Thursday, March 6, 2008

Chard Stems

We tend to throw away all kinds of perfectly edible parts of the plants we use. Stems, peels, seeds: many of these plant parts have plenty of nutrients and flavor, but our cooking conventions have gotten us into the habit of tossing them in the trash (or the compost.)

I like to try to use these plant parts, within reason. There's a reviewer at the Seattle Post Intelligencer who's written about my restaurant and also about my farmers' market booth, both times using the expression "honest food" when describing the inclusion of stems that many other places throw away. At first I took it as a backhanded compliment, something like, "I like that dress so much more than what you were wearing last week!" I think she was probably just surprised and ambivalent about it, and didn't quite know what to say.

I think many of our conventions about which parts of the plant to use and which to throw away have their roots in a kind of culinary class chauvinism. Throughout history, rich folks could afford to throw away perfectly edible foods and pay hired help to meticulously trim stuff away. Still, the stems of some greens, like mature kale, are really too tough to be enjoyable. I recommend experimenting, and not being afraid to defy conventions.

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