Many people ask me about vegetable stocks, saying it is hard to make a truly good and tasty veggie stock.
I tell them that I believe it is actually easier to make vegetable stocks because we are not working with one dominating flavour. We work with a combination of flavours, and the joy is that we can fine tune that combination to suit the mood, the day, the recipe. People are so attuned to adding meat when we want a certain, gutsy flavour that they don’t spend time thinking about how to get gutsy flavour without meat. Here are some of my tricks that I would like to share with you.
The Keys to Making Great Vegetable Stocks
First of all, don’t be precious. Make stocks from what you have on hand. Learn to keep those bits and pieces for your next stock – a stalk from that rosemary bush, some bay leaves, a little lavender flower, a lemon, some chillies, spurious herbs and the occasional vegetable.
For example, on my kitchen bench at the moment I have rosemary, bay, curry leaves, bay leaves, chilli, garlic, ginger, lavender, chilli, lemon and orange peel. All destined for some stock, tea or recipe.
The next trip is to use your vegetable peelings and left overs, and the freezer.
Form the basis of stocks from left over vegetable peelings – onion, carrots, pumpkin, leek, celery – whatever you are cooking. You can always freeze any left over vegetable peelings until you are ready to make the stock. Tomatoes can be frozen whole, or juiced and the juice frozen. Ginger and garlic can be frozen too. So keep a large ziplock bag in the freezer and add your vegetable peelings and cuttings each day.
Save the water from cooking lentils. If necessary, keep this frozen until you are making stock again.
When you are ready to make stock, bring the ingredients out of the freezer and begin to make the stock. Consider whether you are making an Asian stock or a Italian / Mediterranean stock. For Italian style stocks, add more carrot, onion, celery, peppers, garlic. Add half a lemon too (no need to peel or cut it up) and a tomato. I find a turnip is a great addition to this type of stock.
Use Lentils as Flavourings. A special trick is to use lentils as flavourings and to add substance to stocks. Into my stocks sometimes go some red or yellow lentils – use lentils that collapse a little during cooking – toor dal, urad dal, and our red lentils (masoor dal) or brown lentils – use about half a cup for a good pot of stock. Only use the small lentils that will cook down and start to go mushy.
Don’t forget to “Ground” Your Stock. This is important, it makes the difference to any stock. To ground a stock, give it a more earthy flavour – use black pepper, bay laurel leaves, black cardamom, Chinese dried mushrooms, or turnip.
Start to include Spices. Become a master at including spices in your stocks. Here are some to play with – a few cloves, some cardamom pods, a cinnamon stick, cumin seeds, black mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds and leaves, a couple of pinches of turmeric. You are aiming for a subtle flavour difference, not a dominating flavour
A hint of sourness makes all the difference. Every stock needs a little sourness – not discernible in the final product, but just to balance the flavours. Lemon or lime is ideal – just throw half of one into the stock as you make it. You can use other souring agents – tamarind (gives a dark colour), dried or fresh sour pomegranate seeds, dried or fresh green mango are some alternatives.
Then balance the flavours. Finally, add some salt and then adjust until you find the balances of flavours that you like. Then make stock whenever you can. Freeze it and you will always have it on hand for soups, risottos, paellas, polenta dishes, and much more.
You can make Asian style stocks as well. Use predominately Asian style ingredients – chilli, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, coriander roots, cardamom leaves, half a lime, ginger, garlic, star anise, Ginger. Even a luscious tomato. Sometimes Asian stocks are so flavoursome, I just add some bokchoy leaves, grated carrot, bean shoots and thinly sliced mushrooms to a bowl of hot stock and call it soup. Read some more at How to Make Asian Style Stocks.
A Japanese stock can be made with kombu, dried shiitake mushrooms, carrots and a leek. Simmer 30 mins.