Why You Should Always Buy Stemmed Broccoli — And How to Use It

updated Feb 27, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

For as long as I’ve cooked, the very first thing I did when preparing a head of broccoli was to lob off the thick stem and toss it in the trash (as a teenager) or the compost (in my later years). Then I’d go about cutting the rest of the broccoli into pretty bite-sized florets to be roasted, grilled, stir-fried, or more.

Recently, though, I found myself wondering: Did I really need to throw out half of every head of broccoli head? Was there something else I could be doing with the stems? Come to think of it, I had never really even thought about the stems before. I just remember my parents telling me to cut them off and get rid of them — and so I did. For years.

That night, I pulled the leaves off the stem, cut it up, and roasted everything together with the florets — and I haven’t looked back. In fact, I would argue the stems may be the best part.

What to Know Broccoli Stems and Leaves

The stem is tougher than the florets but it has a wonderfully mild flavor that’s crisp and crunchy when raw and becomes tender and almost juicy when cooked. The leaves, which are also edible, are almost kale-like in texture and flavor and wilt perfectly when cooked. I’ll pull them off from the stem and set them aside, then I’ll trim off the browned bottom of the stem and chop off the crown to cut into florets.

If it’s an especially thick stem or if it seems a little too fibrous on the outside, I’ll use a vegetable peeler or a sharp knife to remove the outer layer. Next, I’ll shred the trimmed stem and add it to salads and slaws or chop it up to roast or sauté.

How to Cook with Broccoli Stems

Just like with broccoli florets, there are endless ways to enjoy broccoli stems and leaves. For me, the easiest thing is to toss them into whatever I am cooking with the florets. I’ll add them to sheet pans, stir-fries, and pot of soups.

Because the stems take a little longer to become tender, I cut them into smaller pieces, which allows them to cook up evenly with the florets. If the broccoli leaves are small, which they often are, I’ll usually toss them in near the end of cooking since they’ll only take a minute or two to wilt.

You can also take the raw approach: Shred the stem in a food processor or with a box grater, thinly slice the leaves, and toss them together for a homemade version of bagged broccoli slaw mix. Use it as a replacement for traditional cabbage coleslaw or slip it into your tacos or sandwiches for extra crunch.

Do you cook with broccoli stems and leaves? How do you like to use them?