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Going Whole Veg: Root to Stalk Cooking

Radish leaf salad. Reprinted with permission from Root-to-Stalk Cooking, by Tara Duggan, copyright 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. Photo credit: Clay McLachlan

The Bay Area is, by now, used to seeing whole beasts on menus near and far. For whole vegetables, the story is a bit different, as a peek in residential compost bins will show (guilty!). We're talking not even letting carrot tops and beet greens go to waste, for a no-waste approach that can lead to a potential boon of flavor with economic and environmental impact.

Enter Tara Duggan, longtime contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle food section and author of a new book called Root-to-Stalk Cooking. Her decade-long Chronicle column, "The Working Cook," ran in over a dozen other North American newspapers–including The Denver Post, The Chicago Tribune and The Toronto Star. Duggan was awarded a prestigious James Beard Foundation Award for a series of articles that were part of a Chronicle Magazine column.

In the ten-plus years I have known Duggan (we met in the Chronicle’s test kitchen when I was an intern), I have found her to be something of a down-to-earth kitchen wizard–she knows her stuff, and her ideas are both interesting and well researched. Duggan points out that restaurant chefs go whole veg for economic reasons, but there are other reasons–to add layers of nuance to a dish, “since different parts of a plant are more intensely flavored, or differently flavored than others.” Inspired by her knowledge and her book, my outings to farmers markets get something of an overhaul courtesy of Duggan; now I'm on the lookout for veggies that still sport leafy greens, stalks, and even much-overlooked seeds so I can recreate recipes like her shaved broccoli stalk salad with lime and cotija cheese, or her smoky corn cob chowder.

There is a tad more effort to go whole veg. Carrot tops, stalks, and roots tend to have a lot of dirt–but of course, it's worth the extra work and leaves me feeling like I've left a lighter eco-footprint in my wake.

Duggan shared with us the Bay Area restaurants she has seen incorporating stalks and leaves on the menus. Incanto makes Duggan's list, as well as:

Delfina Restaurant Group, which serves up the intriguingly named chard leg Parmigiano at the Pizzeria–it's a dish that uses the chard stalk, according to Delfina's Ashley Bellview. She said that Delfina has "a couple of dishes that incorporate the tomato and the tomato leaves," as well.

Coi, which is currently offering a dish of celtuce with brown butter, burnt hay, Comte and tarragon, said Coi's Communication Manager Sarah Henkin. (Celtuce is popular in China and known for its thick stalks).

Eric's Chinese, which Duggan said, "gave me the idea to use leek greens in stir fries, instead of garlic or chives."

Last but not least, Gialina Pizza uses kale stems and leaves in a salad with avocado and their version of Green Goddess dressing.

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