Broccoli stems are the discards that should never be discarded. They have the same flavour profile of Broccoli but are milder in flavour than the florets. They also have the body to not go mushy when cooking. Spend some time peeling off the really tough bits of the skin at the bottom of the big stem; use a paring knife rather than a vegetable peeler. The stalks on the florets can also be peeled. Then the stems are just delicious is all sorts of dishes.
Let us first talk about the peels from Broccoli and Cauliflower stems. They have a very strong flavour if you add them to the scraps to make Vegetable broth described in a different post. However, I save them and make a stock out of them to cook other cruciferous vegetables in like Cabbage or Brussels sprouts.
The stems are absolutely delicious when chopped and added to Vegetable Frittata (fancy term for an omelette); add them to soups chopped up, or to stir frys. My favourite way is to add them to curries; they have enough body to not fall apart during the long cooking the curry has to have.
Herb stems get the short shrift when it comes to their use and get thrown out most of the time.
Parley stems (to the left) and Cilantro stems (below) almost always get thrown out. These have a ton of flavour. Wash them and chop them fine and throw them in wherever you use their leaves as well. In fact, they don’t lose their aroma and flavour as fast as the leaves, So use them early in the cooking and supplement them to wards the end of the cooking process with their respective leaves.
Chopped Parsley stems work great in soups and stews. I have also puréed them and added them with leaves to make Pommes persillade, which is Pan roasted potatoes with Parsley and Garlic, a classic French Potato preparation. Puréed Parsley stems work great when you want to cut the basil in making a pesto with Parsley; just use a mixture of leaves and stems puréed to add to the Basil in making the Pesto.
Chopped Cilantro stems are a godsend when you are making a curry. I add them early in the cooking process and use them also very heavily when making a curry base. One of the most common bases for Suuth Indian style Green Curry is puréed Cilantro, Garlic, Green Chillies. I add the stem in there on a routine basis.
Basil stems, use them in Flavoured oil. Blanche them for twenty seconds in boiling water and immediately plunge them in ice water to stop the cooking. This is just to sterilize the outside of the stems. Dry them completely with paper towels and then put them in a air tight glass bottle with some warm extra virgin Olive oil. Steep them for a ten days to fourteen days and then discard them or purée the oil soaked basil stems and add them to Pesto.
The woodier stems of Rosemary and thyme have less wide ranging uses. However, they can be added to stews for flavouring. Rosemary needs care since it has piney undertones. However, thyme stems are fine when used in stews. More often than not, I just tie thyme into a bundle with Kitchen twine and use it stems and all and then get them out after the cooking is done.
So don’t think of them as waste but there are plenty of usefulness in the parts of herbs we are conditioned to throw away. Try using them and you will be surprised.
There are a few odd balls ingredients I use with Indian cuisine, which would probably surprise the hell out of my tam-bram (ask me for an explanation of this term) relatives. No I am not talking about meat. These are non-meat ingredients.
The first of them is celery, which does not grow in India, at least has not been grown and utilized there. However, it has enough fibre and is a vegetable that stands up to longer cooking that most Indian food demands courtesy of the fibre mesh skeleton of the celery stalk. I love cutting them up into 3/4 inch long and use them in Indian food. A great addition to the Biriyani dishes of the south. Even if you make Biriyani with meat in them, celery works well with them.
The second ingredient that I like throwing into curries surprisingly are Mushrooms. Most mushrooms work fine. I like to saute them first in a bit of oil which is real hot until the mushrooms give up a whole lot of liquid and then the liquid evaporates of the hot pan. I then keep them aside and add them to the pot for the last 10 minutes of the simmering. They pick up the sauce into the mushrooms and end up being really juicy with the curry sauce soaking up in them. South Indian dishes are even most vegetarian Indian dishes do not have a whole lot of Umami in them. Well it takes red meat to produce the Glutamate cross links under heat that make up Umami and there isn’t much of it in Vegetables. While white mushrooms work fine, Shitakes give you a bit more leeway since they are stiffer and stronger and more meatier. The same is true of Portabella Mushrooms. Porcini’s add a richness that is amazing and they also soak up the sauce in them and are heavenly. Given the Morel mushrooms propensity for soaking up things like cream, I cant wait to try but Morels are hard to come by and are expensive; I have not had the occasion to throw them in a curry yet, but rest assured one of these days I will.
The Chinese have long used Tofu as protein in their food. They fry the extra firm tofu to take out even more of the moisture and use it as protein in their food. The Indians have used the analog of Tofu, “Paneer”, in their cuisine. Tofu is from Soy and Paneer is from cows’ milk. However, Paneer tends to melt and vanish into the sauce if you add it for too long during the cooking process. For me, enter Halloumi cheese. Halloumi is a cheese originating from Cyprus. It is a very hard cheese, extremely compressed. It has a second attribute that is absolutely phenomenal. It is so high in its melting point that you can actually grill it or pan sear/fry it. I like to fry it as cubes in a pan and add it to the curries. Even if cooked for 10 minutes or so during the last phase of cooking the curry these Halloumi cubes will hold their shape and add this sauce flavoured salty nuggets to the curry.