Back in my normal, omnivorous life – before vegetarian month, I’d often make a vegetable based meal of soup or risotto. But unless I was cooking for real vegetarian mates, I’d always use chicken stock over vegetable.
I guess my hesitance to go the full veg, as it were, was that I was sure vegetable stock wouldn’t be able to give the richness and depth that one gets from stock made from bones. I was worried that my dish would be lacking in flavour.
Part of the challenge that I gave to myself during my self imposed vegetarian month, was to do some research and come up with a full flavoured vegetable stock that could be used with pride.
7 tips for full-flavoured vegetable stock
i. chop fine
When I make meat based stock I tend to just roughly hack the veg and not bother to peel even the onions. When you’re looking to maximise the flavour from your vegetables, however, a finer dice is better as it increases the amount of surface area in contact with the water – so it’s easier for the flavours to be infused into the broth. You don’t need to go too crazy – it’s up to you how much time you’re prepared to spend cutting.
ii. lightly brown your aromatics
Sweating your aromatic veg – the onion, celery and carrot helps them develop sweeter flavours with more complexity to add to your stock rather than just chucking them in raw.
iii. be generous with the mushrooms
Mushrooms contain intrinsically high levels of glutamic acid which makes them little powerhouses of flavour enhancing goodness – we’re talking natural MSG that imparts those lovely savoury, umami-type flavours.
iv. go for tomato
Tomatoes are another great source of savoury goodness. The colour they bring can be quite attractive, unless you want a neutral stock.
v. start with cold water
Different flavour components have different levels of solubility in water at different temperatures. By starting cold and slowly increasing the heat, you can be sure that all the flavours have had a chance to be extracted at their preferred temperature.
vi. let it simmer
To further extract all the flavour goodness, letting the vegetables gently simmer is optimum. Too high a heat and you can boil off some of the more delicate flavours, too low and you won’t coax all the flavour out of your veg.
vii. taste as you go
I find it helpful to take a little sample at regular intervals and taste the stock. It’s then fun to keep samples from different times so you can taste them all together at the end and see how the flavour of your stock has developed over time. It also helps you decide when to stop cooking: when the flavour isn’t tasting any stronger between samples.
basic vegetable stock
makes approx 4 cups
Feel free to use this as a base recipe. You can easily add other vegetables or herbs. Especially anything that needs using up in the fridge. Starchy things, like potatoes, can make your stock go cloudy. Strongly flavoured veg, like cabbage and broccoli, can overpower your stock but this might be a good thing if you’re after a cabbage or broccoli stock for a change.
Herbs are also a great addition, especially things like thyme, bay leaves and parsley. I didn’t have any on hand which is why they weren’t included here.
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 handfuls button mushrooms, sliced
1t black pepper corns
5 cups water
Heat a few tablespoons olive oil over a medium heat. Add onion, celery and carrot. Cook, covered stirring occasionally until veg are soft and starting to brown a little.
Add remaining ingredients and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook gently for about an hour or until the stock tastes rich and full. Strain stock and discard vegetable solids.
[5 ingredients | 10 minutes]
simple soba noodle soup
Soba noodles are made of buckwheat as well as regular wheat and have a subtle ‘healthy’ flavour. Most other noodles could be used here if you prefer.
Likewise, the veg can be varied to suit your taste (and what you have on hand!) baby spinach would be lovely. If you were after more protein, some tofu or even very finely sliced chicken breast would be great.
Remember that the noodles are going to keep cooking in the broth after you’ve served up so best to slightly undercook first.
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
handful soba noodles (approx 50g or 2oz)
3 heads baby bok choy, leaves separated
large pinch chilli flakes, optional
1T – 2T soy sauce
Bring stock to the boil in a medium saucepan. Add noodles and simmer for 2 minutes. Add bok choy and chilli and 1T soy sauce and simmer for another minute or until noodles are only just cooked (see head note).
Remove from the heat. Taste and extra soy if needed. Serve hot.
More than half way through Vegetarian Month.
And I’ve updated my now reading page recently as well.