On a cold day (or night) there is nothing better than hot soup. For a vegetarian soup, there is no better foundation than basic vegetable broth.
This basic vegetable broth is inspired by “Mighty Vegetable Broth” from Carol Gelles‘ 1,000 Vegetarian Recipes. I bought the book over 15 years ago, when my then-pre-teen daughter became a vegetarian. Although her “vegetarian period” lasted only a few weeks, the book turned out to be a great investment. I still often refer to its tips, good basic vegetarian recipes, and helpful guides on topics such as how long to cook various types of grains. Even now that I can search for answers and recipes online, through her book Gelles remains one of my “go-to” vegetarian experts.
I like the approach of Mighty Vegetable Broth – simmer a bunch of vegetables (covered first, then uncovered), strain the broth, and finish it off by pressing the vegetable juices into the broth.
The ingredients are flexible and I have reduced them down to a formula:
- 4 quarts of water, plus
- 3 each of carrots, celery, onions, and garlic, plus
- at least 3 other types of vegetables.
What else do I add in? It varies. Because I belong to a CSA, I often have stray vegetables hanging around the vegetable bin. Whether it is a turnip that should have been used days ago, parsnips, or cabbage, all that stuff is fair game. Then I go for parsley, odd stuff like celery root (which if you’ve never tried, you should – it’s fabulous in soup and amazing grated in salad), and stuff on the counter like the cherry tomatoes that I bought in a huge container because they were on sale last week.
In other words, if you don’t like to waste food, this broth is an edible mitzvah (good deed) – using up random items that might otherwise end up in the trash or compost heap. [Note to self – either get with the composting craze or figure out a good come-back line for the kids’ next visit when they comment disparagingly about how we still don’t.]
Although it does take at least two hours to cook, the broth takes almost no effort to prepare and you can leave it on the stove while you do other things. I haven’t tried a slow cooker version, but that’s on my list for later in the winter.
Basic Vegetable Broth Tips
- The more different types of vegetables you include, the more interesting the broth will be. Some vegetables, such as parsnips, have a very pronounced taste and aroma. Others, such as turnips and celery root (in small quantities), provide a less obvious layering effect.
- As long as a vegetable is not rotten, it’s fine to use in the soup. All the vegetables will be pressed out for their juice and discarded afterwards, so how they look before cooking is not important. Even a hard vegetable such as a carrot, parsnip or turnip that has begun to soften and is not ideal for serving “as is,” can be used for this basic vegetable broth.
- The longer you let the broth simmer uncovered, the more concentrated it will be. If I have time, I prefer to let the broth simmer uncovered for 1 1/2-2 hours.
- Pressing the vegetables out is best done with a metal colander – wire mesh strainers in plastic holders don’t hold up well to the pressure of the back of a spoon against the mesh.
- To portion out broth for freezing, use ice cube trays. Once the broth has frozen in the tray, pop out the cubes and freeze them in labelled plastic bags.
- For a hearty soup, add noodles, orzo, or diced potatoes and cook until they are almost done, then add a small amount of raw chopped vegetables such as carrots, celery, and/or mushrooms and simmer until the vegetables are slightly softened. If you substitute rice or barley for the noodles, orzo or potatoes, add them pre-cooked at the end (just to heat) or almost cooked when you add the vegetables.
Basic Vegetable Broth
- 4 quarts water
- 3 carrots
- 3 celery stalks
- 3 onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- At least 3 other vegetables e.g. turnips, parsnips, tomato, celery root, cabbage, broccoli stalks, chard, kohlrabi, amounts at your discretion
- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Add the vegetables to the water and bring the broth to a boil. Simmer it, covered, for one hour.
Uncover the pot and simmer the broth uncovered for at least an additional hour. About 15 minutes before the end of the cooking, add salt and pepper to taste. Start with 1/2-1 teaspoon of salt and 5-6 twists of pepper.
Cool the broth slightly and pour it through a colander into another pot or a heatproof bowl. Press the vegetables left in the colander with the back of a wooden spoon, moving them around and pressing until all their juices have been rendered into the broth. Discard the pressed-out vegetables.
When you press the vegetables, you may end up with tiny bits of vegetables floating in the broth. I like the bits of vegetable and they are not noticeable if you are using the broth in another dish or a hearty soup with other ingredients or with squash or other vegetables pureed into the broth. Of course, if you prefer the broth completely clear, you can pour it through cheesecloth to catch the vegetable bits.
The amount of broth at the end of cooking depends on how long you let it simmer. My estimate is that you'll have about 3 quarts if you simmer the broth uncovered for 1 hour, and slightly less than that if you let it simmer uncovered for longer.