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Stem that waste

(article, Deborah Madison)

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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.

[%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="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.

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

reference-image, l