Thursday, June 21, 2012

Stem-to-root cooking

Last year, the New York Times ran a story on stem-to-root cooking.  I was going to post about it but got caught up in my gardening morass and so didn't.  However, now that my CSA is in full swing again, I'm thinking about the article.  The concept is not a new one to me; however, I had never heard it called "stem-to-root," never realized the many ways to use up the last bits of vegetables, never knew that even corncobs had edible life to them, or that this was now kind of trendy.

I've always done a version of this with both meat and vegetables.  My version of root-to-stem cooking was to use the edible parts I know about, boil the tougher parts for stock, and then compost them (with meat, I cook and eat or save the meat and use the bones for stock.)  I also eat and enjoy the parts of the plant I know are edible (so, for example, I don't just eat the beets, I will steam the beet greens and eat them with a little cider vinegar).

Some things are already well-known (at least to older generations).  Yes, you can pickle watermelon rind.  Apparently my great-grandmother did that all the time, and it's supposed to be tasty.  Yes, the broccoli stalk is edible--once you peel it, it's actually more tender and tasty than the florets.  But the article has some good suggestions of what you can do with things that many people either don't eat or don't enjoy eating.  (For example, I didn't know you could make a relish from the tough ends of asparagus--I use them for stock.)

Learning which parts of the plant are edible (because it's not just what you get in the supermarket) and the different ways you can prepare them can save you time, money, and stress.  It's also kind of amazing--I didn't know that carrot tops were edible. (When do we ever eat carrot tops?)  If you want to buy produce from a farmer's market, or you grow it, you can actually use the whole vegetable and not worry about needing to get more within a day or so.  You don't have to buy a lot of vegetables, you can buy a few and use up every last part of them.  You can eat the same plant but in varied ways--steam the cauliflower, and saute the outer leaves in some olive oil and garlic, for example.  Out of garlic?  Are you growing it?  Use the scapes that are shooting out of the ground. You don't have to go to the store or market to get more food, you have plenty and can use what you have.  And you can try something new.


  1. We have an unfinished blog post in our queue about how happy I am not to have to eat radish top soup anymore! (Not that it's bad or anything, it's actually pleasantly mildly spicy). And I can just compost the beet greens rather than eating them.

    The Victory Garden Cookbook has some great recipes for using every edible part of a veggie.

    1. I need to check that book out. Is it still in print?

    2. It goes in and out of print (they update with new editions). If it isn't in print you should be able to get a used copy pretty easily.

  2. I read your attachment with great interest and learnt such a lot and will be giving some of those tips ago.
    I have always used celery leaves in soups or stew and young beet leaves in salad I have also used onion stalks. I can't wait to try carrot tops.
    Thank you Carolx

  3. Hi Pamela, it's Carol again. Cane you please tell me what CSA is. I googled it and it came up with 350 names.
    Thank you

    1. Hi, Carol. It's community supported agriculture--you buy a share in a local farm and get vegetables and fruit every week during the growing season. It can be a bit pricey, depending on the CSA and your area, but it can also be well worth it if you can preserve what you aren't able to eat that week. Sorry I didn't reply until now--I was away from any internet connection all day! I'm glad you liked the article. :)

  4. All of my truly inedible veggie leavings always go to a most delicious and varied stock.

    The moral that is at the core (ar,ar) of the Pinnochio story is the lesson of the pear: P. wants Geppeto to remove the skin and core of the pear for him. G. tells him (in so many words) to suck it up, quit being such a petulant brat and eat the whole G-D pear, 'cuse it's *all* good!

  5. Excellent information! I just had someone the other day ask me if carrot tops were edible and I replied, "sure if you're a horse!". I had no idea. But I have always heard that the green portions of tomato plants are toxic, so I question the use of these in any cooking.

    With cauliflower, you can eat almost all the core as well. When I cut up a head of cauliflower and I get down to the core, I begin slicing thinly, until it feels too tough, which is only about the tail 1/2 inch.

    And Nicole and Maggie, I've used the Victory Garden cookbook as well. That's where I learned radish greens were edible.

    Today, I have to tear out the going-to-flower chard in my garden. (I plant chard in the early fall, and it comes back in spring here)I had thought I would just compost the stalks, but now I think I'll try to slice them thinly for puree to use soup.

    I use chive blossoms in soups and sauces. And a friend of mine has made seasoned vinegar with the blossoms.

    You know what this means for me? I don't have to keep as big a garden to get us through a year, or more accurately, my small garden may cover us for more months of the year. And people with just small garden like mine, or who garden in pots on their patio, by choosing crops thoughtfully, they can harvest even more from their space.

    Thanks for the info, Pamela. I'm going to have to print this out!

  6. @ Carol
    CSA = community supported agriculture-- basically a box of produce from a local farmer that you get at regular intervals after paying up front.

  7. Very interesting! We also eat radish greens and my son and I fight over who gets the potato peels. I always thought that was the best part of the potato! But I'm thinking toasted watermelon seeds might be a yummy new snack. BTW, we have discovered that toasting squash seeds is tastier than pumpkin seeds.