Broccoli is a staple in my house. Exciting? No. Reliable? Yes. When I’m too tired or uninspired to cook (yes, it happens sometimes), steamed broccoli is my standby. Seven minutes from refrigerator to table. No kidding. Broccoli is a substantial partner to quick-cooking brown rice or 4-minute soba noodles. Throw in some homemade peanut sauce and shredded carrots, or pair it up with olive oil, cheese and fresh tomatoes, and you’ve got yourself a decent, healthy, homemade meal.
“Broccoli” for me, like many people here in the US, has not meant the whole plant, but rather just the crown: the collection of florets — that flower-like, dark-green part. The stems? Unfortunately, not so much. While I’m doing my best to reduce food waste at home and practice a leaf-to-stem cooking approach, broccoli stems have had me stumped. Mostly I’ve been put off by the tough, fibrous outer layer and longer cooking times. It took some experimenting and kitchen creativity, but it turns out that broccoli stems are just as flavorful and versatile as the florets.
Once you get past the tough outer layer (unless you like that sort of thing), broccoli stems are tender, herbaceous, and slightly sweet. Not only are they tasty, they’re really versatile! You can enjoy them fresh or cooked. Toss them into salads, pastas, egg dishes, or turn them into a supporting side dish. Read on for some of the many ways to use the other broccoli.
Prepping the Stems
Start by washing and drying the stems. Cut away the dried area at the bottom of the stem (just a thin slice should do it). Then using a paring knife or peeler, peel away the thin, tough, outer layer of the stems. Once you get past that tough outer layer, you’ll see a light-green, moist layer. That’s the tender, sweet, delicious part! And don’t toss those peels or dried end bits — save them for making vegetable broth. Just pop them in a freezer bag and keep them in the freezer until the next time you make broth.
Raw, Grated Broccoli Stems
Grated stems are the most versatile way to use this part of the broccoli plant. Use grated stems much as you would shredded lettuce, cabbage, or even sprouts:
- Top a salad or sandwich
- Quick saute with onions and garlic for an omelette filling
- Combine with brown rice, olive oil, sea salt, tomato, and fresh mozzarella
- Toss with soba noodles, shredded carrots, tofu or chicken, sesame oil, crushed red pepper, and soy or tamari sauce
So many possibilities! If you have a food processor with a grating disk, you can make quick work of grating broccoli stems, although a box grater will do the trick, too (just watch your knuckles). Four medium-sized stems will yield about 1½ cups of shredded broccoli. Store in the refrigerator in a closed container.
Another way to use freshly grated broccoli stems? Combine ’em with olive oil, garlic, toasted pine nuts, a smidge of lemon juice, and cheese to make a broccoli pesto!
Need a recipe? Start with the Carrot-Top Pesto recipe and make these easy modifications:
- Substitute 1 heaping cup of grated broccoli stems for the carrot greens (or 1¼ cups if you prefer a thicker pesto)
- Squeeze out excess liquid from grated broccoli
- Add ½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice when you add the olive oil
- Optional: Substitute roasted garlic cloves for fresh for a less intense garlic flavor
Use the pesto as a sandwich spread, dip, or pasta sauce.
Oven-Roasted Broccoli Stems
Roasting vegetables is a great way to reduce food waste. When you oven-roast root vegetables or brassicas — broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, for example — that might be a bit old or limpy, the cooking process brings out their earthy sweetness while maintaining the flavor and nutritional value.
My favorite oven-roasting technique for dense vegetables like broccoli and carrots comes from The Stone Edge Farm Cookbook by John McReynolds. Rather than expose the vegetables directly to oven heat for the entire cooking process, you cook the vegetables covered for half the time, which prevents them from drying out. If using oven-roasted stems as a side dish, plan on one stem per person (assuming stems are 1-1½” in diameter), less if you have additional side dishes.
Ingredients for roasting:
2 – 4 cleaned and peeled broccoli stems
1 – 1½ teaspoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: 4 garlic cloves
What you need:
Glass baking dish
For finishing oven-roasted stems:
½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
¼ finely grated fresh lemon zest
½ – 1 tablespoon toasted pecans or sliced almonds
Optional: roasted garlic cloves
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Meanwhile, prepare stems as described above in “Prepping the Stems.”
- Cut stems into quarters.
Each “spear” should measure about ½ inch across the base.
- Toss spears with olive oil in the baking dish, ensuring that spear is coated. Season with salt and pepper.
- Optional: You can roast several garlic cloves at the same time as roasting the broccoli stems. Pull 4 large cloves from a head of garlic. Do not remove the papery skin covering the cloves. Place the cloves in a piece of aluminum foil, drizzle them with olive oil, then fold the ends of the foil together. Place the packet of garlic cloves in the corner of the baking dish.
- Cover baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes.
- After 25 minutes, remove the foil and using tongs, turn each spear over. Return the baking dish to the oven.
- Continue baking for 20-25 minutes or until spears are fork tender.
- Remove garlic cloves from foil and allow to cool slightly before peeling skin away.
- Allow spears to cool slightly before plating, then top with a sprinkling of fresh lemon juice, feta cheese, lemon zest, toasted nuts, roasted garlic cloves, and salt and pepper to taste.
Do you eat broccoli stems? How do you prepare them? Share your tips in the comments below.