There is something about opening your fridge and seeing a rainbow of colorful veggies that can make you feel healthy and nutrient rich just looking at it. For the first few days, that is. But eventually, if uneaten, these garden delights will wilt and decay, mocking you and your healthy eating plan every time you open the door of your fridge. As the veggies start taking on a more and more sinister look, any cooking project you will take up might start to looking more like the Blair Witch project!
There is a simple solution to this …….vegetable broth. Take all of the wilted and decaying produce, dispose the bad parts and throw them in a big pot, with just enough water to cover them. VOILA, after 2 hours of simmering, strain the mixture and you will have a nutritious and tasty veggie stock, which could save you a bundle when making your soups and stews. No more boxes of Knorr for you guys (at $2.99 per box, I might add!).
Are you ready to make your own or what? Here’s just about everything I know about how to make homemade vegetable broth.
- First things first: don’t buy vegetables to make broth. If you are eating nutrient rich, you probably eat plenty of vegetables, and you can make totally delicious broth exclusively out of scraps. I make stock to cut down on waste. By making stock out of your scraps, you can get the most out of every last vegetable you buy!
- Wash your vegetables before you cook. I’m sure you already do this, but if you’re planning on using your vegetable trimmings for stock, make washing your vegetables a habit!
- Use common sense! Don’t use scraps you wouldn’t put in your mouth. Trim off or discard anything slimy, moldy or rotting. Always look through (and smell) your scraps before making stock with them, and discard anything that seems off. If you peel certain veggies to avoid consuming pesticides, you obviously won’t want to use those peels in your stock, either.
- Use a crock pot. Crock pots have many great uses, but as a person who consumes a ton of veggies, making stock is reason enough to own one. Boiling is a great way to get bitter stock. The first homemade stock I tried had been cooked at a rolling boil for nearly an hour and was so sour and bitter it was practically undrinkable. Instead of boiling your scraps, you want to cook them on a low heat, slowly extracting all of the flavors out of your vegetables. Crock pots are designed to cook food at a fixed, low temperature for hours, unattended, so they’re perfect vessels for stock.
- Fill your crock pot with scraps and add enough water to just cover the veggies. For well-rounded flavor, use a variety of vegetables. You can use skins, peels, cores and trimmings from onions (leeks, green onions, shallots), carrots, celery, potatoes, winter squash, root vegetables, bell peppers, parsnips, corn, peas, spinach and kale, apples and pears — really, just about anything you have on hand.
- Brussels sprouts, asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, fennel, and cabbage impart strong flavors, and beet and onion skins have a tendency to make broth bitter. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them, but in most cases, you’ll want to avoid loading up your stock with them. Alternatively, you can elect to add these kinds of vegetables a couple of hours before your stock has finished cooking, so they have less time to develop. I always make sure my scraps include some sweet elements (like carrot, onion, and winter squash) to balance out bitter veggies.
- Fresh and dried mushrooms and seaweed are great to add to your stock.
- If you care about your stock being crystal clear, leave out potatoes and corn, because starchy vegetables make stock cloudy. Similarly, beets will turn your stock purple. Like I said — common sense!
- Add seasonings to taste. Think garlic (both cloves and skins), thyme, oregano, basil, cilantro, parsley, peppercorns, and bay leaves. Miso and soy sauce can be stirred in at the end for an extra flavor boost.
- Turn on your crock pot and let it do its thing. I set my crock pot to its lowest setting before I go to bed and leave it for at least 10 hours. Generally, the longer you cook your stock, the sweeter and stronger the taste will become. Taste as you go. The flavor will develop and change over time.
- Once it’s finished, strain the stock. If sediment freaks you out or you want a pristine, clear broth, ladle the broth into containers rather than straining it.
- Throw your stewed veggies in the compost! Congratulations, you are officially way more frugal and green than people who just skip right to composting.
- Once the broth has cooled down a bit, you can refrigerate it in sealed containers, or freeze it in ice cube trays or 1-quart containers. If you’re freezing it, be sure to leave an inch of head space (because frozen liquid expands!). Stock will keep in the refrigerator for about a week, or in the freezer for about 6 months (or if you think like my grandma, 5-10 years). You can use stock instead of water to add flavor, nutrients, and body to any soup or risotto or sauce.
Once you’re comfortable with the basic process, play around with it! Plan ahead and veggies and herbs that will complement your finished soup or sauce.