Stem that waste

Making use of the whole chard leaf

July 15, 2011

So many recipes writers will say — and I’ve done this, too — something like, “Separate the chard leaves from the stems and set aside the stems for another use.” And what is, pray tell, that other use? I fear that it’s usually the garbage, or better, the compost heap or the chicken coop.

Even when I give recipes for chard stems — and they do have their good uses — I suspect that they might be saved but not necessarily used. I can imagine many little collections of stems, faithfully saved in plastic bags but then forgotten in the backs of the refrigerators across the country. They certainly have lingered for too long in mine.

Well, no more. I’m determined to eat each and every stem, and that means a lot of them, because I’ve got a garden full of chard and the farmers’ market too is crammed with gorgeous bunches, of which I buy several each week. It’s just is too wasteful to throw out the stems, even if they do become compost.

Chard Stems with Sesame-Yogurt Sauce and Black Sesame Seeds

One of the great things about summer chard is that it is likely to be local, which generally means the leaves are picked smaller, when they’re tender and more alive-looking. They don’t appear tattered and torn as they do at other times of the year, when they’ve had to make a long trip from California to the grocery store.

Rather, there they are, all shiny and new, the leafy flesh puckering up between the veins and stems, just inviting you to indulge.

In the case of Rainbow Chard, which seems to be what everyone is growing, the stems are gorgeous, near-translucent shades of orange, yellow, pink, purple, and white or pale green. They look as if they’d be good to eat, as indeed they are.

So here is a recipe for chard stems, braised and served with a tahini-yogurt sauce and black sesame seeds. It’s a very simple dish. And if you have the greens, you can cook them and serve the two together. Amounts are really irrelevant here; you can do this with pounds of chard stems if you have them. Just make more sauce as needed.

And if you find you like the taste of chard stems, try braising them with tomato and saffron, or turning them into a gratin.

This dish is very simple in the seasoning department, but if you want to add an herbal element to the sauce, fresh dill would be good, as would cilantro or parsley.

Chard Stems with Sesame-Yogurt Sauce and Black Sesame Seeds

Serves 2

8 ounces chard stems, trimmed into pieces 4 inches long
Sea salt
Olive oil
1 large garlic clove, halved
1 heaping tablespoon tahini
1/3 cup or more full-fat yogurt
2 teaspoons black sesame seeds
1 lemon, quartered

Bring a shallow skillet of water to a boil. Add salt to taste, a teaspoon of oil, half the garlic clove, and the chard stems. Simmer until the stems are tender. (This can take as little as 4 or 5 minutes, or somewhat longer, depending on their size. The best way to find out is to remove one, slice into it, and take a bite.) When they’re done, set them in a colander to drain for a few minutes, then toss with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

To make the sauce, pound the remaining half garlic clove in a mortar with ¼ teaspoon salt until mushy and smooth. Add the tahini and yogurt and work until smooth.

Toast the sesame seeds in a skillet over medium heat for several minutes until they begin to smell fragrant, then turn them onto a plate so they don’t burn.

To serve, set the stems on individual plates, add a spoonful of the sauce, the sesame seeds, and a wedge of lemon. Enjoy chilled or at room temperature.

Deborah Madison is the author of numerous award-winning cookbooks, including Local Flavors. She lives in New Mexico.

Related recipe: Chard Stems with Sesame-Yogurt Sauce and Black Sesame Seeds

There are 13 comments on this item
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1. by Nina on Jul 20, 2011 at 5:48 AM PDT

That sounds delicious. I often make a Marcella Hazan method of using the stems: cut them into 2-inch lengths, then simmer until al dente, then layer with butter & parmesan in a baking dish and bake until bubbly. I made a variation of that last night, topping it off with some leftover mashed potatoes & mushrooms. Yummy. I’m trying very hard to use up trimmings (in soups, say) and leftovers without having to waste them into the trash. Thanks for this!

2. by vesperlight on Jul 20, 2011 at 12:57 PM PDT

Another use for chard stems, which I intend to try as soon as I come across a suitable bunch, to ferment them in a solution of brine (or brine and whey).

3. by Jeffrey Buxbaum on Jul 20, 2011 at 7:13 PM PDT

I just cut the chard in crosswise in larger ribbons in the leafy part and then progressively smaller as I get towards the thicker stems, and just use them in whatever I’m cooking. The stems aren’t that tough if you cut them small enough.

4. by Joumana Accad on Jul 20, 2011 at 7:44 PM PDT

Making a salad with a tahini sauce is the classical use of chard stems in Lebanese cooking, often served as a mezze dish or alongside the stuffed chard leaves.

5. by anonymous on Jul 21, 2011 at 2:13 AM PDT

Never heard of that, I always add them just cook them a bit longer, alternatively you can grow the costa varietis which have more tender and less stringent taste a bit like pakchoy.

6. by Joanne McGahagan on Jul 21, 2011 at 4:17 AM PDT

Another Lebanese recipe is to make lentil and swiss chard soup. Just cut the stems in small pieces, steam in olive oil with the leaves and add it to the lentils, and then add lots of lemon.

7. by Deborah Madison on Jul 21, 2011 at 5:59 AM PDT

These are all great comments! For some reason I wasn’t able to get my replies on line, but now I can. I didn’t know that was a classic Lebanese dish - interesting! Thank you Joumana. (I think Lebanese cooking is my favorite.) I also use the chard stems in other dishes, like that lentil soup Joanne mentioned, chopped fine and sauteed with the onions, but I’ve never fermented them. Try them braised with tomato and saffron - that’s another good way; I just wanted a dish that really focused on the stems, partly because I end up with so many - thank you all for your comments!

8. by debra daniels-zeller on Jul 25, 2011 at 10:22 AM PDT

I love this. Thanks for posting it. We waste so much produce here in this country. I just got a great recipe for grilling English pea pods (Pressure cooked, then grilled) I hadn’t realized you could actually get them tender enough.

9. by Deborah Madison on Jul 25, 2011 at 11:18 AM PDT

Debra - grilled English pea pods? Are the peas still in them? Probably not if they were pressure cooked. What an interesting idea!
There are always more parts of the plants to eat than we do, but then most people never see them if they just stick to the grocery store. The garden changes all of that.

10. by debra daniels-zeller on Jul 26, 2011 at 9:29 AM PDT

Actually it was what to do with the pea pods after you take the peas out. It does sound intriguing and I’ve saved my pea pods just to try it out today. If we could learn to eat more parts of the vegetable maybe the cost wouldn’t seem so high here.

11. by Mart martins on Jul 26, 2011 at 11:12 AM PDT

You can boil the leftover pea pots in a little water and put them trough your moul for some nice peapodstock, don’t forget to add lettuce trimmings etc. Fava’s and pea’s can go on the grill without precooking. From the favashells (not grilled) you can make a nice puree though it is a bit of work.

12. by meatballsandmilkshakes on Aug 3, 2011 at 6:56 AM PDT

At a fantastic Italian restaurant in NY called Al Di La, they use the chard leaves in their gnudi and saute down the stems in a contorno with an agrodolce sauce. I’ve recreated it and posted on my blog. Basically, you just saute them down for a long while until they are tender and add white wine vinegar and honey. I sometimes add toasted pine nuts and/or raisins too.

13. by hadyourtea? on Aug 10, 2011 at 9:31 AM PDT

this looks amazing, chard is my very favourite vegetable and I grow tons of it every year and love new ways to cook it.

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Deborah Madison, the celebrated cookbook author and local-food advocate, feeds us with her occasional reflections. Her latest book is Vegetable Literacy.

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