Taking Stock of the Basics, Part 2: Vegetable Stock

Onion Brule, image by Theresa Carle-Sanders

A vegetable-only dinner can be a tough sell to many carnivores. I know – I live with one of the most steadfast meat eaters the world has ever seen — but the more conscious we become about the food issues that face us both locally and globally, the harder it becomes for anyone to justify eating meat at every meal.

For hundreds of years, chefs have been using stocks as the foundation for soups, braises and sauces. Modern vegetarian cuisine is no different. A strong base of flavour and creativity have taken the Western meatless diet from its roots – a ramshackle assortment of side dishes crowded onto the plate, or a hasty dinner-time omelette prepared by a disgruntled chef for the troublesome guest at Table 6 – to a star-studded attraction that can stand on its own at any table.

At home, our hectic schedules may try to convince us that the need for convenience trumps taste and health, but the labels on packaged stocks reveal that many, even some organic brands, are full of additives and salt. I challenge you to make your own. While a classically prepared meat or poultry stock takes hours, a hearty and tasty vegetable one is done in less than 45 minutes.

Follow these tips to make a crystal-clear, rich and flavourful stock that you can use to braise a pan full of roots and tubers, in place of cream for dairy-free mashed potatoes, or as the basis for a crock pot full of split-pea soup (finished with a sprinkle of smoked sea salt to remind you of the ham bone you left behind):

Up Your Umami – a Japanese word translated as deliciousness, savoury, earthy, meaty, brothy, mouth-feel and, my favourite, enchanted taste, umami has become the ultimate buzzword for flavour. To introduce more umami into your stock, add a sun-dried tomato, a small piece of kombu (dried kelp) and/or a dried porcini, morel or shiitake to the peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme and parsley stems in your bouquet garni.

Save the Salt – I`ve always found it strange that packaged stocks contain so much salt, because the cardinal rule of classic stock production precludes using any at all. Even if you ignore its impact on your arteries, you still have to contend with it overpowering your taste buds. Reduce a sauce made with packaged stock, for example, and you’ll likely be left with something so salty that it takes over the plate (and your palate).

Onion Brule, image by Theresa Carle-Sanders

Don’t Eat All of Your Veggies – some vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, turnip and bell peppers are not suitable for stock because of their strong or bitter flavour For obvious colouring reasons, avoid beets altogether. Carrots, mushrooms, tomatoes and leek greens also darken a stock; using too many may cause the finished product to be overly green or orange. Lastly, avoid starchy vegetables like potatoes and yams, as they`ll make your stock cloudy.

Burn an Onion – To mimic the amber hue of a rich brown meat stock, add an onion brûlé (burnt onion) to the stock with your mirepoix, after the water has boiled and been reduced a stable simmer. To prepare it, char half an onion on a hot dry griddle or heavy frying pan.

For additional tips, check out the first article in this series, Taking Stock of the Basics

by Theresa Carle-Sanders

 

 

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