Layering flavor is essential to any good recipe, and vegan food really shines when you take the extra time to build complexity in a dish. The swirling leaves and chilly nights mean soup is always simmering on the stove at our house, and so I have lots of excuses to make delicious stock, too.
When I was in college and first started cooking, I just used water in my soups and sauces. While water definitely does the job, the subtle flavors that come from using homemade stock make a world of difference. I like homemade stock because I know where the ingredients come from, and I don’t have to worry about the extra sodium either.
Plus, homemade stock is a great way to use up kitchen waste! I keep all my vegetable trimmings in a bag in the freezer. Once I have a full bag, I just dump it all in a stock pot and simmer away! Any veggies work, but it’s important to have some onion and garlic to make the stock really tasty. I also use really strong flavors of cruciferous veggies and beets sparingly. Some people worry about cutting everything uniformly, making a perfect mirepoix for their stock base. I just toss everything in from onion skins to tomato tops. It’s so easy!
I think the herbs and aromatics used in the stock are more critical than the size of the ingredients. Depending on the flavors used, the stock can impart all kinds of exotic flavors in your soups and sauces. We eat a lot of Asian food, so vegan pho stock is a staple in our house. All it takes are some warm spices, like cloves and cinnamon, and a little acid to recreate that magical broth. I also like to keep sour Thai-inspired tom yum stock on hand. Basil, lemony herbs, and citrus make this bright stock a great base for all kinds of recipes. I also always make a mellow all-purpose stock with herbs de Provence, too.
All it takes to make perfect stock is a little time. I dump the veggies and aromatics in a pot and add enough water to cover. Then, I boil the ingredients until they are soft and grayish and have released their flavor into the stock. After that, just strain and freeze in ice cube trays to use anytime! Sometimes, if the freezer is extra full, I’ll reduce the stock a little after straining.
As an added bonus, the leftover veggies compost super fast! I love that I make a delicious ingredient using leftovers I once just tossed in the back garden. Making stock is so comforting, too. I love the steamy windows and warm aromas that fill the house when I make these recipes.
Here are 3 variations on vegetable stock:
- frozen vegetable scraps (limit strong flavors like cabbage and beets unless you love them, and make sure to include some garlic and onion)
- enough water to cover the scraps
- lime (other sour flavors like lemon or tamarind work, too)
- fresh ginger
- make sure to use plenty of onion in this one! it’s extra delicious if you caramelize them first!
tom yum stock:
- tamarind (optional, but the more sour the flavor, the better the stock!)
- lemon balm (lemongrass is traditional, but I always have tons of lemon balm in the garden and think it works just as well)
- tarragon (just a sprig!)
- (make sure to use lots of garlic in this one!)
- Save the scraps of frozen veggies. I keep them in a plastic grocery store bag and make a pot of stock whenever the bag is full.
- Place the frozen scraps and whichever herbs you plan to use in a stock pot.
- Fill the pot with enough water to cover the veggies.
- Bring to a rapid boil.
- Boil until the vegetables are really soft and lose their color.
- Cool and strain. I like to pour my stock through a colander and a scrap of fabric.
- If desired, bring to a rapid boil and reduce further. Reduce the stock as quickly as possible to maintain the flavor.
- Salt your stock if desired. I keep my stock salt-free and just salt the recipes.
- Cool and pour into ice cube trays to freeze. Stock cubes should keep several months in the freezer.
I use the cubes in recipes that call for stock, and sometimes I just drink a cup on chilly nights. It’s such a comforting and tasty way to get a few more veggies in!