Totally transform the way you think about kale stems.
I’m guessing that most of you, myself included, remove the thicker stems from kale and either throw them in the trash or compost. I mean, they’re these woody, dense pieces of the kale plant. In fact, that’s why for a lot of recipes that call for greens, I lean toward chard. They have a stem that responds nicely to sautéing. Put their stems in the pan a couple minutes before the leaves, and you have a nice tender mix. With kale that doesn’t happen. A few minutes of cooking and you still have overly firm kale stems.
I really do like kale leaves, but I dislike using an ingredient that I know I’ll discard a portion of. So, I began thinking of ways that I could use these stems. The answer that came to me was to pickle them. Why couldn’t I turn these less than pleasant stems into a tasty little snack?
Thus began my kale stem pickling experiment. The brine was the easy part. The pickling/cooking portion took a bit more effort. For my first batch, I assumed just letting the stems hang out in the hot brine would be enough to transform them. WHAT WAS I THINKING? If sautéing for a few minutes doesn’t make them tender, how would hanging out in hot brine for a couple minutes going to do that?
Off to batch number two. This time, I left the stems simmering in the brine. Laptop open to take notes, I lifted the lid and sampled a stem every few minutes. I wasn’t really sure how long it would take; I just kept sampling. The magic number was twenty. At this point the stems were tender enough to bite but still had firmness for texture. I think I’d call them al dente.
Although the cooking is done in a short period of time, it’s ideal to let these stems hang out in their brine overnight or for a day. Let them fully absorb the flavors of the brine. They become these delicious, two-bite snacks that are cold and refreshing. What’s not to love about that?
- 1/2 cup cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup white vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- Kale stems, cut into 2″ segments*
- Combine both vinegars, water, sugar, and salt in a small saucepot.
- Bring to a boil, stirring until salt and sugar dissolve.
- Add kale stems; reduce to simmering.
- Cover and cook for 20 minutes.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Refrigerate for at least 12 hours.
- You can remove the leaves from the stems either by cutting or by pulling off with your hands. If pulling the leaves off, pull away from the direction the leaves have grown.