 2014
I've run the chopped stems through my food processor and added a cup or more of the resulting fine mince to a banana quick bread recipe. they are a lovely green when you cut into or break open a muffin but I don't find there is a lot of difference in the taste of the breads and it adds great fiber. <br />My daughter loves these muffins, but won't eat kale served as a vegetable.
 
Alex B. August 29, 2014
Bake them the same way you would do with Asparagus. They have the same texture as the bottoms of asparagus but juicer.
 
Judith F. August 24, 2014
Make a kale and garbanzo bean soup with them and blend or leave chopped.
 
Elizabeth July 28, 2014
ditto great idea Sharon<br />from now on I will do the same
 
Jean May 29, 2014
Put them in green smoothies!
 
Sara R. May 2, 2014
I munch on them raw while I'm cooking. The stems are my favorite part!
 
Marilyn L. April 26, 2014
Good Idea, Sharon. I so like making my own broths.
 
Sharon April 26, 2014
I save all my veggie "scraps", throw them in a bag in the freezer. When I have enough I wrap them in cheesecloth, place them in the crockpot, fill with water. A few hours later you have the most AMAZING veggie broth!!!
 
hugo R. April 24, 2014
Used the stems mixed with other veggies to make soup, salad or oriental disehes...
 
Literary E. April 24, 2014
I finely cut them crosswise and add them to soups or rice dishes: stir fries, risottos. Yum.
 
Erika April 23, 2014
I feed them to our chickens!
 
Marilyn L. April 23, 2014
I lay them across the cookie sheet then lay the Kale Chips down on them thus the chips are crispier.
 
Sarah O. April 22, 2014
What about shredding them into a slaw with carrots and radishes and such?
 
sjlongin April 21, 2014
My dog loves them! Seriously.
 
shw23561 April 21, 2014
Mine too! She gets really excited whenever I make kale.
 
Doc T. April 19, 2014
love blueberry and kale ice cream!<br />
 
Jennifer R. April 19, 2014
Yes, I use kale stems in my smoothies and they blend beautifully!
 
Lynn C. April 19, 2014
I used them in a soup:<br />http://theactorsdiet.com/2013/12/01/pacific-soup-time/<br /><br />It was really good, but I think I'd pass it through a sieve next time first. Stringy!
 
Sara S. April 19, 2014
What about putting them in the food processor when you make a white bean dip or a non-traditional pesto?
 
Sarah O. April 19, 2014
After reading this post's introduction, I had to share this blog. Kale can be great for dessert! http://veggiedesserts.co.uk/
 
Kate |. April 19, 2014
Thanks for mentioning my blog, Sarah! <br />You can cook and puree the kale, including the smaller stems, and use them in my Apple Pie with Kale Lemon Crust, Kale and Apple Cake, Kale and Orange Cupcakes...
 
dchu April 23, 2014
They're not bad dipped in peanut butter (or other nut butter of choice)--kind of like celery and PB, but chewier. I don't think I could eat all the stems from a bunch, but 2 or 3 make a nice snack.