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AntoniaJames helps us stem our waste of herb stems.
Last week as I was preparing dinner, my son walked into the kitchen saying, “Wow, that cilantro smells so good!” I was standing between him and my prep surface, so he couldn’t see what I was chopping. In fact, I was chopping just the stems, and not the leaves.
Herb stems, which most cooks routinely throw away, can add tremendous flavor to so many dishes we prepare every day. I figured this out years ago while making the precursor to this roast chicken, which starts with an entire bunch of cilantro buzzed in a food processor with aromatics.
Not many recipes call for herb stems, so let me give you a few tips on how to integrate them into your cooking:
2. Other herb stems tend to be bitter when eaten, but can be put to work in other ways. For example, stems from dried herbs like basil, rosemary, lemon verbena, and thyme add beautiful flavor when used for smoking fish or meat. (Be sure to soak the stems for an hour or so beforehand, so they don’t flame up.) Woody stems from rosemary and thick thyme branches from mature bushes both make terrific skewers for grilled or broiled meat.
3. Herb stems can often be used after the leaves are over the hill. Just make sure the stems are firm and not discolored. (A little fading is okay.) The closer the stem is to the leaves, and the more finely you chop it, the more flavor it will release. Hold a bunch together tightly and slice into tiny cubes; cut slightly larger pieces for potato, tuna, and similar salads.
4. Finely chopped herb stems will practically disappear in most cooked dishes. When making stocks and braised dishes, add the cut stems after you've softened the aromatics or with the vegetables. For other dishes, like soups and stovetop dishes with rustic sauces, add them midway through the primary cooking time.
5. And don’t forget: If you cannot use those stems right away, freeze them! Simply rinse and lightly dry, wrap in a paper towel in a sealed plastic bag, and pop into the freezer. They take up almost no space, thaw out quickly, and are most easily chopped while still frozen.
To integrate herb stems into your cooking, start with these suggestions for types of dishes and specific recipes; they don’t call for herbs stems, but can easily be adapted:
- Tarragon Potato Salad with Cured Salmon and Lemon Vinaigrette (use chopped dill, parsley, chervil stems, or any combination)
- Horseradish Dill Potato Salad (use chopped dill stems with or instead of dill leaves)
Grain and quinoa salads:
- How to Make Quinoa Salad Without a Recipe (use dill, parsley, cilantro, or chervil stems, depending on the other ingredients)
- Herbed Tuna and Israeli Couscous Salad with Cumin, Coriander, and Citrus (add either parsley or cilantro stems, or both)
Slaws and noodle salads:
- Cold Vegetable and Noodle Salad with Ponzu Dressing (add chopped cilantro or parsley stems)
- Leslie's Peanut Slaw (add chopped cilantro or parsley stems)
- How to Make a Vinaigrette Without a Recipe (finely chop parsley or dill stems; let the dressing rest for at least an hour)
- Fish Sauce Vinaigrette (use chopped cilantro stems or the tender stems near the leaves of Thai basil)
- How to Make Fridge Pickles Without a Recipe (for example: dill or parsley stems, or both, in quick pickles made with cucumbers, carrots, or string beans)
- Zuni Cafe Zucchini Pickles (add dill or parsley stems, or both)
Dips with a fair bit of texture:
- Roberto Santibañez' Classic Guacamole (cilantro and/or parsley stems are both good additions)
- Baked Feta with Mediterranean Tomato Sauce (add parsley and dill stems)
Savory griddle cakes:
- Savory Masa Corn Cakes with Green Chile Cheese and Lime Crema (when you add the cheese, add as many chopped cilantro stems as you can muster)
- Bert Greene's Potato Scallion Cakes Fritterra (a great use for chopped dill or parsley stems)
- Black Bean and Quinoa Veggie Burgers (add parsley or cilantro stems, or both)
- Hummus and Mint Veggie Burgers (use parsley, cilantro, or dill stems, or any combination)
Stocks and broths (the easiest way to start using herb stems):
- How to Make Parmesan Broth (throw in 2 to 3 tablespoons of chopped parsley stems with the water and vegetables, if using)
- How to Make Chicken Stock Without a Recipe (you can use just the stems of your parsley, chopped, saving the leaves for another use)
- How to Make Miso Soup Without a Recipe (include finely chopped cilantro stems with your first add-ins)
- How to Make Vegetarian Phở Without a Recipe (add finely chopped cilantro or tender Thai basil stems with the water to make the broth; strain it if you like, but that’s optional)
- Chicken Tofu Laksa (add chopped cilantro stems with the chicken broth and coconut milk)
- Lentil and Sausage Soup for a Cold Winter's Night (add chopped parsley stems with the carrots)
- Chicken, Chard, and Cranberry Bean Stew (add a good handful of parsley or cilantro stems, or both, coarsely chopped, with the chard)
- How to Make Vegetarian or Vegan Chili Without a Recipe (add parsley or cilantro stems, or both, about halfway through the hour-long simmer)
- Braised Chicken Thighs with Tomato and Garlic (add chopped parsley stems with the tomatoes)
- Chinese Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Kale and Apple Slaw (add cilantro stems to the pork with the liquid ingredients; finely chop some to add to the slaw as well!)
- Chicken Marsala (add chopped parsley stems when you add the wine)
- Greek-Style Shrimp in Tomato Sauce with Feta (add parsley and/or dill stems with the tomato sauce)
- Quinoa and Kale Crustless Quiche (add chopped parsley stems with the kale)
- Tomato-Kale Quiche in Cheesy Rice Crust (add parsley or dill stems, or both)
- Herb, Feta, and Quinoa-Filled Frittata (add parsley or dill stems with, or instead of, herb leaves)
- How to Make Any Frittata in 5 Steps (add herb stems into the egg mixture)
Thanksgiving stuffing, and its first cousin, the strata:
- Grandy's Sausage Stuffing (add with the vegetables to the bread cubes and sausage)
- Strata with Sausage and Greens (sprinkle finely chopped parsley stems on while layering ingredients in the baking dish)
- How to Roast a Chicken Without a Recipe (finely chop the stems and add to the roasting pan 30 to 45 minutes before you plan to take it out of the oven)
- Spatchcocked and Braise-Roasted Chicken (substitute finely chopped dill and parsley stems for the rosemary and sage, especially in the springtime)
Looking for more ideas? Here is a collection of recipes that call for herb stems. And here are collections for more recipes for Soups, Stews, & Braises, Salads & Sides, Dips & Condiments, Entrees, Savory Delights, Vegetarian Dishes, and Not-Recipe and How-To Gems like the ones above.
Who knows? You may find yourself doing what I do now when shopping for herbs, which is to search for the bunches with the longest stems.
Know of a great recipe in the Food52 archives that uses scraps (anything from commonly discarded produce parts to stale bread to bones and more)? Tell us about it in the comments!