Kale Stem Pesto

kale stem pesto / loveandlemons.com

You know all of those kale recipes? The ones that say to use just the leaves and save the coarse stems for another use? Well friends, this is your “other use”.

The same way I collect stale tortillas for the eventual tortilla soup, I save chopped up bits of kale stems (and sometimes other stems) for this eventual pesto. Tiny little bags, all over my freezer. When I’m ready to make this, I mix them with freshly chopped stems so the whole thing doesn’t taste too “frozen.”

I just love making this in the colder months when bounties of fresh herbs are harder to come by. I added some parsley and a tiny bit of fresh basil that I had to use up, but feel free to play around with what you have.

The idea is from one of my favorite books, Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s all about cooking with what you have, and not wasting food, not even the stems. (Or at least watch her Ted Talk, about “who is a clever chef”…it’s just so inspiring).

kale stem pesto

Serves: about 1 cup of pesto
  • 1 heaping cup chopped kale stems
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • ½ cup toasted walnuts or pine nuts
  • big handful of parsley and/or basil
  • juice & zest of 1 lemon
  • salt & pepper
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • optional - drizzle of balsamic vinegar
  • optional - grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
  1. Place stem pieces in a small pot and fill it with enough water to cover them halfway up. Toss in the garlic and a few pinches of salt. Simmer until the stems become knife-tender (about 20 minutes).
  2. Drain and let cool.
  3. In a food processor, pulse the cooked stems. Add everything else, drizzling in the olive oil at the end. Taste and adjust to your liking.
Feel free to experiment with other types of stems & herbs. Kale stems are just what I happen to have most often. On this particular day, I also had some parsley and a little bit of basil to use up.



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  1. Well this is genius. I have a bunch of spinach stems left, maybe I’ll give it a try with them!

    • jeanine

      let me know how it goes!

  2. How creative — I have been thinking quite a bit about food waste, and this looks like a simple step to make something from nothing. And who doesn’t like having pesto on hand!

    • jeanine

      thanks – I know, I’m so inspired by the concept of creating something from nothing…

  3. janae from bring-joy.com

    I love the idea of not wasting any food–for a number of reasons. It’s something I’m constantly working on–since I’m cooking for a big family & I’m not always sure how much to cook, how much they’ll eat, & of course, how much of certain produce to buy at the grocery store.

    Now what to do with those broccoli stems…

    • jeanine

      actually Tamar’s original recipe was just “stem” pesto… broccoli stems, parsley stems, anything leftover even and especially the semi-wilty things… toss into the pot and cook until tender, then pesto.

    • I make cream of broccoli soup from broccoli stems. You’re blending it, anyway…

      Jeanine, I love this! Cooking the stems first – yes, that would make it work. I tend to assume pesto is raw – but there isn’t any reason it has to be. (Now I have to look at collards stems – practically the only thing I’ve never managed to use.)

      For most recipes I just go ahead and cook and eat the stems anyway – but this winter, I want to play with the kale salad ideas, and stems don’t work in that, they’re too tough.

      And thank you for pointing me to Tamar Adler. (Looking at reviews…) I’m going to read that book. Sounds like my kind of cook.

  4. Rachel

    Janae, the NYT just posted a recipe for a broccoli stem slaw! I felt similarly excited when I added beet stems to my angel hair the other night!

  5. Tiffany from garlicandsalt-tiffany.blogspot.com

    Brilliant! I usually only use them if I am making vegetable stock. But this is a MUCH better use for them! We love kale pesto. Waste not, want not, right???

    • jeanine

      Well you are better than me because I’m usually too lazy to make my own veggie stock – but I should really start 🙂

  6. michelle from lovely-little-things.blogspot.com

    Kale pesto is my fave – I have a few ice cube trays full of it frozen in my freezer!

  7. Karen A from teenyhippie.com

    I love this. I always wonder about those tricky stems and just thought maybe they weren’t digestible? Good to know that they can be put to yummy use with this recipe!

    • jeanine

      yep, you just have to cook them for awhile until they soften up!

  8. Tieghan from halfbakedharvest.com

    Whoa! So cool and such a great use for them stems I always through away! I cannot wait to try it! 🙂

  9. Jenni from wellnessbyjenni.com

    You are brilliant. Seriously. I have a goal to waste less food, so I could really use some recipes like this. And it looks amazing. I love pesto.

    • jeanine

      Thanks – but I’m not the brilliant one – I was just inspired by Tamar’s stem pesto concept and her entire wilty veggie cooking philosophy.

      I’m also really inspired by this sort of feedback, so thank YOU. My mind just started spinning with other no-waste ideas…

  10. Amie from spoonfulofvintage.com

    This looks so healthy and yummy! Such a great way to use up all of your food…Now if only I could find Kale here in New Zealand- it’s so hard to find!?
    xoxo Amie @ Spoonful of Vintage

    • jeanine

      oh, that’s so sad! Surely you have stems of other veggies? 🙂

    • jeanine

      oh please, no judgement, who knew? … the part I didn’t write about is that when I’m too lazy to save them I chop them up and feed them to the doggies… but I figure that’s a good enough use too 🙂

  11. Katrine from rustickitchenaffairs.com

    Oh kale – your lovely little fellow. I’m working on a kale recipe at the moment as well, but your kale pesto sure looks delicious!

  12. What a good use for a part which is otherwise discarded! I have been wanting to read that book for some time now. Once I have some free time I am so watching her Ted talk!

  13. Krista Sanderson

    Thank you for sharing that TED talk. Awesome!

    • jeanine

      you’re welcome, I’ve watched it countless times, I just love her 🙂

  14. As I was chopping kale leaves for my salad tonight and tossing the stems in the trash I thought “it’s such a shame I don’t have a good use for these.” Wish I’d seen this sooner, but I’ll definitely keep this in mind for the next time I buy kale. Sounds really great and perfect for colder weather.

  15. Martina

    I just made this and it is fabulous ……I used “raw” kale stems thou…..decided not to cook it just to preserve a bit more nutrients 🙂 or I was just too impatient LOL…….I threw in some parsley and basil too and than I panicked cause I only had about half a lemon in the fridge left (oh NO)……so I put in a splash of balsamic vinegar as u suggested, some Pecorino and voila!!……the most beautiful emerald colored pesto I have ever seen!….and the taste is divine!!…….Thank u XO

  16. Chelsea

    I am in the middle of reading Tamar Adler’s “An Everlasting Meal” which I got for Christmas. After making kale chips, I was inspired by the book to put the stems to use…my first instinct was to boil them and toss them in pasta but I decided a quick recipe search couldn’t hurt. This recipe instantly caught my eye and as I read through the directions I saw the shout out to Adler’s book! What a great coincidence! Excited to try out this recipe!

    • jeanine

      Ha, what a coincidence, welcome! I love love love her book…

  17. Kim Pawell from somethingnewfordinner.com

    I love this concept! I hate throwing away food, and so often the stuff we throw away is the healthiest. You have me thinking. Perhaps beet and carrot top pesto would work equally as well? I will have to give both a try! Thank you.

  18. leila

    I tried to make this and now all I have is pale green mush… 🙁

    Is there any way to salvage this?

    • jeanine

      you could try adding more basil, olive oil, and/or lemon (and enough salt & pepper until it tastes good?). It’s texture is a little mushier than pestos that are made with just herbs. (Or I’m not sure if maybe the stems cooked too long and absorbed too much water?).

  19. Celia

    Made this today. The toasted walnuts and fresh lemon really make it sing. Going to have it on beef sandwiches tonight. Channeling Tamar Adler, now have to figure out what to do with the kale water.

    • Sierra H

      The beginnings of a stock!

  20. Patt

    I made the kale stem pesto and liked it enough to freeze stems for future uses. However, I thought it needed something. I added a tablespoon of Head Country’s Hot and Spicy BBQ sauce…. and couldnt stop eating! Thank you for this great recipe!

A food blog with fresh, zesty recipes.
Photograph of Jeanine Donofrio and Jack Mathews in their kitchen

Hello, we're Jeanine and Jack.

We love to eat, travel, cook, and eat some more! We create & photograph vegetarian recipes from our home in Chicago, while our shiba pups eat the kale stems that fall on the kitchen floor.