Sauteed Squash Stems


I've been thinking a lot about sustainability recently, as I continue to do my part to save water and ponder a future where serious conservation becomes the norm. I feel a shifting tide, where after years of plenty and bounty and consumption, we need to stop in our tracks and rethink how we live.

As a cook, I think about this in my kitchen, and as a food producer I think about it in my garden. Many of us love our NY strip steaks but snub our noses at the less desirable animal parts - a product of producing that beloved steak. I'm a butcher's daughter, and soon to be butcher's wife, so will probably not completely remove meat from my diet. But thinking about the whole animal, not just the prime cuts, is one way to make a practice less wasteful and more sustainable.

But, this doesn't just apply to our consumption of animals. As vegetable eaters, we often just want the "prime cuts". When I worked at the farmers market, I would produce boxes and boxes of green waste, trimming off delicious and succulent broccoli stems and leaves, since people only wanted to buy the tight florets. Cauliflower plants are a giant thing of beauty that take months to grow to size, yet we only eat the very most center of the plant and seem happy to discard the rest. As we think about a shift towards the "whole animal", we should be thinking about the "whole plant" as well.

Which is why I was astounded and completely in awe when a volunteer last Wednesday was thrilled to take home a bag of bright green zucchini stems. Sandy, an educator and cook with a group of volunteers we host from Access SFUSD, couldn't believe we considered composting our zucchini stems as we cleaned up our vegetable beds. Sauteed in olive oil and garlic, she says these stems make a perfect stir fry to go along with rice.

I haven't tried this recipe yet, but couldn't help but pass it along. I have a feeling you could play with flavors and seasonings here so that the possibilities are endless. I'm making a commitment to living a bit more like Sandy who has inspired me with her whole plant approach, and perhaps if we all do, the amount of food we already produce will be enough to go around.

Sandy's Sauteed Zucchini Stems
Since I haven't make this recipe yet, I'm just going to list ingredients and method and let you play with proportions. But my mind is already spinning with possibilities!

  • Olive oil or coconut oil
  • Chopped garlic
  • Salt

Optional additions: minced ginger; chopped dried chili peppers; ground meat
Optional seasonings: drizzle with sesame oil; soy sauce; hot chili oil

Take the zucchini stems and handle with a bit of caution - they are covered in spiky, fine hairs. Take a vegetable peeler and peel the stems to remove these hairs, just like you would a carrot. Chop the stems into 1/2"-1" long batons. 

Heat oil in a wok or large pan over high heat. Add garlic and sauté until just fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add stems and a pinch of salt and stir fry until tender. If you want softer stalks, or to cook faster, put a lid on the pan. Serve with rice.