Most herbs can be used top to tail. The instant you know this, buying them makes more sense—much of the unease we feel about herbs comes from the fact that we often throw their useful, delicious stems - half the bunch - away.
The key to making the most of herbs’ stems is knowing that their nature is different than that of their delicate-tasting leaves. Their job in the plant’s growth is different--they’re hardy and supportive their whole lives--so their taste and texture are, too. Using proud, determined, tough stems requires taking advantage of those qualities.
1) Crunchy salsa verde: Made with parsley’s strong, sweet stems, an Italian salsa verde will be bright, bold and crunchy, close to a salsa made from onions and cucumber. It’s delicious mixed into hot rice to be served under simply cooked vegetables, dolloped into sandwiches, or spooned over eggs.
Cut a bunch of parsley stems very finely across. Slice scallions on a long, skinny bias, or slice shallots into very thin half rounds, until you have about a third as much sliced scallion or shallot as you have parsley stem. Squeeze lemon juice over the scallion or shallot , just enough to mix through well, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Finely chop two anchovy filets, a teaspoon of capers, and two or three cornichons. Combine all the ingredients, then add a lot of good olive oil. Do a similar thing with cilantro stems, substituting lime for lemon juice and thinly sliced pickled chilies for the anchovies, capers, and cornichons.
2) Herb mayonnaise or Green Goddess dressing: Chervil, parsley, cilantro, and dill stems make delicious herb mayonnaise or Green Goddess dressing. Chop the stems finely and then puree them in a food processor or blender with a little water and just enough olive oil to get them as smashed up and smooth as possible. Press the puree through a fine mesh sieve. Then, if you want green tasting mayonnaise, whisk the thick oil in halfway through your mayonnaise making, or if it’s store-bought mayonnaise, whisk it into that, along with a drizzle of good olive oil. For Green Goddess dressing, make a very loose mayonnaise and whisk in the herby oil, then smash in an avocado and add a long squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of white or red wine vinegar, ideally one in which herb stems have already generously sat.
3) Freshen up your vinegars: Put a few mint stems into red or white wine vinegar for between a couple of hours and overnight, then remove. The vinegar ends up tasting fresh and green, and does the most wonderful things to scallions or onions you steep in it—perfect for vinaigrettes or tossed with roasted beets. Tarragon stems do a similar job for white wine vinegar, giving it the lightest hint of anise flavor, which is then lovely mixed with smooth Dijon mustard for a mustard vinaigrette or marinade for chicken.
4) Cilantro stem curry: Make a very simple, delicious curry with tender cilantro stems acting like aromatic greens in a rich tomato-coconut base. Lightly cook a little shallot or red onion, garlic, and sliced chili in peanut or olive oil. Once they’ve begun to soften, sprinkle in a bit of cinnamon and turmeric for aroma, then add a great big handful of roughly chopped cilantro stems. The instant they start to wilt, crush a few whole, canned tomatoes against the side of the pan with a little salt or Asian fish sauce. Keep cooking, and when the tomatoes’ liquid is nearly gone, add just enough coconut milk to make it curry-like, let it all bubble together for a few minutes, adjust with spice, salt or fish sauce, and then serve it over rice.
5) Turn stems into vegetables: Parsley and sage stems are surprisingly delicious after they’ve been cooked in pots of beans or lentils, or in meat braises. Add a big handful of either or both when you first start cooking your legumes or put your meat in a covered pot in the oven. When the dish is tender and ready to eat, serve the stems still in the beans or with the meat. They’ll be tender and ready to be eaten, too.
6) Herb soup: Basil, parsley, chervil, dill, cilantro, and sorrel stems make a simple vegetable soup intriguingly delicious. Melt a generous piece of butter in a pot, and in it, cook a half cup of the sweetest onions you have and half a carrot, finely chopped or sliced, adding a pinch of salt when you do. Cook the two until they’re tender, then add a few big handfuls of the well-chopped herb stems (any combination of the above is wonderful). Add two small potatoes, peeled and diced, and water or chicken stock to cover. Cook until the potato breaks easily with a wooden spoon, turn off the heat, add a squeeze of lemon, then puree in batches with a blender. Strain the soup through a fine-mesh sieve to get it smooth, then add a little butter to the elegant, pea green soup you’re left with. It will be sweet, and a little tart, and entirely delicious, especially with a few croutons.
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