Braise Leftover Kale Stems For A Delicious Last-Minute Side Dish

Used in everything from salads to smoothies, kale is beloved for its earthy taste and accessibility. All you need to do is snap it off the stems, give it a good rinse, and cook it. Yet, as we make use of the kale leaves, what happens to the stems left behind? Instead of throwing them out, turn the kale stems into a delicious side dish by braising them.

Finding creative ways to use up "scraps" is an excellent way to combat food waste. From frying leftover Brussels sprout leaves for a snack to saving vegetable remains to simmer into a stock, everything can have a purpose. Each part of the plant should be utilized, and kale stems are no different. Their thick, sturdy stature makes them appear inedible but, if anything, this makes them the perfect candidate for braising. With a slow, constant simmer, the tough kale stems are softened into submission. Within 30 minutes, the cut-up stems will be tender enough to be a savory side dish.

Softening them within half an hour may seem like an impossible feat but, with blanching, it can be done. Boil them in salted water for around two minutes and then quickly move them into an ice bath. While they're blanching, saute aromatics in a deep pot and deglaze them with your braising liquid before adding the kale stems.

What can you serve kale stems with?

When simmered in coconut milk and lime, kale stems and chicken breasts can make the most incredible one-pot meal. Heat olive oil in a pan and saute shallots and grated ginger until they slightly soften. Brown skinless chicken breasts and pour full-fat coconut milk into the pot followed by chopped-up kale stems. Around 25 minutes in, squeeze fresh lime juice into the pot and allow the ingredients to simmer for a few minutes more. Once they're done, serve this creamy, tangy dish on a bed of cilantro rice.

You can also infuse kale with a meatier flavor by pan-frying pancetta in the pot before braising the kale stems. Once the pancetta is heated through, set it aside and saute minced onions and garlic. Toss the kale stems into the pot and deglaze with white wine and a splash of vinegar. Simmer the kale until it's soft and serve it alongside roasted pumpkin feta pasta.

Balance the bitterness of kale by braising it in tomato paste. Deepen the paste's rich flavor by quickly cooking it with shallots, garlic, and olive oil. Add the chopped kale stems and pour vegetable broth into the pot. In the last 5-10 minutes, pour canned cannellini beans into the pot for a creamy, earthy addition. To intensify the smoky flavor, eat the braised kale stems and beans with harissa baked salmon.