I have a history with broccoli. It is my greatest shame. It is my bête noire, my nemesis, my raven. When I was catapulted to Z-list fame on Iron Chef America, broccoli was my featured ingredient. As the first vegetarian chef on that show—the biggest stage of my life—I wanted to win with broccoli, I wanted to do right by it, I wanted to make broccoli proud. Instead, it was the loser’s dinner for me: a plate of humiliation paired with a cold glass of failure.
Still, before we were trounced by a TV cooking god, my sous chef and I were thrilled when we figured out that the stalk was holding all of broccoli's secrets. Nutty and crunchy, juicy and sweet, there were so many things that we could do with it… and yet it’s the most overlooked part. Which, of course, means that it's the most fun to work with. So we pulled our stalks out of the discard bowl and discovered a whole new vegetable. Here are five of our favorite ways to play with them:
- We love—ok, have become addicted to—broccoli chips. Just dip thin slices of peeled stalk in corn starch, then fry them in about 4 cups of 325⁰ F vegetable oil like potato chips until they're light brown. Drain them on paper towels, and sprinkle with salt.
- Light and refreshing, broccoli stalk slaw is a winner. On the show, we made one with broccoli sprouts and a citrus vinaigrette, but you can basically peel and shred the stalks and use them in addition to—or in place of—cabbage in your favorite slaw recipe, whether creamy, salty, or vinegary. You get all the sweetness of cabbage, but juicier.
- For some charred action, cut broccoli stalks into little slabs, shaving down their irregular sides. Toss them in some oil infused with garlic, salt them, and sear on a very hot grill. The char will bring out the nuttiness of the stalks. Serve with fresh mint and parsley chopped and sprinkled on top.
- I have a problem with soups that use pureed potatoes as a thickener—all the starch billows out from the potatoes like toxic waste and turns too many chowders into gluey paste. But when we pureed cooked broccoli stalks in chowder instead, they thickened it nicely while keeping the texture light and soup’s flavor clean.
- And our favorite discovery was broccoli carpaccio: thin slices of stalk layered between rich, creamy rectangles of avocado and sprinkled with fresh herbs and chiles. Peel the tough, fibrous outside and slice broccoli stalks thinly, about 1/8 of an inch thick. (We like to do this with a mandoline, but knife or even a good vegetable peeler will do in a pinch.) Toss with salt and lime juice to taste. Arrange the slices across your plate, alternating them with thin slices of ripe avocado, drizzle with nice extra virgin olive oil, and top to taste with a rough puree of 3 tablespoons chopped Thai basil, 1 teaspoon minced ginger, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, and 1/2 teaspoon minced Thai bird's eye chiles.