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Don’t Toss Kale Stems. Pickle Them

Those fibrous discards are actually gold. With a few simple steps, you can transform them into a tangy condiment that perks up just about anything.

Published Dec. 21, 2022.

When preparing kale greens, there is always a mound of bitter, fibrous stems left over. I used to absentmindedly toss them into the compost bin—until Associate Editor Erica Turner turned me on to a much better idea: pickling them.

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With the proper technique, the tough, chewy stems can be transformed into a tender, tangy condiment that will brighten up everything from sandwiches to eggs to grain bowls and more.  

Erica came up with our simple technique after she experimented with quick pickling the stems three ways: whole, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces, and blanched and cut into 2-inch pieces. 

The blanched stems were her favorite batch: Blanching tenderizes the stems and helps temper their bitterness. Then, soak the stems in a simple seasoned vinegar pickling liquid to infuse them with flavor. The technique also works with collard stems. 

How to Pickle Kale or Collard Stems

This recipe can easily be doubled.

1. Cut 2½ ounces stems into 2-inch pieces. 

2. Blanch in 2 cups boiling water until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. 

3. Drain stems, shock in ice water, drain again, and pack into 8-ounce heatproof jar with 12 peppercorns and 1 garlic clove, if desired. 

4. Boil ½ cup rice vinegar, ¼ cup water, ½ teaspoon sugar, and ½ teaspoon salt until sugar and salt dissolve, 1 to 2 minutes.

5. Pour over stems with a funnel

6. Let jar cool completely; cover with lid; and refrigerate until pickled stems are evenly flavorful, at least 2 hours or up to overnight.

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This is the book for anyone looking for fresh, modern ways to add more vegetables to their diet—which is just about all of us. And this exciting guide could have come from only Cook’s Illustrated.

How to Prep Hearty Greens 

Here’s how to remove the stems from kale and collard greens prior to cooking, as well as how to cut and clean the greens.

1. Cut away leafy portion from either side of stalk or stem using chef’s knife.

2. Stack several leaves and cut according to recipe directions, whether halved, sliced, crosswise, or cut into pieces. 

3. Place leaves in large bowl and cover with water. Swish with your hand to remove grit. Repeat with fresh water, as needed, until grit no longer appears in bottom of bowl. Dry cut leaves using salad spinner.


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