Recently, I ended up with a lot of full leaf spinach (the way they’re harvested), green onions and cilantro from a grocery trip. It was my first time getting such spinach for myself, usually getting them in pre-packaged bags without long stems. Summer abundance meant the bundles I bought, along with the green onions and cilantro, were also excessive, so I had a lot of vegetable stems on my hands all of a sudden. Not being one to waste food, I thought about what I could do with all these stems, since they weren’t generally appealing to me if they would have been used like the rest of the stock. I didn’t like the crunchy nature of the stems, and the green onion stems were just a bit odd in flavour for my liking. I usually eat the green onion stalks a bit into the white where it starts to bulge into the bulbs, but this batch had a lot of white before it bulged and I was going to challenge myself to eat a good portion of it rather than waste it.
After some thinking, stem soup was what I came up with.
Stem soup is basically a soup whereby the only vegetable greens you use are stems of vegetables. The soup cooking takes any odd flavours out of the stem, and softens them up considerably, or just a little if you add the stems after you turn off the stove. The latter helps cool your soup sooner and prevents too much boiling of your vegetable stems, not that you would waste much nutrients considering you’d likely drink all the soup.
For soup base, I kept the water in which I had boiled some chicken from the day before. You could keep this for several days if you wanted to, actually. Just cover it during that time. After all, you’re going to boil it again and kill off everything that might have grown there since, lol.
I boiled the soup base for over five minutes, not to kill off bacteria and such, but I needed to soften up the angel hair pasta and one chunk of egg noodles that was the staple of my stem soup. While this boiled, I diced up one giant white mushroom. Basically slice it like bread in one direction, then grab it all together again, turn 90 degrees and do again. It leaves you with a lot of squarish columns of white mushrooms.
While the noodles soften, you’ll also have time to slice up a fistful of grape tomatoes, with total volume about the size of a big plum tomato. The rest is then just cutting off all the stems you have, quickly washing them and cutting them up to whatever lengths you want. For a variety of textures, I left the spinach stems their natural lengths where I had cut them off, which was usually about 4-5 inches. The cilantro I cut into 3/4 inch bits. The green onions were diced to 1/8 inch slices, which often popped into varying sized rings because green onions near the roots are dense and pop like tree rings when cut. If you love your green onions and cilantro the way I do mine, it is some serious aromatic ambiance with all this stuff cut and lying around! Certainly, you’re not likely to ever use nearly as much cilantro in one setting as for this given I had cut off all the stems in the bundle!
All that at the ready, I turned off the stove on which the soup base boiling for some minutes now. It would continue to boil for a minute or so as I added all my cut up ingredients one by one. I started with the mushrooms since that needed the most “cooking” of what I had. The big batch of spinach stems came next, followed by the comparably small amount of green onions. I usually like my green onions uncooked but not the stems so I wanted to get some flavours out of them while retaining some onion characteristics when eaten. The cilantro came next before the tomatoes were finally put in.
The soup was left to cool before a final taste test to determine how much soya sauce and lemon juice I was going to add. I’m Vietnamese, and Vietnamese cooking is all about contrasting flavours so as to bring out the others more. I ended up using one tablespoon of soya sauce and three of lemon juice, but that’s a meal by meal adjustment.
Finally, I added some basil spice for that little zing and more aroma.
The results, I’m delighted to say, was fantastic! I know I’ll be getting more spinach with stems in the future, and the way I do groceries, I’ll probably end up with the same stem ingredients again in the future. That pretty much guarantees there’ll be lots of stem soup in my future at home dining!
Try it and see if you like it! Adjust what you need outside of the vegetable stem usage. Make soup base out of instant noodles if you have to in order to keep it really simple! Boil it like I did, though, not just pour boiling water into a cup or bowl. It’ll be the healthiest instant noodles you’ll ever eat! That’s another favourite go to of mine for when I’m not up to cooking a lot, but I’ll save that for another entry. 🙂