The Simple, Delicious Reason You Should Never Throw Away Vegetable Stems Again
Your compost pile just got a little smaller.
While I am always a fan of a pickle or anything vinegary year-round, there is just something about summer that makes pickles of all sorts ideal eating. Perhaps it is how well they balance the smoky grilled meats of the season, or how they perk up garden fresh salads, or make the sandwiches you pack for outdoor summer adventuring more exciting. Pickling is also a summer cooking project, a way to preserve and capture the bounty of the garden or the farmers market.
As a fan of nearly instant gratification, I am a superfan of the quick pickle, or quickles as they are known in my house. This is a simple process of macerating vegetables or fruits in a brine for a short period of time. More like a marinade, this kind of pickling doesn’t require long fermentation times, or getting out all the sterilization and canning gear—you can make just as much as you want or need for the coming week. Quickles are a godsend for those with a CSA who might be wondering what to do with one kohlrabi, two small turnips or three stalks of rhubarb.
Meet the produce parts you can pickle!
This summer, when food waste is very much at the forefront of most of our minds and windowsills abound with scallions re-growing themselves in little cups of water, I have discovered that you can pickle the parts of vegetables that you usually discard, and it might be my new favorite thing. Here’s just a start of what you can quickle:
- Broccoli stems
- Cauliflower cores
- The thick stems of collards and kale
- The colorful ribs of Swiss chard
Even better? These pickles are fast, easy, fun to adapt to your personal taste, and you don’t even need a recipe to make them—just a ratio.
How to quick-pickle stems
1. Look for those underused produce pieces—stems, ribs, or cores—and slice or cut into whatever shape or size you want for your pickles.
- Broccoli makes nice discs that are a fun sub-in for a classic dill chip on burgers.
- Cauliflower cores are good in batons.
- I like the fat stems of greens like collards diced up, and the skinnier stems of kale in sticks.
- Chard stems make nice long sticks that are a great swap for a stalk of celery in your Sunday Brunch Bloody Mary.
2. Place the pieces in a colander in the sink or over a bowl. For every pound of vegetation, add a quarter cup of kosher salt and toss well.
3. If you want a sliced shallot, onion, or scallion in your pickle, add it to the salted mix.
4. Let drain for an hour, stirring occasionally. Rinse well to remove excess salt, and dry as best you can on paper towels.
5. Pack the prepped salted vegetables into glass or plastic jars.
6. Prepare the pickling liquid in a large saucepan. For every pound of stems or cores you have, you will need one cup of water, one cup of a neutral vinegar (rice wine, white wine, or plain old white distilled) and a half cup of a sugar (granulated, brown, date, coconut, honey, maple syrup).
7. Heat over medium heat just enough to dissolve the sugar (don’t bring to a boil); and add spice or seasoning if you like. You can add whole seeds like mustard, caraway, cumin, or coriander; peppercorns; or cinnamon sticks. If you like some heat, add a shake of red pepper flakes or a whole dried small pepper like Chile de árbol.
8. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and cool for 10 minutes. Pour warm brine over your vegetables to cover, put the lids on, and let sit until the jars have cooled to room temp.
9. Store in the refrigerator once at room temp; they’ll be ready for eating in about 2 hours and you can enjoy each batch for up to 2 weeks… if they last that long!