I’m a huge fan of fresh herbs, and I’m an even bigger fan of using the entire store-bought bunch before any of the leaves get wilted and slimy. To achieve this, every week I buy a single type of herb and put it in as many dishes as possible. By the end, a barren bouquet of stems marks the finish line in my race against time, and I proudly toss all the non-leafy leftovers in the compost, feeling like a total master of efficient herb usage.
But wait — what about the stems?
Recently, as I picked my way through a bunch of cilantro, a good friend revealed a huge misstep on my part. It turns out, all this time, I’ve actually overlooked a large part of my herb purchases: the stems. Herb stems can add both subtle flavor and crunchy texture to dishes if you don’t throw them in the compost. And for “lazy cooks” like myself, they make the whole de-stemming process a lot less complicated, and in some cases, totally unnecessary. Which is not only a huge win for herb efficiency, but time efficiency, too.
So here’s how you can make the most of your stems:
Infuse Oils and Vinegars
If you feel weary about eating herb stems, or you only have hard herbs (like rosemary) on hand, then go with this approach. Simply buy a neutral oil or white vinegar, submerge herb stems, and let them steep for a few hours to a day. Then use to dress your next salad, or get fancy with marinated mozzarella or quick pickles. (Note: Follow these instructions for safe oil-infusing.)
Add to Stock
Just like infusing oil and vinegar, use this approach when you wish to taste your herb stems and not eat them. Unlike oil and vinegar, soft herbs (think: cilantro, parsley, dill) work best. Tie them together with kitchen twine to make a sachet, add to a pot of stock, and then remove before blending or serving the soup.
The next time you make chimichurri, pesto, or any blended sauce with a soft herb, skip the picking and throw the whole herb — leaves and stems — into your food processor. And if you have leftover stem puree, keep the flavor going by adding it to butter.
Use Them for Stuffing
The next time you make roast chicken, whole fish, or anything en papillote, remember to use those soft herb stems. As you would with thin slices of lemon or onions, stuff the stems into the chicken cavity and under the skin, inside the fish, or inside your parchment packets. Then remove the stems prior to serving.
Seeing that it is BBQ season, why not throw herb stems onto the coals (as you would smoking chips) for herb-infused smoke? Think of the flavor you’ll add to your vegetables, meat, and yes, even fruit.
Do fancy salts make you swoon? Well, you can make your own flavored salts (and peppers and sugars!) with a handful of roughly chopped stems and a mortar and pestle.
Put herb stems front and center atop your next soup, leafy salad, or platter of roasted vegetables or meat. Simply chop them up to your desired size and then use as is. Or add in olives for a take on tapenade. Toss with breadcrumbs for added texture. Or mix with green onions and garlic for bright relish.
Updated from post originally published July 1, 2015.