Start with the Basics to Soup It Up

By Nancy Berkoff

It’s the time of year to soup up the house. If you want to make rich, flavorful soups and sauces, then you need rich, flavorful bases.

The great chef Augusta Escoffier, said to have modernized French cuisine, is quoted as saying, “stock is everything in cooking; without it, and nothing can be done.” Julia Child has called stock “the working capital of the kitchen.”

The French word for stock is “fond,” which also means “foundation.” The majority of stocks have traditionally been meat-based with veggie dishes relegated to using water.

Vegetarian stock does not fit the classic definition of stock, as the classic version requires animal bones. But it can still fit the bill of contributing layers of flavor for vegetables, grains, soups and sauces, using mushrooms or smoked tofu or tempeh in place of bones.

Remember that you want a flavorful but not distinctive stock, so the stock can be used in a number of dishes. Avoid strong-flavored veggies such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, rutabagas and garlic or stronger meats such as lamb or smoked meats.

Carrots, celery, onions, leeks, fennel (also called sweet anise), fresh mushrooms and parsnips are good veggie stock ingredients, as are fresh parsley, dried bay leaf, thyme and whole peppercorns. Fish stock can be made using the same technique, remembering that fish stock use would be limited to seafood dishes.

Chopped, peeled veggies offer more flavor than unpeeled. The vegetables release even more flavor if lightly roasted or sautéed before going into the stock pot.

If you are looking for a clear broth, don’t use too much oil, as oil will cloud the stock. Always start with cold water, as it gives a cleaner flavor and a clearer liquid. A ratio of vegetables to water is hard to give, but most cooks agree that just covering the vegetables and bones with water yields the best flavor.

Assemble your stock ingredients of choice and place in a pot that has adequate space to allow the ingredients to move around a bit. Bring the water to a quick boil, lower to a simmer and allow to cook for at least 45 minutes.

Completed covering the stock pot traps some of the undesirable acids and completely uncovering the stock allows a lot of flavor to escape, so compromise by partially covering the stock while it is simmering. Forty-five minutes seems to be the magic number, as stock cooked for less time is weak in flavor and stock cooked for more than forty five minutes does not seem to develop additional flavor.

When you are satisfied with your stock, remove it from the heat and strain it. You can use the “spent” veggies for soups and sauces (puree them and let them reduce over low heat). Stock can last for four days in the refrigerator and for three months in the freezer.

Be sure to cool down the stock to 40 degrees or below within four hours to stay within the temperature danger zone before refrigerating or freezing.

Once you have a well-crafted stock, you can design signature flavors. For example, adding chilies and red pepper flakes can give a Central American or Southwestern flavor, ginger, garlic and soy sauce gives an Asian flavor, and basil, garlic and sundried tomatoes gives a Mediterranean flavor.

Dried mushrooms can be added for stronger flavors and darker colors. Toss diced fresh vegetables, thawed frozen vegetables and drained canned beans and tomatoes into the stock to make a fast vegetable soup. Use four types of cooked beans and cooked pasta with your stock for a veggie minestrone.

Mix some tomato puree and/or red wine into your stock and allow it to reduce to create a sauce for casseroles and grains. Sauté chopped mushrooms and garlic, add some stock and allow to reduce for mushroom gravy.

Make a bread soup (a traditional Italian dish) by moistening fresh bread crumbs, salt, pepper, nutmeg and pureed tofu with vegetable stock, puree and add to more vegetable stock. Allow to cook until thick and hot.

Make a clam-less chowder by blending vegetable stock with a small amount of tofu and soy milk and add diced potatoes, celery, onions, bay leaf and white pepper.

Lentil and bean soups can be made by adding soaked beans to veggie stock with tomatoes, carrots, celery, peppers and onions and allowing to cook until beans are soft.

With numerous years in health care and education, Nancy Berkoff, RD, CCE, would love for readers to ask food and nutrition-related questions:


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