Conquering the Whole Vegetable

Image by woodleywonderworks It's easy to get caught in old ways. Habits are comforting, simple, and easy. When we know what works, we stick with it. This is especially true of cooking. Whether you're a new cook or a seasoned pro, you're likely to fall into known preparations. Sometimes cooking is as simple as "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Other times, it's time to shake things up.

Enter broccoli leaves, carrot tops, kale stems, and more. So much energy from the earth and farmers goes into everything grown and cultivated for our consumption. What's more, almost every part of a plant is packed with nutrition. Why not make the most out of every sensational vegetable? You might be surprised by how wonderful these new flavors and textures can be. Some methods are a bit crude, but they can infuse your usual cooking with a hearty rustic touch. These techniques will help you reduce food waste, save money, and most importantly concoct new flavors to usher in the future of food.

Beet Greens

Did you know beets were originally cultivated for their edible leaves, while beetroots were used for livestock feed? Keep that in mind when you encounter these greens. Beet greens taste similar to Swiss chard, and are packed with antioxidants, potassium, fiber, calcium, copper, rioflavin, and vitamins A, C, K, E, and B6.

Use beet greens as soon as you can, as they tend to go bad quickly. Add them to smoothies or juices; stir-fry them with fish sauce, ginger, and garlic; add them to an omelet; use in place of lettuce in a burger or sandwich; add them to a curry; or bake them at 350°F for 15 minutes tossed in oil and salt for beet green chips.

Broccoli Leaves

Broccoli leaves are an excellent source of protein, calcium, potassium, and vitamins A, C, and B6. They're similar in taste and texture to kale, so try baking them like you would kale chips: toss the leaves with some olive or coconut oil and sea salt and roast 375°F for 4 to 6 minutes.

Broccoli Stems

Broccoli stems are a polarizing thing. Some folks don't mind them at all, while others find them bland and overtly fibrous. I'm in the latter camp, but I've found some ways to transform broccoli stems into something delectable. Broccoli stems work well as an antioxidant-rich filler in a juice, but you can pan fry sliced stems sprinkled with salt for something like a broccoli chip. You can also add julienned stems to a cole slaw. Finally, make a broccoli stem and almond pesto by blending 1/2 cup toasted almonds, 3 broccoli stems, 1 clove garlic, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1/4 cup olive oil, and salt and pepper in a food processor.

Carrot Greens

Despite their rumored resemblance to the extremely toxic plant Queen Anne's Lace, carrot greens are not poisonous unless consumed by the bushel. In fact, they are loaded with chlorophyll, potassium, nicain, folate, as well as vitamins A, B6, C, and K. Carrot greens are bitter and astringent, but there's a hint of sweetness in the finish. Try a warm carrot green salad by sautéeing a teaspoon of ground cumin in some oil over medium heat, adding a chopped onion and a can of chickpeas, and tossing with one cup of chopped carrot greens and some lemon juice. They're also great sautéed and drizzled with soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, and a dash of sugar.

Chard Stems

Swiss and rainbow chard stems are packed with glutamine, an amino acid that boosts the immune system. They can be a touch tough, but simply require a bit of extra cooking time to become something exquisite. Try pickling these stems, roasting them, or adding them to a stir fry. They're also excellent when sautéed and blended with tahini, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil for a Middle Eastern dip.

Fennel Stalks and Fronds

Fennel fronds make an excellent garnish, but you can also tuck them into the cavity of a whole fish or roasted chicken for their anise-like aroma. Both the fronds and stalks work well as a bed for roasted halibut or swordfish. You can also infuse warm olive oil with any leftover stalks and fronds, garlic, lemon, and peppercorns for a gourmet condiment.

Herb Stems

Here's an easy tip: if herb stems are tender enough to snap instead of bend, you can eat them as you would the leaves of the herb - except for cilantro stems, which are perpetually tender. Otherwise, add them to cooked dishes and stocks as you would bay leaves.

Kale Stems

Kale stems are a nutritional powerhouse: they are high in iron, calcium, antioxidants, and vitamin K, A, and C. Try cutting kale stems into very small pieces, sautéeing them in a bit of oil over medium heat, then adding freshly grated ginger, minced garlic, salt, and pepper. You can ferment them as you would kimchee, give them a nice pan-fry, or blend them into a smoothie with balancing creamy ingredients like bananas, avocados, or yogurt. A unique idea is to juice the stems to create one cup of juice, stir into two cups of sea salt, and dry in an oven at 200°F to create salt with a gorgeous green hue.

Radish Greens

Radish greens are full of vitamin C, sulfur, iron, and iodine. They're nice and spicy, and add excellent pops of flavor to salads and sandwiches. For a more complex method, sauté radish tops with onions and garlic in a bit of olive oil, add two skinned and diced baked potatoes, and blend with some milk and heavy cream for a comforting soup. You can also make a savory salad with radish greens by tossing them with warm duck fat, salt, and juice from a Meyer lemon.

Turnip Greens

Turnip greens are excellent - they're even endorsed by Alvin Robinson! They have a slightly bitter taste, and are packed with calcium and potassium. As with beet greens, use them as soon as possible because they go bad quickly. They're great sautéed over medium heat with onions, brown sugar, and red pepper flakes. For a more Southern taste, you can simmer them in a large dutch oven with boiled ham hocks and a tablespoon of sugar until tender.