But what if we took it even further? Often you’ll be asked in recipes to use herbs’ leaves and “tender stems,” especially when the leaves aren’t chopped. This refers to the very thin stems that hold the parsley, cilantro and dill leaves onto the main, thicker stem. But those bigger stems are good all the way to the root.
The leaves are considered soft herbs: They are so delicate, they unpleasantly wilt when touched by heat. They are what you use when you “garnish before serving.”
What you’ll find in the stems of those herbs is a concentrated burst of flavor and an entirely different texture than that of the leaves. A single herb can now can act as two ingredients in one. The leaves are soft, while the stems, when chopped finely, add a crunch similar to celery. By using both, you get a variety of textures across a range of the herb’s flavors.
If you’re skeptical, give cilantro stems a chomp. You’ll see — and then will want to know what to throw them into.
This salad is a rudimentary introduction to finely chopped herb stems — how they taste, how they chew and just how alive they make even the simplest salad of plain lettuces.
Try it and then go on and use them with abandon: Wherever you typically add a garnish of fresh herbs, keep chopping down the stem and add the crunchy bits, too. Some stems, especially thicker ones and the parts closest to the root, may be bitter. The only way to find out is to try a little before adding them to a dish. (Mint, basil and hard herbs, such as rosemary and thyme, have woody stems that are not enjoyable to eat.)
Herb stems have a home in many places beyond salads, or wherever else you garnish with herb leaves. Unlike the leaves, they’re sturdy enough to be sauteed with garlic and onions. When cooked, they lose their texture while imparting deeper herbal notes to the finished dish. Add a bit of chopped raw stems, along with the leaves, right before serving, and it’s a triple whammy — all from one ingredient you probably already have.
Flavor perks aside, there also is a do-gooding quality here — stems are so often thrown out. And even if the leaves on your bunch of herbs are past their prime, you can still use the stems. Taste some stems from close to the leaves; if they are still crunchy, they’re good as gold.
Herbs and Their Stems Salad
Finely chop the herb’s stems and you get two textures and flavors in one ingredient with a concentrated flavor burst.
- 1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, cilantro or dill
- 2 cups (1 ounce) baby lettuces
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 lemon, or more as needed
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, or more as needed
Pluck 2 cups of herb leaves from their tender stems, then finely chop the stems. Discard the roots and any tough stems.
In a large bowl, add the baby lettuces, then the herbs and stems. Season to taste with salt and pepper and toss gently with your hands to combine.
Squeeze the lemon over the greens, catching the seeds in your other hand. Toss gently until coated. Drizzle with just enough olive oil to coat, about 1 tablespoon. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed: If the salad tastes flat, add more lemon and salt; if it’s too intense, add more oil.
From recipe developer and food writer Ali Slagle.
Tested by Olga Massov; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Calories: 35; Total Fat: 4 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 40 mg; Carbohydrates: 1 g; Dietary Fiber: 0 g; Sugars: 0 g; Protein: 0 g.