01/08/2014 12:35 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Eat All Your Vegetables: How to Use Stems and Roots

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.

"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's worker 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 they 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.

Well, Duh, Vegetable Stock

One of the first things that comes to mind in 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.

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 sub for Brussels sprouts, like in Merrill"s salad. The leaves of broccoli and cauliflower are most definitely edible -- and should be thrown in 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.


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 boiling and puréeing 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 meal, why not create a sauce out of those same vegetables instead of buying an additional haul?

More: Read our interview with Tara Duggan. 



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 -- and consult our archives for how to pickle chard stems (pictured above) and watermelon rinds.

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!

This article originally appeared on Eat All Your Vegetables: How to Use Roots and Stems

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