Easy Vegetable Broth for Pennies
Last week my phone whistled. Those of you with the app Periscope know what that means. It was The Dabbling Chef, Andrea. Andrea was showing how to make vegetable broth using vegetable scraps. During her ‘scope she mentioned she was going out of town and wanted to use up the vegetables, thus the broth. Ding, ding, ding. I, too, was going out of town. I had scraps frozen for broth in the freezer and a slew of vegetables in the vegetable bin that would not last through the weekend. So…I started vegetable broth myself.
What is in Vegetable Broth?
Although we had a specific recipe for vegetable broth in culinary school, vegetable broth is basically the scraps of vegetables. So, every time you make it, it will taste different. Famous chefs and restaurants have a stockpot cooking 24/7. As scraps are made in the kitchen, they are dropped into the pot. Then when they need a ladleful of stock to deglaze a pan (get all the stuck-on bits off), sauté something, or thin a soup, it’s all ready to go.
Making Broth From Scraps at Home
For you and me, having a stockpot going 24/7 isn’t usually practical. So we “save up” our scraps. We do this by collecting our carrots peels and ends, onion ends and bits, celery bases and tops, parsley that is getting to the end of its life (but not bad), broccoli stems, etc. etc. It’s emptying the vegetable drawer at the end of the week before you go shopping so the vegetables aren’t wasted. I also had a head of garlic that was starting to sprout. I cut it through the middle to expose the cloves and to activate the allicin.
What Shouldn’t Be Put in the Stock?
Normally you are told to avoid the brassica family because they are strong-flavored. These include cabbage, brussel sprouts, turnips, broccoli, and cauliflower. While I wouldn’t add a lot of them, you will see I added a head of broccoli to my pot and that was fine for my purpose. I’d also think before mixing herbs. While throwing in all the leftover herbs from your thanksgiving dinner is okay in one batch, they work because they were meant to go together. But adding fennel or mint on top of that might not work. I had some dill stems and threw those in. Dill does seem to sweeten the bite of the cabbage family so it was a complimentary flavor. Onion skins can darken the color of the soup. If the onions were really sharp, they may be too intense. Beets are too “earthy.” They will also color your broth red.
Prepare the Vegetables
The Frozen Vegetables
The frozen vegetables will go in just the way they are. Hopefully, you gave them a rough chop before they were put in the freezer bag.
Rough Chop the Fresh Vegetables
Carrots. As you will see in the next picture, I only cut the carrots in 3 or 4 pieces. BUT later you will see that some of the carrots were shredded. I decided after 2 hours of cooking that the carrots weren’t breaking down the way I wanted them to. So I scooped most of them out with some of the broth and ran them in the blender to rough chop them. LESSON: If the carrots are thicker than you thumb, cut in half lengthwise and then rough chops in about 2-inch lengths.
Celery. I just quickly rinsed the entire bunch. I cut off some tops that didn’t look good anymore. Then I cut the bunch in about 4 inch sections, ending at the base. I threw it all in, base and all. The reason I didn’t need to carefully wash the celery is that I always buy organic. Celery is one of the “dirty dozen,” so I always get organic. You should too. I did peek for bugs. Sometimes there are stray ones between the ribs.
Onion. The fresh onion was from my onion holder. Again, I just rough chopped. If I needed additional onion for flavor, depending on the size, I would have just quartered. No peeling necessary. I didn’t need to do this as I also had green onions, and a whole bunch of onions in the freezer bag.
Garlic. I added a whole head, just cut through the middle. I allowed the onions and garlic to sit at least 5 minutes before adding to allow the medicinal properties to come to full bloom. You should always allow onions and garlic sit at least 5 minutes after cutting before using for this reason.
Other Vegetables. Now just go through the fridge and see what else you have to add. I had a couple zucchini, a bunch of parsley, half of a green pepper, a small head of broccoli, about four handfuls of baby spinach, some ginger, and some dill stems (it’s the most prolific herb in my new Aerogarden). Some other vegetables you might include are potatoes, leeks, fennel, chard, lettuce, parsnips, squash, eggplant, mushrooms, asparagus, corn cobs, winter squash skins, and beet greens. My mom added tomatoes. If you have a few leftover grape tomatoes, a tomato or two, you could add those.
Let’s Get Cooking
If you have fresh onions, carrots and celery, you may sauté that in a little olive oil or butter. This will add a depth of flavor but is not necessary. Then pile all your frozen and the rest of your refrigerator vegetables in the pot and fill with water to cover.
There’s not a lot of seasoning added to vegetable broth. A teaspoon or two of peppercorns and a bay leaf or two are the norm. Salt is optional. I did add about 1 teaspoon of grey sea salt. The Dabbling Chef adds a cardamon pod. I add some asafoetida – an Indian spice. It’s actually the resin of a root. It helps with digestion. It adds a depth of flavor. Be prepared that it STINKS. But I like the flavor it adds. As mentioned earlier, a choice of herbs can be added now or closer to the end of cooking. As a rule, the longer you cook herbs, the less flavor they have.
Bring the stock just to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Simer it for one to three hours. Boiling it will make the stock cloudy and it can get bitter. Don’t think you ruined it if it does boil, just turn it down and let it simmer. This is what mine looked like after 3 hours:
Scoop out the Vegetables
I actually have an insert for my stockpot that will strain the vegetables. Since most people don’t have that, I didn’t use it this time. Instead, I scooped as you would.
Allow the vegetables to drip out most their moisture.
Cool Quickly to Prevent Bacterial Growth
I was taught in culinary school to use an ice bath to quickly cook soup. If you allow it to sit on the counter, bacteria can grow nd make you sick. If you pop it in the fridge, the entire refrigerator warms from the heat of the food, possibly allowing bacteria to grow in many things. Using an Ice Bath is easy and in 10-15 minutes I can cool my entire stockpot of soup to about 70 degrees or below (see below for a health safety statement about cooling foods). I don’t have an ice maker so I use my freezer packs. They never touch the food, so they don’t need to be sanitized, but they should be clean.
Start filling your sink with cold water – let it run until it’s really cold. Then place your pot in the sink and pack the freezer packs around the pot. Now add water until it reaches the level of the soup inside. (I forgot to take a picture until I had actually removed most the broth, but you can still see what it looks like).
Stir Frequently Until it’s 70 Degrees
I like to stir it frequently. You do have 2 hours to get it to 70 degrees, but why wait? I clean up the stove, stir. Put the veggies in the compost, if you have one, or garbage of you don’t, stir some more. Get out the refrigerator or freezer containers, stir some more… Then check the temperature with a digital thermometer. This was at about 10 minutes.
I continued to stir and a few minutes later I neared the magic number. Time to get the freezer containers ready.
Strain the Stock
Now that the soup was cool. it was easy and safe to strain it again. You don’t have to do this. If you were going to use it for Lentil Soup, you wouldn’t need to strain it further. I had left some bits in the soup, so I strained it with a wire mesh strainer.
I got over a quart, actually probably 2 quarts. I transferred this to freezer containers from my large stockpot, then the rest went in the fridge to make lentil soup the next day.
And that’s it! It actually took me longer to create this post than it did to make the stock!
How to Use Vegetable Broth
There are plenty of recipes that use vegetable stock. I tend to use chicken stock most of the time but there are certain soups that just taste better with vegetable broth/stock – such as lentil soup. You can also use it for sautéeing instead of butter or oil. Freeze some of it in ice cube trays so you have a tablespoon or two when you need it. Add it instead of water when making gravy. You can perk up many recipes that call for water by using vegetable broth instead. What about a vegetarian mushroom soup? Just think about it, and ask yourself if the recipe would get a boost of flavor from vegetable broth or not. Finally, some people drink it just plain.
Tell me how you use your broth in the comment below.
Why You Should Cool Food Quickly
One of the leading causes of foodborne illness is the failure to properly cool foods. The food danger zone is that place between 41 degrees and 140 degrees F where pathogens grow most quickly. It can take a long time to get through the danger zone when cooling a large batch of chili, soup, or stew. The soup must cool from 140 degrees to 70 degrees F in 2 hours and from 70 degrees to 40 degrees F in no more than four hours (total).