Vegetable Stock

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Yield: About

    6 cups

Appears in

Because vegetable stock is pareve, or neutral, that is, it contains neither meat nor dairy, according to the dietary laws, it may be eaten with either. But meat dishes generally rely on meat stocks; in Jewish cooking, it is foods glossed with butter or topped with cream that give vegetable stock its reason for being. Only vegetable stock can jazz up a plain pilaf destined to partner a butter-gilded fish. It is the sole stock base for a soup that will be enriched with sour cream or yogurt. And kasha, often insipid when prepared with plain water, turns inspired with a stock that permits generous lacings of genuine sweet butter instead of margarine.

You can purchase acceptable ready-made, even canned, versions of chicken and beef stock that will do nicely in a pinch for sauces, stews, and so on, but good-quality vegetable stocks are harder to find. Fortunately, they are much quicker to make than the meat-based kind (in fact, lengthy cooking will ruin, not improve, a vegetable stock).

This is one of those recipes for which I am reluctant to provide exact ingredients and measures because it can be varied endlessly according to availability of produce and how the stock will ultimately be used. So think of this recipe as a guide.

Some of the optional ingredients here will give you bigger flavors. Use them when you desire a stronger, darker stock. Tomatoes make everything sing, but with a rather full-throated voice. Soy sauce and the liquid from soaking dried mushrooms can be insistent too. You may want to start with smaller quantities of these ingredients, and keep tasting as you go along, adding more as necessary. If you have the corncobs leftover from scraping the kernels for another use, they will provide an earthy sweetness.

And by all means, add other vegetables: anything in the onion family, a little sweet red pepper, more fresh mushrooms (parings are fine), fennel, pea pods, a small potato, celery root, fresh herbs. Aim for balance and complexity—no one ingredient should overwhelm the others. And avoid strong or bitter-tasting vegetables, like broccoli, members of the cabbage family, eggplant, and pungent greens.

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Ingredients

  • 1 tomato (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or unsalted butter, or 1 tablespoon of each
  • 2 large onions, 1 coarsely chopped, 1 sliced rather thin
  • 2 medium carrots, scraped and diced
  • 2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small parsnip, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 small turnip, scraped or, if waxed or thick-skinned, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • ½ pound fresh mushrooms, wiped clean (pieces and stems are fine; choose regular cultivated or shiitake mushrooms)
  • 6–8 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • About 1 teaspoon soy sauce (optional)
  • 4–6 fresh thyme sprigs, or ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 5 peppercorns, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 10 fresh parsley sprigs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¼ cup celery leaves, or 1 teaspoon celery seed, crushed lightly

Optional Additions

  • Up to 1 cup zucchini or summer squash chunks, strips of mild lettuce, green Swiss chard leaves or stalks
  • 2 corncobs
  • Up to ¼ ounce dried mushrooms (soaked in 2 cups hot water for 30 minutes, or until soft, then rinsed for grit and finely chopped) Some liquid from soaking dried mushrooms (you can use leftover liquid from another recipe; just make sure you have strained the liquid through a sieve lined with a paper towel or a coffee filter to remove any remaining grit)
  • 2 quarts cold water (quality is important here, so if you use bottled water for coffee or tea, use it here)

Method

  1. If you are using the tomato, char it to give it some character and to remove the peel easily: Rinse and pat it dry first, then spear it through the stem end with a long-handled fork and lightly blacken the skin on all sides over an open gas burner, as you would roast a pepper. Let it cool until you can handle it, then pull off the peel with your fingers. Cut the tomato in half, scoop out the seeds and the core and discard. Chop the pulp coarsely and set it aside.
  2. In a 6-quart Dutch oven or very wide, heavy saucepan, heat the oil and/or butter until sizzling. Add all of the onions and sauté over moderately high heat for about 15 minutes, frequently lifting and scraping the pieces from the bottom of the pan as the onions caramelize into a deep golden bronze, speckled all over with nutty brown.
  3. Add the carrots, celery, parsnip, and turnip, and cook over moderately high heat until the edges of the vegetables are tinged with brown. Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook until the mushrooms give up their liquid. Sprinkle with the soy sauce, if using, thyme, peppercorns, and salt. Add the tomato pulp and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the parsley, bay leaf, celery leaves or seeds, optional zucchini, squash, lettuce, and chard and sauté for 1–2 minutes. Add the optional corncobs, soaked dried mushrooms, and/or mushroom soaking liquid. Add the water. Bring to a gentle boil, so the bubbles just begin to break along the edges, then reduce to a simmer. Cook, partially covered, for 45–60 minutes until the vegetables are very soft. Strain immediately through a sieve or colander fitted with paper towels, pressing hard against the solids with the back of a wooden spoon to extract all of the flavorful liquids. Taste and adjust seasonings. If the stock lacks character, concentrate the flavors by reducing the liquid slightly. (Don’t reduce this stock too much—it will turn bitter.)
  4. Let cool completely, uncovered, then cover and refrigerate. The stock will keep for up to 5 days refrigerated or for up to 3 months frozen.

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