It’s difficult to put into words what it is exactly about making vegetable stock that makes me feel so satisfied. But of all the things I have cooked, baked, assembled, or concocted, the process and product of homemade vegetable stock illicit in me a feeling of contentment that is uniquely its own.
I think ultimately it comes down to frugality and sustainability. I am always looking for ways to save money where I can, especially in the kitchen. Saving money in one aspect of food costs allows me to splurge occasionally on indulgent, but amazing ingredients at other times (vanilla beans come to mind, for instance). So making my own vegetable stock is a very budget friendly endeavor.
But even more than financial savings, making my own vegetable stock feels like such a simple way to practice sustainability – a concept which is very important to me. We use a lot of vegetables in my home and instead of tossing out stems and stumps, all of the veggie odds and ends get tossed into a Ziplock freezer bag. Every few weeks, I pull out that bag and put those forlorn vegetable scraps to good use. It is an immensely satisfying process to take something otherwise destined to be unused and discarded and rather to make something wonderful out of it. And, homemade vegetable stock is a wonderful thing! It has so many uses. You can use it in the obvious places – soups, stews, and sauces. But you can also use it in place of water as the cooking liquid for rice, quinoa, beans, and other grains and legumes. It adds a nice subtle flavor and richness to these items. You can even use it as a substitute for some of the oil in dips and spreads, such as hummus (don’t replace all the oil, but about half can be substituted with great results).
So, if you’re a tosser-outer of vegetable scraps, consider brewing up your own stock from time to time. Your budget, your ‘green’ nature, and your meals will love it!
Homemade Vegetable Stock Tips & Method
You can use just about any vegetable – just know that their natural flavor profiles will subtly flavor the stock. So, if you want a sweeter stock use items such as bell peppers, carrots, and other root vegetables. If you want a spicier stock, think of items like radishes. I generally go for a balanced flavor profile and my most commonly used vegetable scraps include carrot tops and leaves, bell pepper caps, broccoli stems, onion wedges and celery bits.
Fresh versus Frozen:
As I mentioned, I freeze my vegetable bits so that they don’t rot before use. You can also use fresh vegetables, too, and I do this when I have them to spare. When I make a batch, I often go through my vegetables on hand. If I know that there is a lone carrot or a random stump of cauliflower that isn’t going to get used before it turns bad, I’ll surely throw it in the pot with my frozen pieces. Just remember to never use vegetables that have turned bad or spoiled – they will harm the flavor or your stock.
To Season or Not to Season?
There are differing opinions about whether to salt and season a stock or not. My general modus operandi is to salt the stock sparingly, just to help bring out some of the flavors of the vegetables, but not so much that it will later overwhelm whatever dish I use it in. I have in the past added sprigs of parsley and thyme to my stock and that has been a very nice addition as well. Ultimately, you get to be creative with your flavor development here. Make the stock’s flavor as subtle or as bold as you wish!
It’s very simple. Begin by tossing your vegetables into a large stockpot. I usually add quite a bit, covering the bottom of my pot in a layer or two of vegetables. Then fill pot with water to about an inch or two below the top. If you are adding salt or other seasonings, do so now. Bring water to a boil over high heat and then reduce to a low simmer, covered. Let simmer for 1 – 1 ½ hours. Don’t cook longer than this, as the vegetables can leach out all their flavor and may turn bitter if overcooked.
Straining & Storage
When the stock is done cooking, scoop out the large chunks of vegetables and discard. Then, pour stock through a strainer and cheese cloth to get out all small bits that may have broken down into the liquid. I think a cheese cloth in addition to a strainer is essential to this process – it will really catch all the small particles floating around in there. Finally, scoop your desired amount of stock into storage containers and freeze or refrigerate. I use inexpensive food storage containers (i.e. Gladware) and store my stock in 1 cup servings. They stack nicely in the back of my freezer. When ready to use, simply defrost as many cups as you need. Of course there is no need to freeze if you use the stock within 2-3 days of making – just refrigerate it. The frozen stock can be stored for several months before using, though it is unlikely it will last that long if you cook regularly!