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Monday, January 19, 2009

The Rest of the Broccoli

Our family has always liked the crunchy texture and flavor of the broccoli stems about as much as the more popular crowns, so I almost always buy the entire stalks. The full broccoli stalks are usually quite a bit cheaper too, but not if you are going to throw half your purchase away.

Right now, a local store has large bunches (averaging up to 3 pounds) of broccoli for $1.48 while the crowns are selling for $2.99 a pound; that's a lot of incentive for a frugal cook to find ways to use the whole thing. But what to do with all those pesky stems? Here are some of the things you might consider:

  • Slice horizontally into circles and use in stir fry instead of water chestnuts
  • Grate and use in place of cabbage for a wonderful broccoli slaw
  • Make cream of broccoli soup
  • Cut into sticks—peeling if the outside is very fibrous—and use to add interest to a fresh vegetable tray
  • Cut into sticks and deep fry as you would zucchini sticks

Of course, there is still the old standard, preparing the whole thing like the same as just the crowns. Many people steam the uncut stalks and serve them on a platter, with perhaps a little lemon butter or other sauce on the side. While that makes for a very attractive presentation, it often means that either the tops are overcooked and mushy or the stems are still so hard, diners will just leave the woody pieces on their plates. Here's my suggestion for avoiding these problems:
  • Prepare the broccoli by cutting the stems into bite-sized pieces and cutting the crowns into flowerets the size you want for serving. Steam the stems in the microwave about 1 to 2 minutes before adding the broccoli crown pieces. Cook for another 2 minutes, or until all broccoli is just done. Serve as usual for just the crowns.

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