Why You Should Never Throw Away Parsley and Cilantro Stems

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Every week, the same bundle of herbs looks back at me from its shelf in the refrigerator. Loosely wrapped in paper or plastic, it goes goth-black even as I look at it. The excitement of buying the biggest, freshest bunch a few days ago is matched by my disappointment in wasting its verdant potential.

I try to reduce my food waste for environmental and economic reasons, but still, herbs seemed to elude me week after week. I could freeze them in ice cube trays, but I never seem to do so. I like to use them when they’re fresh, it seems

Thus, the day I realized I could toss all my cilantro stems into my blender to make green goddess dressings and marinades for pork shoulder was a glorious day indeed. Even better, a Thai chef recently told me that cilantro roots are considered one of the “three sisters” of his native cuisine. (The herb’s stems approximate the booming flavor the roots contain.) I’d been doing it all wrong.

The Benefits of Parsley and Cilantro

Parsley and Cilantro are both excellent sources of vitamins. Cilantro (the leaves of the coriander plant) is rich in vitamins B and C.1 While parsley is an excellent source of vitamin K, essential for blood clotting, bones, and your heart.2

Both herbs contain many antioxidants or substances that may prevent inflammation or delay certain types of cell damage.3

Cilantro may also have cardiovascular (heart) benefits, such as helping to regulate blood pressure and heart rhythm due to cilantro’s high antioxidant content.4

How To Use Parsley

Parsley and cilantro stems are key to many different dishes. As a cookbook author, Tamar Adler writes, in An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace, “Save all parsley stems. You need them to make any soup or pot of beans worth its weight in water… Every recipe wants parsley stems.” Adler also uses them in fish stock, for flavoring oil, and for frying fish. I’ve taken to dropping a bundle in every soup stock I make, in the Instant Pot or on the stovetop, and it adds a green, softly savory note.

Adler’s not alone in her desire to get us using parsley stems. The soft stems nearer the leaves can work well, as Alison Roman writes in her cookbook Dining In, for herby, spicy bread crumbs; Italian salsa verde; and green “romesco” with almonds and chiles.

Other ideas for parsley stems: Blend in parsley stems into a pesto sauce, or add chopped parsley or cilantro stems to salads for an extra crunch.

Use parsley stems in:

  • Soups and stocks
  • Beans
  • Flavoring oil
  • Frying fish
  • Bread crumbs
  • Pesto sauce
  • Salad

How To Use Cilantro

As for cilantro stems, I use them almost interchangeably with parsley stems. I’ll drop them into stocks when I don’t have parsley stems to spare and simply label the stock “cilantro” so I am more likely to use it for the appropriate cuisines. (Cilantro is a major player in Mexican, Vietnamese, and Indian dishes, among others.)

I’ve taken to chopping them up finely for the base of stir-fries and curries, frying them along with dried red chiles, garlic, and onions. They’re the base of my marinade for pernil, a slow-simmering Puerto Rican pork roast. Into the blender, they go for my riff on a green goddess dressing. And now that I’ve fallen for zhoug, a spicy cilantro-based Yemeni sauce, I imagine I’ll make my own using—you guessed it!—the stems.

I’m not alone in re-using my cilantro stems. Roman employs them for her roasted pork shoulder with garlic and citrus. Adler writes, “I like to add cilantro, chopped roughly, stems included, to cooking leek, cabbage, or stewing tomatoes. It’s nice to add an herb to a dish twice, once while it’s cooking and then again raw, on top, once it’s cooked.

Use cilantro stems in:

  • Stocks
  • Stir-fries
  • Curries
  • Pernil
  • Dressing
  • Roasts
  • Flavoring vegetables

With parsley and cilantro stems, you can use the stems fresh or freeze them. Just be sure to reserve a few leaves, if possible, to dot the finished dish. Chop off any gnarly, tough, or blackened bits that seem like they won’t add much flavor-wise.

A Quick Review

Don’t throw your parsley and celery stems away. These vitamin-packed herbs can bring a burst of flavor to an array of dishes. Cilantro leaves can take a curry from intensely orange to pleasantly orange-and-green and are just the thing to finish homemade tacos. Parsley leaves and sprigs can garnish nearly any Italian dish under the sun.

Enjoy your no-waste approach to using these herbs and feel fantastic about being a good environmentalist.