30 July 2011

Homemade Veggie Broth - You'll Wonder Why You Ever Bought Broth!

I started making my own broth several years ago. I'd decided to go vegetarian and let me tell you, there is a shortage of good-tasting veggie broths out there. I tried almost every brand available at the store, including the condensed powder/paste types, and none of them pack the flavor punch I'm looking for. Lets face it - chicken broth tastes good! It's salty, oily, yellow... ok, actually I'm really not a fan of chicken broth. But it can add a ton of flavor to rice and veggies, and I'm a (most of the time) vegetarian who loves food with a lot of flavor. I'm also a conservationist who values the "waste-not-want-not" philosophy and I try to minimize waste whenever possible. It occurred to me that all the veggie scraps I was composting could be used for a higher cause... a tasty veggie broth made with real vegetables instead of powder or paste!

Well, I can tell you that I've never gone back. My broth is an always changing flavor medley of whatever vegetables are in season and it serves as the base for soups, gravies, stews, rice pilafs, steamed veggies, pasta sauces, and anything else where you could use water but want some extra flavor.  Here's how it's done:

What You Need:  
  •  1-Gallon glass jar with tight-fitting lid (I got mine as a jar of pickles from the Cash-and-Carry. The pickles, sadly, were not good but the jar has served me well!)
  •  1 or 2 large zip-lock bags
  • Large soup pot
  • Mesh strainer
  • Vegetable scraps
Whenever you prepare vegetables, keep the scraps - all the ends, peels, greens, etc. I especially like to save scraps from onions, celery, carrots, tomatoes (oh yes, these are some of the best!), potatoes, garlic, zucchini, spinach, cabbage, etc. These are the veggies that will give you the best straightforward flavor. Then I love to add bits from seasonal veggies that will add a unique angle - turnips, chard stems, beet ends, green beans, kale, lemon or lime peels, apple cores. These veggies (and fruits) will impart flavors that are a little more distinctive, so you'll want to be careful which ones you mix together and maybe plan what your corresponding recipes will be. You may want lime peels if you're planning on making some thai soups or curries, but wouldn't want them in if you're planning a minestrone or thyme/rosemary/sage white bean soup. You get the idea.

Put these scraps into your ziplock bags and keep them in the freezer. They'll keep for a few months, but I bet you'll accumulate enough for a broth in just a couple of weeks. 

When you're ready to make your broth, make sure that your glass jar is clean. I run it through the dishwasher on hot to be sure that it's as sterile as possible without actually boiling the jar, although you could do that too. If you're going to can this broth and store it outside the fridge, then of course you'll want to follow canning principles, but I keep mine in the fridge. Put all of your frozen veggie scraps in your soup pot. One to two bags full is perfect. Fill the pot with at least one gallon of water. This does not have to be exact as long as the water covers the veggies. Add 1-2 tsp of kosher or fine sea salt (to taste) and whatever spices you'd like. I have a rosemary bush, sage bush and bay tree, so I add those fresh, but dried herbs work too. I also crush several garlic cloves and toss them in with their skins. 

Bring the pot just to a boil, then reduce the heat to keep it at a simmer for at least an hour. Taste, and if it's too weak for your liking, keep simmering until you're happy. Depending on what veggies I have in there I'll sometimes let it go for up to two hours. I'll also add more salt/spices if I feel like it needs it. 

When you're happy with the flavor, turn off the heat and let the pot cool for 15 minutes or so. With a wooden spoon or potato masher, press the veggies down against the bottom of the pot to squeeze out as much flavor as possible. Place the glass jar in the sink with the mesh strainer balanced on top of the opening. If you don't have a mesh strainer you can use your colander, but you may get some unwanted veggie-bits in the broth. Carefully pour the broth through the strainer into the jar until not-quite-full. If there is any liquid left, I always feel slightly guilty about pouring it down the drain, but hey! You've already given your veggie scraps a 2nd life!  You should feel great about that! Discard veggie scraps in the compost.

If you put the lid on your jar while it's hot the pressure from the cooling liquid will seal it on really tight, so I like to leave the jar on the counter for a few hours to overnight with the lid just resting on top. Another reason to let it cool is that putting a jar of hot liquid in your fridge will raise the temperature in there, forcing the cooling element to kick on and increasing your energy use (and bill!) The broth will keep in the fridge for about 3 weeks. Once you get past 2 weeks, be sure to give it a sniff before using it. And if it goes bad before you use it all, no worries. You'll most likely have another bag of frozen veggie bits ready by then to make another batch!

Next time I make a batch I'll take photos and add them to the post. What is your favorite veggie broth-based recipe?


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