Some time around 1987, I clipped a recipe for vegetable stock. It was the first time I’d ever heard of such a thing — to me, even the word “stock” had a meaty sound. But there are times you want a vegetarian soup or cooking liquid, and vegetable stock is made for that. It’s been around at least as long as the meat kind, and today you can find it in instant form right beside the beef and chicken stocks in the store.
When you make it at home, though, the differences from meat stock are way more obvious. Making meat stock is simple to do, messy to clean up from, and almost always results in a flavorful liquid. Vegetable stock is both easier and harder — no fat to skim, no bones to get rid of, but at the same time it’s harder to get a satisfying taste in it, one that can stand as the base of a soup. On top of that, everyone seems to have different ideas about what vegetables to use and how much.
That recipe I clipped so long ago called for a gallon of water (16 cups) and three pounds of vegetables. It recommended using celery, carrots, red peppers, zucchini, and lots of onions, all washed but not peeled. Michael Ruhlman, author of Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, gives the, um, ratio as two pounds of vegetables to three pounds (six cups) of water. Ruhlman agrees on the onions and carrots, but also calls for leeks, fennel, mushrooms, fresh herbs, and even tomato paste. The first recipe gives the cooking time as two hours — or until the 16 cups cook down to just eight — Ruhlman says just one hour. I’d say start with whichever recipe is easier for you, then tweak it as you learn how it works.
Most vegetable stock recipes recommend chopping the vegetables finely, then browning them lightly in a little oil before adding water. They also recommend cooking slowly.
For a complete list of vegetables you should and shouldn’t use in stock, visit Jennifer White’s site.
Vegetable stock can turn out a little too sweet and mild for some tastes. For tips on making the flavor fuller, check out Stone Soup.
(I admit I’ve always been too cheap to use mushrooms to make stock, so I can’t tell you how well that works.)
What to do with the cooked-out vegetables? I’ve seen suggestions about puréeing them to thicken your stock or another soup. Just don’t expect a lot of nutrition out of them. Don’t feel bad about putting them in the green waste if your town has it.
For a quick version, check out my recipe for seaweed broth.