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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Rate this recipe (after making it):  

  1. Pam

    Wow! Just made this. Followed the recipe, and it is delicious! I like it much much better than pesto made with kale leaves!

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      I’m so glad you loved it!

  2. Michelle Rosch

    Delicious! And that’s also the judgment of a friend who visited me and tested it on some crackers . It is an excellent spread foe sandwiches , and a good addition to soup (your mushrooms chickpeas and kale stew) . In short , it’s a keeper!

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      I’m so glad you both loved it!

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

    • Michelle Rosch

      Put it in a vegetable soup!

    • RoseEllen

      Use the kale water to water your plants!,

  5. 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?).

  6. 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.

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.