“When you make bashed neeps,” I said, “be sure to boil the tops along with the turnips. Then save the pot liquor and give it to the children; you take some too — it’s good for your milk.”
Maisri Buchanan pressed her smallest child to her breast and nodded solemnly, committing my advice to memory. I could not persuade most of the new immigrants either to eat fresh greens or to feed them to their families, but now and then I found opportunity to introduce a bit of vitamin C surreptitiously into their usual diet — which consisted for the most part of oatmeal and venison.
Diana Gabaldon, Drums of Autumn (Chapter 70 – The Gathering)
As usual, Claire’s heart and medical advice are in the right place. But I’m hardly going to boil up turnip greens, ladle the resulting liquid into a bowl and convince you to call it dinner, now am I? Mmmmm, pot liquor….
Instead, we have a rich, yet light-tasting 21st Century vegetable stock made from vitamin-packed, commonly found vegetables, a few aromatics and some secret ingredients that are all about boosting colour and flavour.
If you don’t have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen, then this recipe is for you. Store-bought stocks may seem like a great way to save time, but most brands, even some of the organic ones, are full of additives and salt. And while a classically prepared meat or poultry stock (like Mrs. Fitz’s Chicken Broth) takes a few hours, a vegetable one is ready in less than 45 minutes.
Some vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, turnip and bell peppers don’t belong in your stock because of their strong or bitter flavour. For obvious reasons, avoid beets altogether. Carrots, mushrooms, tomatoes and leek greens also darken a stock; using too many may cause the finished product to be overly green or orange. Lastly, avoid starchy vegetables like potatoes and yams, as they’ll make your stock cloudy.
Have you heard of Umami? A buzzword for flavour from the Japanese, it translates imperfectly as savoury, earthy, meaty, mouth-feel, or, my favourite, enchanted taste. Whatever you want to call it, you want as much of it as you can get, to add depth and richness to your dishes. To introduce more umami into your stock, add a sun-dried tomato, a small piece of kombu (dried kelp) and/or a dried mushroom to the peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme and parsley stems in your bouquet garni.
To mimic the amber hue of a rich brown meat stock, add an onion brûlé (burnt onion) to the stock after the water has boiled and been reduced a stable simmer. To prepare it, char half an onion, still in it’s skin, on a hot dry griddle or heavy frying pan.
Three quarts may seem like a lot. But besides the obvious use as a base for the lighter soups and stews of spring, vegetable stock makes an extra-special poaching liquid for veggies or fish, a flavourful start to a barley risotto, or the perfect addition to a spinach puree like the one you see above.
To make this fast and seriously delicious plate, I briefly steamed a bunch of spinach in some vegetable stock, pureed it with a little cream, seasoned with salt, pepper & nutmeg, and served it under scallops seared on a hot, dry pan and garlic bread. Add a few pine nuts for crunch, and ring the bell…you’ve got dinner!
(Click on the title below for a printable version of the recipe.)
It’s not just for vegetarians anymore…vitamin deficient carnivores also welcome.
Yield: approx 3 Quarts (Litres)
- Leeks, whites only, rinsed and chopped – 2 large
- Carrots, peeled & chopped – 2 medium
- Celery stalks, chopped – 2 medium
- Fennel stalks, chopped – from 1 bulb
- Mushrooms or Mushroom Stems, chopped – 1 Cup
- Vegetable Oil – 1 Tble
- Onion Brule – ½ an onion (skin on), blackened on a dry grill or cast iron pan. (optional)
For the Bouquet Garni:
- Garlic, whole – 3 cloves
- Parsley Stems – 6
- Fresh Thyme – 2 sprigs
- Bay Leaves -2
- Whole Red Chili – 1
- Whole Black Peppercorns – 6
- Dried Mushroom (Porcini, Morel or Shiitake) – 1 pce (optional)
- Sun-Dried Tomato (not in oil) – 1 pce (optional)
- Kombu (dried kelp) – 6” pce (optional)
Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the leeks, carrots, celery, fennel stalks and mushrooms and sweat gently until soft, about 10 minutes.
Cover the vegetables with 2 quarts (litres) of COLD water, increase the heat to med. high and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and add the onion brule, if using. Tie the bouquet garni ingredients into a piece of cheesecloth or use a large tea ball to keep everything together and add it to the pot.
Simmer for 30 minutes, topping up the water if necessary. Remove from the heat, and ladle the liquid through a strainer lined with dampened cheesecloth, a dishcloth or coffee filter. Gently press on the solids to extract all of the liquid.
Cool quickly and chill. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Ith gu leòir! (Eat Plenty)
- The better the vegetables that go into the stock, the better the finished product. Garbage in (trimmings, peel and vegetables past their prime) equals garbage out.
- The optional ingredients add colour and flavour to your stock. Use none, one or all.
- Never salt a stock. Salt the finished dish you used the stock to make.