One of my failings in the kitchen is my general reliance on store-bought stock. It’s rare that I have all the components on hand, and if I have to make a special trip to the store…well I may as well just buy it pre-packaged. The taste is always off, the sodium content is high, but I just can’t be bothered to make it myself on a regular basis!
But this weekend, my situation was reversed. I forgot to purchase stock during my weekly grocery store run, and I happened to realize I had the basic elements necessary for making it myself. Plenty of onions and garlic, carrots and celery that would rot in my fridge otherwise, and a bit of thyme and sage clinging to dear life in my garden. Randomly, I also happened to pick up some frozen leeks from Trader Joe’s earlier — I had no idea you could freeze alliums and I was intrigued! And believe it or not, the extra parsnips from Christmas, which I didn’t have any use for, were still fresh (barely!).
Mirepoix is the French designation for the basic mixture of carrots, onions and celery, which give off an amazingly aromatic flavor when combined. It is no wonder these three vegetables form the basis of many soups, stocks, and classic recipes. If you have these three items, you can make a basic stock. With a little tweaking, you can make the best vegetable stock you’ve ever had.
Beyond your basic mirepoix, there aren’t many rules when it comes to making vegetable stock. At a minimum, I like to include leeks — the whole leek, including the dark green portions — a couple cloves of garlic, a few sprigs of fresh thyme, and about 10 whole peppercorns. If you have anything else, consider it a bonus. A few dried mushrooms give an awesome “umami” depth of flavor. 3-4 cherry or grape tomatoes would be nice, just not too many lest the stock be too acidic. As I mentioned above, I discovered some sage and some still-good parsnips to toss in as well.
Really, just use whatever vegetables you have on hand. While you shouldn’t use straight-up rotten veggies, if they are past their prime, throw ’em in.
I will add the caveat that I seem to recall hearing at one point that you should not use vegetables from the brassica family (cabbage, broccoli, etc). I don’t know why exactly, but it’s true they do contain some strong phenols that while incredibly healthy, do not go well with stock!
Anyway. Making the stock could not be easier. You just have to be available to tend to a simmering pot for a couple hours every once in a while. You know, just so that nothing catches on fire.
Coarsely chop the vegetables. Just enough so that they’ll fit in the pot. No need to chop them finely.
Leave the skin on the onion and garlic. They add a nice color to the stock. With the garlic, just smash it with the side of a knife and you’re good to go.
Saute your onions/leeks/garlic briefly, then add other vegetables. Saute them a bit until they’ve softened some, just to take the edge off.
Fill the pot with water. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 2ish hours, until the taste is concentrated enough for you (perhaps add a bit of salt so you can tell). Strain. Voilà!
The stock will keep in the fridge for a week or two, or in the freezer for several months.
So what did I make with my stock?
This is supposedly a traditional Japanese recipe I have adapted from The Kind Diet. This recipe was so wonderfully warm and satisfying, I have pretty much been thinking about it all day since I made it yesterday.
1 package udon noodles
For the vegetables
1 leek, sliced, dark green parts discarded
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1 handful mung bean sprouts
Large assortment of: napa cabbage, dandelion greens, baby bok choy, or broccoli
1 tablespoon dried shitake mushroom caps
1.5 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
2-3 cups vegetable broth
For the sauce
2-4 teaspoons soy sauce
3-4 tablespoons shitake soaking liquid
grated fresh garlic (about half a clove)
grated fresh ginger (about 1/2 inch piece)
1/2 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
Begin soaking the mushrooms in 2 cups of warm water for 30 minutes, reserving the liquid when done.
In the meantime, boil the noodles per package instructions.
Combine all ingredients for sauce and allow to marinade while you’re cooking.
Toast some coarse sea salt in a dry skillet. Remove, and toast the sesame seeds. The ratio of salt to sesame seeds should be approximately 1:18. Grind together in a mortar and pestle. Smells awesome, right? You have just made gomashio, a Japanese seasoning!
Chop the vegetables.
(For the greens, I used 2 heads baby bok choy, and large handful (about 3 ounces) dandelion greens. The original recipe calls for 1 stalk broccoli, 1 baby bok choy, 2-3 napa cabbage leaves, and 4-6 dandelion greens. I can never find napa cabbage in my grocery store and I forgot to get broccoli. Still tasted great!).
Add 2-3 cups of vegetable broth. You do not want so much that it will completely cover the vegetables. The veggies will be sort of half blanched, half steamed. Exact amounts aren’t necessary.
Toss in the carrots, broccoli if you are using, and any other veggies that take longer to cook. The leafy greens will not take more than a couple minutes, so save those for last.
You can dish out into separate bowls or, if enjoying in a group, place the pot of vegetables in the center and take turns dipping the noodles and vegetables in the sauce.
The author describes this dish as “healing” and while I normally hate these kinds of new-agey descriptors, she was right: aside from being incredibly delicious, the nabeyaki udon made me feel warm, calm and uplifted.
Don’t forget to drink the broth, too, to capture all those water soluble vitamins that may have been lost in the cooking process!