It’s OK: We get it. Almost every recipe ever says to pick the leaves and tender stems from a bunch of herbs and trash the rest. You’ve been conditioned to think that the remainder of the plant is compost. But the truth is that, while those leaves may be pretty, the stems that they grow on are packed with flavor and shouldn’t go to waste.
Yep! The stems of soft herbs—think parsley, dill, cilantro, and basil—taste just like the leaves. (This isn’t really the case with tougher, woodier herbs like rosemary and oregano.) The flavor isn’t quite as bright and pronounced, but it’s very much there. The reason they get cast aside so often is because they tend to be a bit more fibrous than the tender, leafy parts, which means that they’re not great for sprinkling and garnishing. But if you show them the love they deserve, the payoff can be huge. You paid for the whole bunch, right? You might as well get your money’s worth. Here’s how to use herb stems to boost your salads, soups, and pastas to new heights:
Pesto and Salsa Verde
Any green, herby sauce makes a good home for those leftover herb stems. They can help to fill out a blended sauce like pesto—it’s kind of all the same when you buzz it up like that—and when chopped finely they add flavor and a bit of crunch to looser sauces, like a simple salsa verde. Get ’em in there!
Broths and Soups
When building a quick broth, you need as much help as you can get in the flavor-building category. Parmesan rinds, miso, and alliums like garlic and onions are all great, but herb stems belong in that pot too. They’ll lend an herby depth to your finished product, and since you’re straining the stuff anyways, you don’t even have to chop them up—just toss them in and simmer away. You can also chop them finely and stir them into pretty much any soup right at the end of cooking to add a pop of brightness and texture. Think of everything soup has done for you. It’s time you do something for soup. This is that thing.
Salads and Vinaigrettes
Herbs in salad? Very good. Herb stems in salad? Also very good. You probably don’t want to make a whole salad out of herb stems, but incorporating finely chopped stems into your salad—whether it’s a simple green salad or a more elaborate, veggie-packed situation—is a pro move. Herby complexity: always welcome. And while you can certainly just toss them with the other vegetables in the mix, you can also chop them up and stir them into the vinaigrette you’re using to dress that salad with. Listen, we don’t care how those herb stems end up in your salad. We just care that they do.