The stock, before it simmers
I really hate wasting food.
Not that I’m trying to sound holier-than-thou, but every time I throw a package of baby carrots or a rotten potato away, I always end up feeling really guilty. In fact, one of the things I really admire about my mother-in-law is how she manages to save, reuse, and not waste vegetables.
So I’ve found a way to make sure that scraps of vegetables, or vegetables that are nearly past-their-prime, don’t go to waste — home-made vegetable stock.
This has the added benefit of saving money, since I don’t have to buy the quarts of vegetable stock at the store. And, it allows me to better control the amount of sodium that goes in the stock. Plus, it just tastes better.
Home-made vegetable stock is really easy to make. I know some recipes out there make it sound complicated — they suggest roasting the vegetables first, or buying fresh vegetables to use for stock — ignore them! I guess if you’re making stock for a Top Chef competition, this would matter, but honestly, I throw a lot of not-so-fresh vegetables into a pot of water with some herbs and boil it for under an hour, and I’m all set. Don’t make this more complicated than you need to.
When done with the stock, there are several options for storage. If you know you will use it within a few days, just put it in a Tupperware container and refrigerate. Otherwise, you can pour the stock into ice cube trays, freeze, and then pop them all into a large Ziploc bag the following day. Or, you can measure the stock into one, two or three cup amounts and then freeze in bags or plastic containers.
Viola! You have stock to use in home-made soups, risotto or whatever else strikes your fancy. I’ve found vegetable stock can even add more flavor to dals than using regular water.
My frozen vegetable scrap stash
Simple Directions for Home-made Vegetable Stock
1. Almost any vegetable is fair game. However, avoid cabbage, broccoli, green peppers, etc. as these have such strong flavors that they will take over your stock. People also say to avoid cauliflower, though I’ve used a small amount of cauliflower before and had no problems.
2. Make sure to scrub your potatoes and carrots before peeling them, so you can save peels.
3. As you cook daily, take scraps of vegetables (e.g. peels, tops of zucchini, onion, leek tops, corn cobs, garlic cloves) or vegetables that seem to be heading downhill (baby carrots that are starting to turn white, potatoes that are starting to get soft) and throw them all in a large-sized plastic bag in your freezer. See bottom of page for more ideas
The same goes with any fresh herbs, except some people will tell you to be careful with rosemary, as more than just a very small amount will tend to overpower your stock.
4. Once your bag is full, place it all in a large stock pot. Pour hot water over it until everything is *just* covered. Add any dried herbs you prefer — I usually throw a bunch of cheap oregano, thyme, italian seasoning and parsley in there (hey, no use using up my expensive Penzey’s spices on a stock!). If you didn’t use any garlic scraps in your vegetable stash, through some peeled cloves in, too.
5. I like to make sure that I at least have a fair amount of two important vegetables in my stock: carrots and celery. If you must, go out and buy the celery, use half of it, and freeze the other half. Trust me on this.
6. Cover pot and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 45 minutes.
7. Let stock cool. Taste, and add salt, if you wish. I usually add just a bit of salt, but not much.
8. Now, pour through a strainer into another bowl. Using the back of a spoon, squeeze all the vegetables so that you get all the liquid out of them. You can now, finally, discard these vegetables.
9. Store your stock in one of the manners listed above.
10. There, wasn’t that easy? You can easily do this in the same time it takes to make your dinner.
Vegetable Scraps that are Good for Stock
* Carrot peels and baby carrots
* Potato peels
* Tops of leeks (the green parts you chop off)
* Ends, or slices, of yellow and green zucchini
* Eggplants is fine, although careful not to include too much peel
* Onions (though too much red onion will turn your stock purple)
* Cauliflower (debatable)
* Garlic cloves, or whatever is left over from using a garlic press
* Red, yellow or orange bell pepper pieces, and tops
* Corn cobs, with or without kernels
* Spring onion
* Hot peppers, if you want your stock to have a “kick”
* Mushrooms OR the “stems” of the mushrooms that you remove when using mushrooms in other dishes
* Peas (though probably NOT with the pods)
*** Don’t use vegetables that are rotten or molding. However, feel free to use vegetables that you consider to be “past their prime,” as in there is some softening, browning, etc. That’s sort of the point. Just don’t go overboard. After all, you don’t want to ruin the whole pot of stock just because you were too stubborn to throw away a half-onion that was turning milky.