recipe: waste not kale rib stew

Growing up, my mom used to tease me that I was tight-fisted. I would work two or three jobs simultaneously each summer, just for the joy of watching the number in my bank account grow and grow. And when I found out (somewhere around age 16) that my parents had invested all of my babysitting savings in the stock market, I quite literally freaked out.

These days, I'm happy to report that I'm more financially savvy than cheap. But when I see friends or family throwing out rotted produce—whether due to poor planning or simply not knowing how to strategically freeze fresh ingredients for future use—I still can't help but lose my cool.

In the nearly 7 years since I graduated college, the only produce I can recall throwing out was a single head of lettuce, once. I'm easily more proud of my strategic grocery shopping and anti-food waste skills than any other of my accomplishments. In turn, it's no surprise that I've become curious about the bits and bobs of produce that we don't regularly consume: cauliflower leaves, broccoli stems, radish tops, you name it. And just as I opened the trash to dispose of a bunch of kale ribs this weekend, my thriftier self couldn't help but ask, "I wonder if there's a way to make these edible..."

Admittedly, the vegetable goddess herself—Deborah Madison—claims in Vegetable Literacy that "[kale ribs] are tough as a rope and will never get tender, ever." Given the number of James Beard Awards she has won, I'm pretty sure she knows what she's talking about. But I think that tip specifically applies to your ordinary curly kale (whose ribs look about as dense as a cinder block). On the other hand, the kale I was working with was purple leaf kale, a softer leaf variety whose ribs look like a cousin of the cardoon or a tougher piece of celery. And what do you know, braising the heck out of them for about two hours transformed those rough little "ropes" into something delicious.

This is not a recipe per se, as exact measurements aren't what's important. Just follow these instructions with whatever amount of kale ribs you have and—voila—you just saved yourself a meal's worth of money and got in an extra dose of brassicas superfood.

Waste Not Kale Rib Stew 


  1. Wash kale ribs. Remove the bottom centimeter of each rib with a knife and discard.
  2. Cut the remaining ribs into roughly centimeter-sized pieces.
  3. Add the chopped kale ribs to a stock pot and cover with the broth of your choice + a generous dash of salt (I used homemade chicken broth and some garlic salt). The broth should cover the kale ribs by about a half inch.
  4. Bring your pot to a boil, then simmer on low for 1.5-2 hours, checking the ribs for tenderness. 
  5. Once the ribs are quite mushy, your soup is ready to serve—ideally with some crusty bread. Enjoy!