kitchen alchemy: trash into gold
i love making soup, be it a spoonful of red miso dissolved in hot water with a handful of spinach thrown in, or a complicated multi-step, multiple hour long recipe with a foot long ingredient list. soup is rad because you can eat tons of it and not get too full, and because it warms up your body and makes you feel safe. soup is rad because you can make a monster batch of it and eat it all week long, and unlike most leftovers, it actually gets better as it sits idly in your fridge. it's magic! no, actually it's science, and this is the dime store explanation: as soup gets older (not too old, mind you -if it smells funny, it might be time to toss it) the starches in it break down into sugars, so the flavor deepens and the texture gets richer.
dude, it's a huge cop out to use bouillon cubes or packaged vegetable broth when making soup. you can't really say a soup is made from scratch when the broth is a processed, sodium bloated dry cube. even using the fancy vegan kinds just always made me feel like sort of a faker. and please understand, i am not judging anyone who uses bouillon as a shortcut - in fact, and i'll admit it now to the world, that's all i have ever used. i don't feel particularly proud of that, but i can really be a sucker for convenience. no more! the time has come to evolve as a cook, and mainly inspired by my friend/co-worker/jam master janina, i recently embarked on the journey known as making your own broth.
there are a lot of cooking projects out there that seem really intimidating until you actually just do them. perhaps this struggle extends into life outside the kitchen as well...it is so easy to build things up in your mind until they are bigger than you, bigger than your will, until they mock you with cartoon monster laughter. and as i've so often realized (and yet, so often seem to forget), once you turn to face these things with some steely resolve, they aren't such a big deal after all. for instance, i used to wish desperately that i could make homemade seitan, assuming for some reason that i wouldn't be able to do it. and then one day, i just went for it, and it was super fun and easy and i never bought seitan from the store ever again. i used to proclaim that i "sucked" at baking, and hated how precise you had to be to make it work. then i started reading recipes more carefully and taking some chances, and started stocking the kitchen with higher quality baking ingredients. voila! muffins, scones, pies, cookies - now i make them all with little anxiety or self doubt.
so, vegetable stock was one of those intimidating things for me until janina broke it down: put a bunch of vegetable scraps in a pot with some water, spices and salt, and simmer the hell out of it. cool, strain, and that's it. that is it! for a week or two, every time you cook, save all the carrot and potato peels, onions and garlic paper, leek tops, squash guts and all the other veggie odds and ends that you normally trash or compost. i put mine in a big plastic container in the freezer, but you can use a plastic bag too. then, when you know you'll be home for a few hours, alchemize that shit into pure gold. i started my batch off with half an onion chopped sauteed for a few minutes with olive oil, mixed peppercorns, some bay leaves and a few pinches of dried rosemary. then i literally dumped my cache of veg scraps in (you have to use kind of a big pot), poured enough water in to cover the mess, and topped it off with some sea salt. i then brought it to a boil, turned it down to a simmer and let it do its thing for about 2.5 hours. what happens is the liquid vastly reduces, and the vegetables cook down into mush, imparting all their flavor crystals and vitamin power into the remaining water. i let it cool for awhile and then strained it into a container. i didn't mess with cheesecloth or any of that, just used a normal colander and that was that. now i have tons of vegetable stock (for the long term, i froze some in an ice cube tray), that will lend the delicious taste of victory to all the soups and sauces i'm going to make in the coming month. yes! yessssssss.
janina writes for a cool blog calls isgreaterthan, and back in november, did a super straightforward post about homemade vegetable stock. it really demystifies the process, and makes you feel like "yeah, i can do this." read it here! making stuff yourself instead of buying it from the store is maybe one of the greatest feelings there is, and kids, i'm riding high.