Wanna know what makes me really sad? Coming across a forgotten, slimy bunch of herbs at the bottom of the vegetable drawer. That quintessential «I bought this for a specific recipe and will now bury it in my fridge because I have no other use for it» kind of ingredient. But you know what makes me even more sad? Knowing that most people probably just toss the tough stems in their bunches of herbs. Gahh!!! This keeps me up at night.
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I understand the confusion — most recipes tell you to pick off the leaves but give you no clear direction as to what to do with the stems. I can see why most would assume that they’re straight-up useless and gross. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Worry not, there are plenty of clever ways that you can put these ignored gems to great use.
First off, let me clarify the types of herb stems to which this applies. «Soft herbs,» such as parsley, cilantro, basil, dill, and mint, all have malleable stems that can be put to use. In the case of «hard» or «woody» herbs (like oregano, thyme, or rosemary), unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot to do with those stems — send those straight to your compost pile. The beauty of soft herbs is that their leaves and their stems are nearly identical in flavor. The stems might taste slightly more bitter than the leaves, but when prepared in the right application, you’d never know the difference. Where the stems and leaves differ is their texture — the stems are much crunchier and more… stem-like, so they’re not an ideal garnish.
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Despite the fact that these stems do not offer the same soft texture of their leafy counterparts, they are still packed with plenty of fresh flavor. So how do you use ‘em if you’re not chopping ‘em up for garnish? It’s all about slipping them into sauces, salsas, dressing, and stocks. When I use up my herb stems, I like to use them in addition to their leaves, which helps to bring a full circle of flavor. Of course, you definitely want to give the stems a good rinse before using them, just like you would the leaves.
Blend those parsley stems into your next pesto or chimichurri for an added boost of green. Whipping up a leafy salad? Finely chop some cilantro or dill stems for an added, herbaceous crunch. And if you’re making a vinaigrette for that salad in a food processor or blender, then throw some herb stems in there, too. If you’re blitzing up some tomatillos for a spicy salsa, might as well go ahead and just throw in the whole bunch of cilantro — no one will know you were using the stems, too!
If there is one place where the odds and ends of vegetables thrive, it’s a homemade stock. Toss in a handful of stems to impart an herbaceous flavor to your next broth or soup. Since you’re going to be straining all of the ingredients anyway, what’s stopping you from throwing in some stems, right? Same thing goes for a simmering pot of beans–don’t be afraid to toss in some herb stems for a subtle pop of flavor.
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Sure, the stems may not be as photo-ready as their crisp, leafy neighbor, but they can definitely hold their own in a sauce, stock, or soup. Just because a recipe only asks for a sprinkling of the leaves doesn’t mean that the stems are destined for nothing. In fact, they have so much potential. Please, try giving your herb stems a shot at life and use them up. I will sleep so much better knowing that you do.