How to Cook Kale Stems You'll Actually Want to Eat (2024)

You know how we're always telling you not to toss your cooking scraps, peels, and cores? It's with good reason: Not only does it cut down on food waste, these ingredients are also edible! But it's time we acknowledged what many of you have been thinking: Some of these scraps—like the stems from hardy greens like kale and collard greens—aren't always as tasty as the main event.

But they can be. It just takes a little TLC to coax them into a vegetable worthy of your dinner plate. Here's how to cook your kale (and collard!) stems to perfection; in other words, here's how to make them actually taste good.

Soften Them Up

First things first: Kale and collard stems are tough, chewy, and fibrous. While we enjoy the occasional raw collard or kale salad, you should never eat the stems raw. To be honest, you wouldn't get very far if you tried. Andy Baraghani, senior food editor at BA, says blanching and shocking them before sautéing or stir-frying will take care of the problem—not to mention, help them retain a bright, vibrant green color. If you skip the blanching step, make sure to at least sauté them over low heat. Otherwise, the exteriors will burn before the stems have cooked through, making them both bitter and too tough to chew.

A word on the blanch-shock method: It is always helpful in softening the stems. If you have time before you move onto the next step, do it. If not, you can skip it, but know you will be doing a little extra chewing.

If you can make Burnt Onion Butter, you can make Burnt Kale Butter. Photo: Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott

Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott

Char the Heck Out of Them

Ready to get a little weird? "Try charring the heck out of your kale stems," says Baraghani. (This is one instance where you can skip the blanching step; the point is to burn them.) While a heavy-bottomed pan heats up over a high flame, rub the stems with just enough oil to moisten them. Don't put any fat in the pan—but do open a window before you begin. Cook the stems until they blacken dramatically ("They should basically turn to ash," he explains). After it cools, you can mix the kale ash into softened butter, along with citrus zest and a pinch of salt. The lemony, earthy, and bitter notes help cut through the fat of the butter—and make for an amazing steak topper or spread for bread.

Fry 'Em

Would it be blasphemous to fry an ingredient as virtuous as kale? Well, if it's wrong, we don't want to be right. Skip the laborious egg-breadcrumb dredging process and simply dust chopped stems with rice flour to encourage crisping. Submerge them in hot oil and fry until gently browned. Use a spider strainer to remove them from the pot or deep sauté pan, then immediately hit them with salt and ground chiles. Use the frizzled stems to top salads, grain bowls, and even casseroles. "Your green bean casserole will never be the same," says Baraghani.

How to Cook Kale Stems You'll Actually Want to Eat (2024)
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