• The stems are the unsung heroes of broccoli. (Getty Images )Source: Getty Images
The florets may be crowned as the best part of the broccoli, but their stems deserve all the glory.
By
Melissa Woodley

16 Jun 2021 - 10:31 AM  UPDATED 22 Jun 2021 - 9:36 PM

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Broccoli may not be everyone's childhood favourite, but those little green trees add so much texture and vibrancy to dishes from around the world. Their fluffy florets are the ultimate food mops in a curry or stew, and their stalks add the perfect crunch when grated into a salad raw. This cruciferous vegetable really is the best two for one deal.

Many home cooks are quick to toss away broccoli stalks simply because they don't know how to use them or that they're even edible. They give all the glory to the florets, escorting the highly undervalued stalks to a new home in the bin. However, they really are the unsung heroes of this magical vegetable.

Pop some stems on it
Broccoli and sausage pizza

The broccoli is raw when it goes on but shaved really thinly so you get some deliciously charred edges with some tender crispness.

Broccoli stalks are similar in texture and taste to kohlrabi. They've got a tougher outer layer that adds crunch when eaten raw, and a centre that becomes crisp and juicy when cooked. Once added to a dish, the stems contribute a mild, earthy flavour that makes a good base for more intense ones. Plus, they're just as nutritious as the head, containing slightly more calcium, iron and vitamin C per gram. By incorporating the stems into your cooking, you'll not only be saving them from waste, but you'll be benefiting from all that extra nutrition. It's a win-win situation.

Broccoli stems in this stem leaf risotto provides a trifecta of flavour, crunch and nutrition.

Food waste warrior and co-founder of Cornersmith Café, Alex Elliott-Howery, thinks that broccoli stems are often neglected due to misunderstanding and fear of cooking with unfamiliar ingredients.

"I just think it's habit," Elliott-Howery explains. "We're taught that that's the part that's meant to be thrown out and I think a lot of people don't even know you can eat them…just knowing how to treat an ingredient makes you use the whole thing."

Cook and teacher at Cornersmith Cooking School Jaimee Edwards adds, "People just don't realise that there is so much flavour in the fibrous parts and don't know how to cook them.

"Once they do, there is no looking back."

To prepare broccoli stems for cooking, OzHarvest's executive chef, Travis Harvey, recommends firstly breaking up all the florets and putting them aside for later use. He then tidies up the stem by chopping 5 centimetres off the woody base and gives the stalk a gentle peel, of which the scraps can be composted or added to vegetable stocks. Following this, the stalks can be chopped as required and stored in an airtight container or calico bag in the fridge.

There are many wonderful ways to incorporate broccoli stems into your cooking. You can blend them into soups, chuck them into broths, roast them into fries, spiralise them into noodles or even blitz them into pesto. Here are five innovative ways that'll make sure you never have to put this highly versatile vegetable to waste again.

Salads

Due to their mild, grassy flavour, broccoli stems make an ideal canvas for salads and slaws.

LITTLE TREES
Broccoli and pistachio salad

As much architecture as salad, this dish puts broccoli front-and-centre atop a parmesan cream and dressed with a herb oil and broccoli crumb.

Harvey says, "My favourite way to have them is raw, as a substitute for kohlrabi. I'll either do it as a julienne or just into small strips that go into a salad where that beautiful, sweet brassica flavour comes through."

For staff meals at OzHarvest, Harvey grates the broccoli stems and pairs them with crispy soy and sesame coated cauliflower leaves. He is also renowned for his three-textured fennel and broccoli stem salad that boasts a sweetness and crunch when topped with nuts and lemon dressing.

Elliott-Howery also suggests using grated broccoli stems to replace cabbage in coleslaws, shredding them into fried rice or combining them with other leftover vegetables to make fritters.

ADD BROCCOLI TO YOUR FRIED RICE
Ultimate leftover fried rice

I love fried rice and you can really pump it up with healthy vegetables when you make it at home.  I've used leftover cooked ham in this version, but you can really add whatever you like to it. 

Stir-fries

Next time you're making a stir-fry with broccoli florets, why not chuck in the stems too. Thinly slice the stems on the diagonal and cook them up for a few minutes with oil, garlic and spices to allow them to absorb the seasonings.

Edwards says, "The firm texture of the stems is great for sauteing and can be used in place of green beans or kohlrabi if you slice them finely. When cooked well their woodiness yields, but they retain that crunch."

What better way to make a five-spice beef stir fry than to add some crunch with broccoli stems.

"I like to stir fry them in sesame oil and chilli and ginger," Edwards continues. "This makes a great side to black pepper tofu."

Harvey also recommends stir-frying them and adding them to risottos for a heartier texture and bonus vibrancy.

"They just add a little bit more depth and greenery to it," he says. "So just saute them after cutting them into a really fine dice"

AN EVEN MORE NUTRITIOUS RISOTTO
Stem leaves risotto

A simple, nutritious meal that also helps to reduce your food waste. Celery heart is the tender inner section of a bunch of celery and has a sweeter, more delicate flavour. The pale inner leaves of the cauliflower and broccoli are those that you find still snuggly attached after you have removed the larger outer leaves.

Roasts

Giving broccoli stems a good roast helps concentrate their mildly sweet and peppery flavour.

"You can roast them with butter, well-seasoned and they'll take on that sort of luxurious, flavour," Harvey advises. "They're also good roasted with thyme and garlic."

A STAND OUT
Whole-roasted broccoli

Nobody puts broccoli in the corner. Especially when it's so easy to bake.

Due to prolonged exposure to heat in the oven, the fibrous skin will soften so it's generally okay to leave most of the skin on. If you're cooking them alongside the florets, give them a quick blanch before baking as they take longer to cook.

You can then enjoy these roasted stems as a side with any fish or meat main, or sneak them into your favourite casseroles, bakes and tarts.

If you've got some broccoli in the fridge, use it in a cheddar tart.

Pickles

One of the best ways to use broccoli stems is to pickle them, particularly if you won't be able to use them up in time.

Harvey says, "The stalks take on flavour wonderfully and already have the crunch that you quite often you have to work for with other vegetables.

"For cucumber, you have to add mustard seeds and tea leaves to get them to really crisp up but with the broccoli stems, you can really just add a flavoursome brine."

Elliott-Howery recommends a quick pickle for home cooks, which involves thinly slicing the stems and pouring over a brine made from hot water, vinegar, sugar and salt.

FERMENTED GOODS
Quick kitchen-scrap pickle

Quick pickling is a great way to use up any vegetables in the fridge at the end of the week, as well as those leftover vegie stems – cauliflower, beetroot, broccoli and kale stems all make really delicious pickles!

"I'd also pop a bit of peppercorns or a slice of ginger or some chili flakes," she recommends. "In 20 minutes it tastes pretty good, in a couple of days it'll taste even better."

Mix your pickles through salads, enjoy them with cheese on crackers, or use them to add acidity and crunch to burgers and toasties.

Sauces

When making sauces, broccoli stems can be treated like any other vegetable, replacing carrots, celery or capsicum.

Elliott-Howery suggests, "If I'm turning it into pesto or a broccoli pasta sauce or anything like that, I just chop the stems a little bit smaller before I blanch them."

If blanching the stems alongside the florets, their tougher outer layer will require an extra 30 seconds. They can then be chucked into stews, stocks and soups or blended to make pesto or hummus. Slather these on pizzas and sandwiches or stir them through a pasta salad, and dinner is sorted.

Next time, don't hesitate to throw in the stalks right along with the florets. Not only do they lend so much flavour, texture and vibrancy to a dish, but you'll be doing your part in helping to minimise food waste.

Jaimee Edwards says, "We are under the false illusion that food is plentiful and cheap. It is neither. It is hard work to grow food and its availability should not be taken for granted."

Love the story? Follow the author Melissa Woodley here: Instagram @sporkdiaries.

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