My thinking about broths or stocks for soups has changed over the years. Once I regularly made vegetable stock from off-cuts and peelings, supplemented by chopped vegetables to get the right balance. I made loads of light Asian style broths and more layered all-in stocks for soups, risottos, and the like. There were miso based stocks, SE Asian coconut-curried stocks and Indian flavoured stocks. Keeping them in the freezer meant that they were always at hand.
Don’t get me wrong, I still use these regularly, but more often I use a different technique, and one that does not require additional work. I make the stocks in the dish I am cooking. More often than not this is soup but it can be any dish – risotto, braises, bean bakes, veggie casseroles, sauces, veggie stews, etc.
A new approach
No matter what, vegetable stocks are still “light” when compared to the earthy groundedness and depth of flavour of non-vegetable stocks. So, after pondering this for some time, I began to make stocks that included such treasures as bay leaves (European, Indian and/or West Indian), juniper berries, brown cardamom pods, cumin seeds or powder, coriander seeds or powder, black peppercorns and allspice berries. What a difference these made.
Herbs and Spices
I am also lucky enough to have a garden full of herbs and spices. I dry them at the end of their season and grind them into a powder. Pinches of this and that will go into dishes as well. I have mentioned before that grape vine leaves also dry well and can be powdered. These include curry leaves, orange zest, mandarin peel, and lemongrass leaves. Other flavourings that might be in your kitchen include curry powder (a pinch only), dried mushrooms (just grind to a powder, or use them whole as flavourings), and black tea (a little in a tea bag – a few dunks only to add a grounded base, especially in lentil dishes).
Did you know that your Middle Eastern and Indian shops will also have a myriad of dried leaves and herbs, especially meant for soups or more liquid dishes. From a tspn to a Tblspn of these can make all the difference to a dish.
Miso, Wakame and Kombu
Again over time – some years – miso began to make an appearance in my stocks, from the lightest miso to the darkest of dark miso, depending on the use and time of year. Wakame and Kombu (kelp) too. BTW, Miso is such a relaxing soup, make it on its own at any time.
There was a time that I realised that the cooking water from cooking lentils makes an excellent base for a stock, especially for creamy soups and dishes.
Tamarind and Soy Sauce
Then later still I began to explore the inclusion of tamarind where I needed dark flavours – I had always included a lemon, cut in half, and tomatoes in my vegetable stocks, so this was just a progression. I found that a few drops of Angostura Bitters enlivened any stock. A little soy sauce made an appearance too.
Make them as you need them – in the dish
Now I don’t bother as often with making traditional stocks, perhaps a light one for Summer usage where the vegetables are not much more than blanched (as opposed to boiled for 30 mins or so).
My trick now is to include herbs and spices that best suit the dish in the actual dish .
Include an acid
An acidic ingredient lifts any dish to new heights. Add judiciously – a little at a time until you get the right flavour balance. Always add at the end of cooking the dish, not during, as cooking changes the flavours of acid ingredients. Try lemon/lime, cumquat juice, tamarind, a splash of vinegar or verjuice, angostura bitters, tomatoes (with a sour edge) etc. Use different vinegars – Palm, Coconut or Rice vinegar, and the Chinese black and red vinegars are examples that you can try. Umaboshi Vinegar too. These are easily available at Asian shops. Use only a small dash, mind you.
My Usual Base for Winter Dishes
My base, especially for Winter, is bay leaf, juniper berry, brown cardamom and allspice berries with some acid (see above). Truly it is enough for most dishes, saves hours of time and room in the freezer, and provides the underlying deep, grounding flavours that are required. If I have some dal water (water from the top of cooking lentils) that goes in as well, and is almost essential for creamy winter soups.
Once I have this base I can layer it with any of the flavours mentioned above, depending on what is in the kitchen or pantry at the time.