Friday, March 2, 2007

Vegetable Stock on the Cheap

This idea came to me when I was working as a private gardener for a crazy woman. Really. Crazy. Full on paranoid neurosis. I had to go crap in the woods because she was scared of getting my poopoo germs in her toilet. Anyhow, once I got to come in from the cold for an hour and help prep vegetables for her "special spaghetti sauce." There must have been fifteen pounds of vegetables on the counter, awaiting cleansing and processing. I got to skin the mushrooms. I had never known anyone to skin mushrooms before, and these were just regular old Agaricus bisporus. By the time we were done there must have been ten pounds of perfectly edible vegetable scraps in the sink. It was a bit like watching a sushi master prepare fugu. I remarked that all those vegetables would make great stock, which earned me a grimace. So at home I started saving my own vegetable scraps in a gallon sized ziplock in the freezer, and when it was full I'd make stock--a practice which Jami and I continue to this day.

Anything can go in your scrap bag, almost. I cut out squishy parts, and I cut all the green parts off anything in the Solanaceae (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers). This might not be necessary with the peppers, I just have a healthy respect for the genus Solanum. If you look at the picture above you'll notice onions, celery, lettuce, garlic, broccoli stems (I have yet to convince Jami that it's the best part), cardamom pods, tomatoes, peppers, dill, carrots, cabbage, turnips, and potatoes. We also add natural (unwaxed) cheese rinds, and fresh herbs we might not get around to using. Recently we began using some fruit scraps, like apple peels, and apple cores, and the liquids left over from reconstituting dried fruits and vegetables, like sun-dried tomatoes or dried mushrooms.

  • 1 gallon bag of vegetable scraps
  • water to cover
  • salt (optional)
1. Fill a large stock pot (or its corresponding pasta insert) with the vegetables and cover with water.
2. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. If your stock consists largely of greens 5 to 10 minutes at a simmer should be enough. If you have larger items, like onion halves, or whole vegetables, or whole heads of garlic, you can go 15 to 30 minutes. Remember, you're extracting nutrients, not making mush.
3. Add salt if you must. I usually wait until I know how I'm using the stock.
4. Allow the boiled stock to steep for a while, 20 minutes to an hour. I've even left it out over night and not died from it. All the solids will keep it warm for a long time.
5. At this point you need to decide how you want to keep your stock. You can freeze it in ziplock bags, or plastic containers. We like to can it in quart jars while it's still hot. Stock will keep for about five days in the fridge. Strain it as you pour it into its container.

Options: Each batch of stock you make will be unique, depending on what kind of vegetables you've been eating. Greens will give you a nice clear stock, root vegetables will make it brown and hearty, and potato scraps will make it cloudy and starchy. If you would like to strive for some consistency you might separate your scraps according to kind, using different bags in your freezer, and settling on a mixture that you like. Sometimes I make two batches at once, and mix the results. It gives me some consistency but spares me the trouble of sorting. If your freezer space or ability to process large amounts of stock is limited, just keep your scraps in a sealed container in the fridge (they'll keep for about five days), and make stock as you need it, one quart at a time. This is what we've had to do lately. Jami got the idea from a Deepak Chopra cookbook of all places. It takes all of ten minutes, and is better than spending two dollars at the store for the salty, over-spiced slurry they sell there.

Compost the remainders.

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