Here’s the thing (two things, actually): It’s cold. And we’re all looking to eat more healthfully after being so indulgent during the holidays. Which makes homemade soup the perfect meal right now.
Delicious as it is, soup can also fall into the not-so-healthful category if we load it up with fat and salt. But a big pot of homemade vegetable soup can be super flavorful and satisfying. It all starts with good stock. Here’s a trick to making great homemade (low fat!) vegetable stock, which I learned from my fellow food writer Karen Gibson (find her at SoupAddict.com). Karen writes the gardening column for Edible Ohio Valley magazine, and last fall she wrote about non-canning ways to preserve the bounty of end-of-season garden produce.
She shared this technique for making homemade veggie stock: Keep a gallon-size zip-top bag in the freezer at all times. Fill it with vegetable trimmings as you accumulate them (see the recipe for a list of veggies for stock), and with produce that’s past its prime and lurking in the back of the fridge. When the bag is chock-full, defrost the contents, dump them in a big pot, cover them with water, add a few spices—and boom! Easy homemade vegetable stock that’s lower in fat, salt and calories than the store-bought version. (Pro tip: Save the rinds from Parmesan cheese in a freezer bag, and add a piece to the pot when you’re making sauce or stock. Instant umami.)
Since we published that column in Edible Ohio Valley, I’ve continuously maintained a stash of vegetable trimmings in my freezer. I currently have 2 gallons of vegetable stock, frozen and ready to use. Here’s the basic technique for making easy homemade vegetable broth.
homemade vegetable stock
makes 6–8 cups
1 gallon-size bag (packed full) of vegetable trimmings, including:
- fennel stalks, core, fronds
- carrot tops and stems
- fresh herb stems (parsley, basil, thyme)
- onions (peels included)
- celery stalks, roots and leaves
- tomato cores/peels
- broccoli stems
- mushroom stems
6–8 cups water, or to cover
10 whole black peppercorns
1–2 bay leaves, fresh or dried
pinch red pepper flakes
1-inch piece Parmesan rind (optional)
Place the vegetables (it's OK if they're still partially frozen) in a large stock pot. Add water to cover by 1 inch. Add peppercorns, bay leaves, red pepper flakes and Parmesan rind, if using. Bring the liquid to a boil, skim off any scum that surfaces, then reduce heat and simmer for at least 2 hours, up to 3. Let the pot cool to room temperature (the vegetables will continue to "steep" as the stock cools), then strain into a large bowl, pressing down on the solids to extract the most flavor. Wait to season the stock until you use it, then add salt to taste. Use the stock within a day or two, or transfer it back to your gallon zip-top bag and freeze for up to 12 months.