How-To & Diy

Eat All Your Vegetables: How to Use Stems and Roots

January 27, 2015

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. That's why we're revisiting these tips for getting the most out of your market haul.

How to Use All of Your Vegetables on Food52

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"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 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 the tops 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 for 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 substitute for Brussels sprouts, like in Merrill's salad. The leaves of broccoli and cauliflower are most definitely edible -- and should be thrown into 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 she boils and purées 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 a 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; consult our archives for how to pickle chard stems and watermelon rinds (pictured above).

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!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Kerrie Ribergaard
    Kerrie Ribergaard
  • Andre Braido
    Andre Braido
  • Johnny McLendon
    Johnny McLendon
  • Brigitte Nelson
    Brigitte Nelson
  • Cheryl Martinez
    Cheryl Martinez
Lactose intolerant cheese lover, who will walk blocks for a good cup of coffee. Recently escaped the corporate world, after discovering her favorite part of the job was ordering catering.


Kerrie R. September 20, 2020
I just dug out some cauliflower by the roots. Are the roots edible or can they be juiced?
Andre B. May 6, 2020
I make a great, fresh slaw with broccoli stems and radishes:
Johnny M. August 3, 2015
Once I learned how to use a knife efficiently, I started dicing up broccoli stalks and sautéing them with onions or bacon in my omelette.
Radish Greens can be braised or sautéed like collard or turnip greens.
Brigitte N. August 3, 2015
Carrot greens? I thought they are toxic because of high oxalic acids.
Cheryl M. June 1, 2015
Asparagus stems are awesome to use for creamed soup
Carolyn W. January 28, 2015
I love the concepts but am leery of the idea that any veg can become stock via boiling. Long cooking of brassicas will introduce sulfurous notes into the stock that you probably don't want.

On the bright side: juicing! Many stalks and roots are delicious juiced.
Deborah January 27, 2015
My dog gets the broccoli stalks - loves them.
Bevi March 26, 2014
I make a great, fresh slaw with broccoli stems and radishes:
claire M. March 26, 2014
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!
HalfPint January 27, 2015
Totally agree! I love the stalk and I actually prefer it over the florets which has a sponge texture that I don't really care for.
Kate January 3, 2014
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.
EmFraiche January 2, 2014
I love to dip sticks of peeled broccoli stems in homemade ranch dressing.
zahavah January 2, 2014
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:
Elana C. January 2, 2014
Looks amazing, Gayle!
pagesinthesun January 3, 2014
I saved your recipe in anticipation of my CSA's carrot season! Thanks!
HalfPint January 2, 2014
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.
Elana C. January 2, 2014