Cast-Off Cooking: Broccoli Stems
This is the fourth in a series of articles about cooking with cast-offs, the edible vegetable parts we commonly throw away.
Broccoli is in season so it’s a great time to consider eating the stems too. Freshly harvested broccoli doesn’t suffer from the cracks and dryness which plague grocery store broccoli, making it easy to enjoy more of it. Admittedly, stems are nothing to get excited about visually. In fact, they pale in comparison to broccoli’s showy, emerald-green florets just begging to be lopped off and lightly steamed for a quick side dish. The stalks remind me of naked tree trunks and are easily dismissed as inedible thanks to their tough outer skin. But it makes no sense to pay for such a weighty part of the vegetable and toss it out (or compost it). With a few quick strokes of a vegetable peeler and chops of a chefs knife, any cook can tame a broccoli stem and transform it into a versatile and tasty ingredient.
With a chef’s knife, chop the tough bottom off the stem. You’ll know where to stop because that is the point where your knife will easily go through the stem. Then peel the stem with a chef’s knife or vegetable peeler. Proceed to slice or julienne the stems to use as suggested below.
Slice your broccoli stems about 1/4 inch thick, then steam them with the florets for about 5 minutes. The florets and stems cook at the same rate, which is handy. Place the cooked broccoli in a serving bowl and drizzle it with your best and freshest extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Toss well and serve as a side dish. It’s extra delicious with a dusting of Parmesan cheese. I sometimes make this preparation with very small pieces for use as a pizza topping.
Recently I’ve opted to shred or julienne the peeled stems with a food processor or mandolin, then use them raw or cooked in a variety of dishes. I prefer the food processor with a julienne blade when working with large quantities because it’s fast and safe and you aren’t left with any stumps. Raw shredded/julienned broccoli stems are great in a slaw and to add crunch to a quick spring roll made with rice paper wrappers. When adding shredded/julienned broccoli to pasta or noodles, lightly steam or blanch them just long enough to get rid of the raw flavor and turn them translucent.
One day a freshly julienned heap of stems I had just made reminded me of the thin, limp strips of seedless cucumber my favorite Szechuan restaurant in NYC would use to top a bowl of sesame noodles. I had to try it out. I chose to blanch the julienned broccoli stems briefly to keep some of their crunch, yet render them limp and bright green. Success! Nobody even asked what they were and the entire bowl of Szechuan style noodles was consumed without a whine from even my pickiest eater! Here is my all-time favorite recipe for the noodles to make at home. Just go easy on the cayenne and feel free to use low sodium soy sauce or tamari. You can find organic Chinese seasonings used in the recipe in any Whole Foods Market. Finding fresh egg noodles can be hard, so I use Eden’s dried Asian noodles instead. Eat the noodles right after dressing them for optimal consistency.