Monday, October 18, 2010

Veggie Broth 101

Supplies include colander set in large bowl, coffee filter, &
container to store broth in.
The beginning of fall is so bittersweet. The garden's harvests will be over soon... so long to garden fresh tomatoes and farmers markets. Hello to crisp fall mornings and cider donuts! As "hunker down" season crepes in, I do have something to look forward to: soup! My love of soup is a new thing. I used to poo-poo it as a meal with no bite! But what can I say, things have changed and my taste buds and belly have come around to what I now regard as the best meal known to man. As a vegetarian, that means that veggie broth is a really important staple for me. But I swear that veggie broth is just as tasty and way healthier than chicken stock and it's unbelievably easy to make your own from scratch! If you're a city dweller without a car, you know you have to pick your liquids carefully at the grocery store. And even if you have a giant car to haul all that broth around in, making your own stock is a great way to clean out the fridge and save money and the environment (think of all that gas saved from not shipping crates of veggie broth across the country!). Sufficiently convinced that it's time to try your hand at a pot? Good because here's a brief tutorial:
Got the freezer bag idea from poorgirlgourmet
  • Save your veggie scraps! The best way I've found to do this is to keep a gallon sized freezer bag in the freezer. Add veggies to it and when it's full, you'll have enough veggies to make a pot of stock. Things to throw in the bag:
    • green parts of leeks and green onions
    • rough ends and leaves of celery
    • that 1/2 onion leftover from a recipe
    • those baby carrots that have gone white
    • carrot peels
    • potato skins
    • tomato skins and/or seeds
    • seeds of hot peppers
  • Save your herbs (and their stems)! You know when you buy a bunch of fresh parsely and never manage to use it all before it goes bad? You can freeze it and never have that problem again. Fresh frozen herbs have almost as much flavor and nutrients as fresh-picked and so much more than dried! The stems are especially great to use in broth! Here are the herbs to save for your broth:
  • Leeks, mushrooms, corn, onion, carrots, hot peppers...
    • parsley
    • basil
    • thyme
    • oregano
    • dill
    • bay leaves

From there, things are really simple. When that gallon freezer bag is full, just empty it into a large pot and cover the veggies with water. Add the following:
Color varies depending on what goes in!
  • veggies from the fridge, such as:
    • bell peppers
    • zucchini
    • string beans
    • leafy greens
    • turnips 
    • parsnips
    • celery root
    • potatoes
    • sweet potatoes
    • tomatoes
    • mushrooms
  • whole black peppercorns
  • 1 - 3 cloves of garlic
  • any fresh herbs you have on hand
  • a dash of kosher or sea salt

    I know this seems like a laundry list of veggies, and it is, but that's the beauty of it. The only ones I would say are must haves are onions (white, yellow, or leeks), celery, and carrots. The rest change for me every time I make a pot based on the season. Last winter, I made a pot almost every week because I didn't know what else to do with all the turnips, parsnips, carrots, and celery root I was getting in my biweekly delivery of locally sourced produce from Boston Organics. The only veggie I would advise you never use? Beets!

    Fill the pot with enough water to cover all the veggies, turn the heat up high, cover the pot, and bring to a boil. Let it boil for a few minutes and lower to a simmer. Let it go for as long as you want. I usually simmer it for a couple hours. The longer it cooks, the more time the flavors have to diffuse into the water. The aromas of the veggies will fill your house. They often tempt me to fish out a few veggies, which have become meals in and of themselves (boiled potatoes and carrots topped with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of kosher salt makes me feel all warm inside). 

    Remove the lid for the last 30 - 60 min of simmering to concentrate the flavors even more (the water will evaporate leaving behind a darker broth). Turn off the heat and let cool for a while. (You don't want to burn yourself while completing the next few steps). Strain the veggies through a colander (like you use for pasta), set over a large mixing bowl. Then, you'll want to strain that liquid again. Some people use cheese cloth for this step, but I can't be bothered with the mess that creates and it can be a pain in the butt to secure the cheese cloth over a container. Instead, I recommend a reusable coffee filter (those bronze baskets), which are available at most house-ware stores for around $5.

    Tip: You can salvage more broth (and vitamins) by literally squeezing it out of the veggies! 

    Transfer the double-strained liquid to the storage container of your choice. When I use my largest cast-iron pot, I end up with slightly more than a gallon of liquid. I love using ball jars, but those quart and pint size containers from Chinese take-out work well, too (especially if you're going to freeze it). You can refrigerate the broth for up to a week or freeze it for a few months

    By the way, you'll notice I didn't mention adding any fat. That's because you don't need to saute the veggies at all before you boil them for the broth. You can if you want, but I prefer not to so that I can compost all the boiled veggies after I strain and squeeze all the juices from them. When you make your soup, you'll probably start by sautéing onion (and probably carrots and celery depending on the soup) anyway, so no need to do that part twice!