Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Homemade Vegetable Stock

During the fall and winter months, there are few things more comforting than a steaming pot of soup, simmering away on the stove. We sure do LOVE our soups, around here, and we have a large repertoire of vegetarian soups that we cook up on the regular basis. The base of almost every one of those soups is a good vegetable stock. There are lots of good store-bought stocks out there, which you can buy in a carton, a can, in cubes or powder form, or even as a concentrated paste to which you add water. But for a frugal kitchen, you can't beat homemade vegetable stock, made from scratch! 

There are very few rules when making your own stock, and you can do lots of improvising and experimenting, based upon what ingredients you have in the house. The basics "musts" are onions, carrots, celery and herbs... you can also add bits of other veggies you have on hand, just avoid things in the cabbage family, as things like broccoli, brussel sprouts and cabbage can give your stock an odd flavor. I like to use up the ends and peels of veggies, as well as the stems of fresh herbs. Just make sure that you don't use anything that's looks like it's starting to go bad. 

Here are some basic instructions on how to make your own stock:

Browning up the veggies...
  • A couple of onions (feel free to use ends cut off from other recipes, and onion skins)
  • Carrots, and/or carrot peels 
  • A few stalks of celery (feel free to use ends and leaves)
  • Any other veggie trimmings you have on hand (see note above about cabbages) Mushrooms, if you have them, will give your stock a nice, deep, earthy flavor.
  • 4 or 5 garlic cloves, slightly crushed
  • A generous handful of herbs (I like to use parsley and thyme, but you might try sage, rosemary or other herbs as well. Toss in stems and all!)
  • A couple of bay leaves
  • Some peppercorns
  • a few prunes or raisins (I once saw a recipe which called for prunes in veggie stock. I tried it. I loved it. I don't know why it's so delicious, but it is, so do yourself a favor, and don't leave these out)
Simmering stock
Toss all the veggies and the garlic into a pot with a little bit of olive oil. Place over low heat and let the veggies cook, stirring often, until the start to brown up. This really brings out the flavor of the veggies. Next, pour in about 8 cups of water, and add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, then turn down to low. Let the stock simmer on low for an hour or so. Salt to taste. Strain the stock, and store in jars until needed. This will keep for a week in the fridge, or several months in the freezer. 

Another tip: If you frequently cook recipes where just a small amount of stock is needed, try freezing some in ice cube trays, then storing the stock cubes in zip bags in the freezer. 

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