Monday, May 11, 2015

Lacto-Fermented Broccoli Stem Spears

When you start fermenting in your kitchen, suddenly everything has potential. The usual suspects--cabbage and cucumbers--are always fantastic, of course. Thinking outside the box can be very rewarding, however. Every time I start cutting up any veggie, curiosity takes over, and I wonder "Hmm, can I pickle that?" Turns out, in most cases I can.

Broccoli became my newest pickling victim last fall. First, I have a confession to make. Broccoli is not my favorite. It's expensive, especially if you buy organic, and I've heard it's tricky to grow yourself (please chime in if I'm wrong about that!). While I like it roasted with olive oil and garlic, I don't particularly like the texture of the raw florets. The stems, on the other hand, are an overlooked wonder. I don't remember when the lightbulb went off in my head--"Oh, that's what broccoli slaw is made of!"--but when I realized broccoli stems were delicious and edible, I sought ways to use them.

Enter my new love of fermented foods. It changed everything about broccoli for me. One evening, after making a veggie tray for a family gathering and seeing the  mound of broccoli stems lying on the table, I thought "Why not?"

I ended up making fermented dill spears, and I think they taste awesome. My middle son, who is the most adventurous when it comes to my ferments, finds these pickles almost too mouth-puckeringly sour. That's what I love the most about them. They maintain their crunch, are incredibly tongue-tingly, and are so easy to grab from their jar in the fridge to snack on.

Check out another variation I tried for broccoli stems, Zesty Broccoli Stem Pickles. I love the little kick that version has!

The expense of store-bought broccoli now seems more justified, since I know I'll get some fantastic fermented pickles out of it. Great alone, on a sandwich, diced up as relish, or alongside a dish of black olives and cheddar cheese, these broccoli stem spears really hit the spot as one of my daily ferment options!

Find broccoli with gigantic stems. Then start hacking away.

It only takes a few minutes of slicing, peeling and carving to get a nice pile of spears.

Though not peeling your veggies is a good idea when you are fermenting (click here to see why), for this recipe I recommend it. The outer husk of the broccoli stem tends to get tough when fermented. Still very much edible, but I prefer the pleasant crunch of the stems that were peeled.

As you work, make three piles; compost, the spears, and the florets.

 The veggies will settle a lot as they ferment. That's okay!

*NOTE: Another tasty option? Follow my Kohlrabi Hotsticks recipe, and substitute the kohlrabi for broccoli stems. Spicy and YUMMY!

The finished pickles.
The green stems will fade into a lovely yellow hue.
I remove the dill when the pickles are finished, because it tends to get mushy.

Broccoli Stem Spears           Print Here

glass quart jar
organic broccoli (find 2-3 heads with very long stems if you can, about 2-3 pounds)
1 clove garlic
2-3 fresh sprigs of dill leaves
1 t. black peppercorns
2 c. water (filtered or unchlorinated by leaving out in open container overnight)
2 t. unrefined sea salt

Start with clean equipment--make sure your quart jar, cutting board, knives and hands have been washed and rinsed thoroughly.

Mix the water and salt in a container and stir until salt is dissolved. Set aside. Cut all florets from the broccoli and set aside for later use.

Start slicing and carving the stems into spears. This is actually not too difficult, and it went more quickly than I expected. It doesn't matter if they look perfect, just try to get them relatively the same size.

*note: stem sizes can vary. If you don't end up with enough spears to fill a quart jar, try filling a wide-mouthed pint jar and halving the recipe. 

Place the dill sprigs, garlic and pepper in the quart jar, then pack the spears in until they are within one inch from the rim of the jar. Don't be afraid to pack them in tightly. Pour brine over the spears, making sure everything is submerged, and then place a weight over the contents. You want an inch of head space from the top of the weight/brine to the lid.

Place a lid on the jar. I recommend using an airlock for ease (fermentools are my favorite). If not using an airlock, be sure to loosen the lid on the jar every few days to allow gas to escape. Set jar aside, avoiding direct sunlight and extreme temperatures.

Start tasting the pickles after about 5 days to see if they are to your liking. I find these are a quick ferment, and ready to eat after about 2 weeks. When the flavor is perfect to you, remove the dill from the jar (it tends to get mushy and weird when fermented) and place the pickles in the fridge (removing airlock if you used one) Can be kept in fridge for 3-6 months.


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  1. What kind of weight would you use to put over the contents of the jar?

    1. Hello! I don't know if you can see them in the pictures, but I have round glass weights that came with a fermenting kit from You can get creative with weights; smaller glass jars that fit inside the bigger jar, small ramekins, some people have even used clean, smooth rocks.

  2. depending where you live, broccoli can actually be crazily easy to grow. In the Pacific Northwest in July, I have more broccoli than I can possibly eat sprouting away in my garden. Thanks for the recipes!!!

  3. Just found this post (2019) and can't wait to try fermenting the broccoli spears that are growing in the garden. I live in the upper Midwest and broccoli grows well here. I found that I need to start it indoors so there is enough time for it to mature. Thanks for the creative recipes for fermenting veggies.

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