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What to do with stems from collards and "ribs" from cavalo nero (Lacinato kale)?

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I cooked up some soup last night using collards and cavolo nero and found myself wondering if I could use these parts of the greens (as well as stems from red/Russian kale) for something other than making compost.

Any thoughts about possible culinary uses for these usually discarded bits?

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  1. If you're making soup, you might chop the stems and add to the soup. Maybe saute them first. I WAS going to suggest compost but you beat me to it :)

    1. Huh. Usually discarded? Not by me. I only discard the really large, tough stems; everything else, ribs and somewhat tender stems, gets chopped up and eaten. I don't find them objectionable

      3 Replies
      1. re: Bat Guano

        So, just to clarify, you discard the tough stems from collards and red kale rather than, say, using them in vegetable stock?

        1. re: hohokam

          Yes, I compost them. I don't make vegetable stock very often, but sometimes if I'm making chicken stock I throw the stems in, if they're lying around at the right time. Good idea, though.

          Since you mention chard below, there are recipes for the chard stems, separate from the leaves; if you treat them differently (the one I like is basically to slice them into short sections and saute them slowly in butter and garlic) they are almost like a different vegetable, and just as delicious.

        2. re: Bat Guano

          I chopped them up and cooked them in with the collards. It was great and I didn't have to waste. Thanks a million.

        3. I usually braise greens so I'll saute the stems up before I toss the leafy green pieces in and proceed with braising.

          5 Replies
          1. re: ziggylu

            I typically cook chard stems with the leaves, but I've never seen a recipe mention using stems from other large greens, which I found curious. I assumed there must be some reason related to flavor or texture of the end product.

            1. re: hohokam

              I dunno...being Greek I grew up eating greens as an everyday food...and really haven't used many recipes for them. Just chop, saute, maybe with a bit of garlic, and braise and squeeze lemon over them. Works for collards, kale, chard, dandelions, mustard greens, turnip greens...you get the picture. LOL

              When I do actually use a recipe(For instance this past week I did make a chard recipe I round on Epicurious using almonds and smoked paprika) I ignore the instruction to toss the stems and use them anyhow.

              I don't know why recipes say to toss them. They take a bit longer to cook than the leafy part so it's an extra step but they taste good and are perfectly fine to eat.

              1. re: hohokam

                John Thorne, in his "Mouth Open Wide" collection of essays, recommends the stems of large spinach leaves. He notes that they are much more delicate in flavor than the leaves themselves. I haven't tried them yet, but I trust his palate more than most.

                1. re: Karl S

                  Interesting. I never really considered potential differences between the flavors of stems and leaves of spinach. Fortunately, I'll soon have an opportunity to check out that assertion--our spinach is finally large enough that it seems worth harvesting.

                  1. re: hohokam

                    Thorne's "Midnight Snack" (it's a famous genre of his) of "Sauteed Spinach Stems" involves a heap of the largest stems from a heaping bunch, a slice of swee† butter, a pinch of salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons of water. Put in a covered pan and cook for 4-5 minutes over medium high heat until water is all but evaporated and stems are tender (not mushy). Toss and adjust to taste.

                    He says: "I'll take a bowl of these over ordinary spinach any day of the week - if they're prepared like this, of course."

                    Coming from someone like Thorne (who I rank up there with James Peterson, Edna Lewis, Judy Rodgers, and others among the great American judges of the taste in food distilled to its best essence), this is something. I've yet to try it myself, because I don't normally bother with cleaning a big mess of spinach for just myself.

            2. These can definitely be used! Check out any Italian cookbooks you might have laying around - these veggies get used a lot in Italian cuisine, and you'll likely find a few recipes.

              I usually roast them in the oven, tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper. You can top with breadcrumbs for the last few minutes, though I usually don't bother. Or boil until almost tender, and then saute in olive oil with a bit of garlic. Toss with a bit of lemon juice. Yum.

              2 Replies
              1. re: chloe103

                I cook with greens of all sorts pretty frequently, but as I noted in my post above, most recipes imply that these parts of these particular greens are to be tossed. Recipes calling for chard seem to be an exception, though, recently I ran across one from Lidia Bastianich that specified using only the leaves--I followed this recipe, but kept the stems to use in another batch of chard. :-)

                1. re: chloe103

                  Yeah, I love kale and collard stems/ribs roasted in the oven with oil, salt and pepper. Just like that, or gratinéed with some béchamel, both are good.

                  They can also make a nice bouquet garni when making beans.

                2. I've been saving my swiss chard stems in a ziplock in the freezer and then pulling them out whenever I'm making chicken stock. They are a great substitute for celery, adding a slightly different note of flavor which I really like. (After growing my own swiss chard this summer, I didn't have the heart to throw out any part of the plant!)

                  Phoo-D
                  http://www.phoo-d.com

                  1. Thanks to you all for the ideas!

                    1. The stems and ribs are a different ingredient from the leaves. I simply cut out the stems and ribs and cross cut and add to the soup early on. The rough cut leaves go in much later or right at the end.

                      1. Just thought I'd report that I made a batch of braised collards last week using the stems, and of course, they turned out great. In fact, my partner and I agreed that these particular collards, harvested from our own garden, were the sweetest, most succulent collards either of us had ever eaten. She even went as far as to bemoan the fact that she had to eat the other stuff I made to go with the greens (polenta and some leftover cotechino with lentils)--she just wanted a big plate of the collards!

                        This former agnostic is now a true believer in the righteousness of eating collard stems. :-)

                        1. We always chop up and use the stems as well as the leaves of these greens. Sometimes the stems are tougher ,need longer cooking time or need to be cut into smaller pieces (as with broccoli stems) If its not a long cook recipe, you can just start them a little sooner than the leaves.

                          As for chard, I grew up eating the whole thing. Italian and other mediterranean cuisines often have recipes special to the leaves or stems, and some varieties of chard are grown specifically for the stem.

                          So I would just use your good sense - why throw away good food?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: jen kalb

                            See above.

                          2. The Swiss chard stems are traditionally used in a gratin so I think the other stems would work in the same way. I chop and add to whatever prep I am making as others have said, but the Belgian step-mom had only ever encountered the chard stems as the gratin and never seen the leaves used!