If you look at kale stems and see tough, fibrous garbage, you’re seriously missing out.

By Maddy Sweitzer-Lammé
June 05, 2020
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I know it’s a cliche, but I love kale. I buy several bunches a week and use it in kale salads, stir fries, and always in my beloved beans and greens. As any good kale devotee knows, the best way to enjoy it is to strip the leaves off the tough, fibrous stems. I do this, but it results in a surplus of stems, which I hate to throw away. Instead, I’ve found that a little tender love and care can save kale stems from the trash (or compost!) and make them into a delicious meal.

Kale stems are best when cooked. I never include them in salad or other raw applications. Instead, I tie them back together with a rubber band after stripping the leaves and store in my vegetable crisper. They’ll keep for over a week that way, giving you time to use up the leaves from other bunches, and collect more stems.

The first thing I do is thinly slice them into rounds—cutting them this way breaks up the texture and makes it easier to season and cook them to a tender, appealing consistency. Then, I sauté them the way I would any tough green: in a pan with plenty of olive oil, garlic and salt. I sizzle a little garlic in the olive oil, then add the sliced stems and cook, stirring every minute or so, until they turn bright green. Then I add a splash of water, about a quarter cup, and let that steam the stems as it reduces. Once that water has evaporated, taste the stems. If you want them to be more tender, add a bit more water. Season them with salt and pepper.

Once they’re cooked, you can use your stem saute in many ways. It’s delicious in pasta, especially in shapes like orecchiette or rigatoni where the nuggets of kale stem can get tucked into the folds and edges of the pasta. I also love stem saute stirred into the base of grain salad, where their small size complements the texture of grains like rice, farro, and bulgur. And, as with most cooked greens, they make an excellent addition to scrambled eggs and fried rice. I’ve even put them into chicken soup to add an extra hit of nutrition to a classic comfort food.