Monday, March 19, 2012

vegetable stock

Bonus recipe: Vegetable Stock

Making vegetable stock is basically the easiest thing in the world: put vegetables in a big pot, pour in water, and boil the heck out of them. But here's how I do mine, which is vaguely based on the recipe in Mark Bittman's magic book, heavily influenced by half-remembered advice from my mother, and more or less just made up as I go along. The ingredients on the list are the ones I used on Friday, but you can use pretty much whatever you have on hand. Bittman is a big proponent of including mushrooms, which I didn't have in my fridge.

1 large red onion, chopped but not peeled
2 russet potatoes cut into chunks
5 ribs of celery, chopped
3 carrots, scrubbed but not peeled, chopped into rounds
5 large cloves of garlic, inner peels left on
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
generous splash of soy sauce (optional; Bittman's recommendation)
1 pound (or so) of assorted peels, greens, and scrap, washed.

In a small amount of oil in the bottom of a very big pot, brown these vegetables just as much as you feel like browning them. Then throw in your pile of scraps. Mine for this batch of stock was a bundle of scallion tops and carrot peels left over from making fried rice on Thursday, plus the greens from a daikon radish, and a roasted beet that I'd frozen before spring break and thawed out in the fridge overnight.

Mix the scraps with your vegetables and pour in water until the pot is mostly full (I think Bittman recommends 14 cups? I used about 16). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and keep at a brisk simmer for at least half an hour, or until the vegetables are mushy (Bittman says something like "very tender," which I find amusingly euphemistic). The longer you cook it, the more flavor you'll get.

Let the stock cool for a while and then carefully strain into storage containers, pressing the vegetables to get as much of the broth out as possible. I ended up with about twenty cups of broth, which is a lot. Two four-cup containers went into the freezer, and about four more cups went into ice cube trays (this is a Martha Stewart trick my mother told me about, and great for when you just need a little bit of liquid to add to a dish), and the rest went into a pitcher in the fridge to become the base of my leek and potato soup on Saturday.

St Patrick's Day: Leek & Potato Soup with Soda Bread

As usual, I decided to bake a loaf of soda bread for the St. Patrick's day, substituting actual Irish food for the messy American traditions of green beer and bad sausage. For once, I didn't make the decision at 8 p.m. on the holiday itself, so I had time to plan an actual meal around it. On Friday, I made an enormous batch of stock (see my next post for the recipe). Most of it went into the freezer, but what didn't fit obviously needed to become soup. Something containing potatoes seemed in order, and I had some leeks, and Mark Bittman's magical How to Cook Everything had a recipe, and so... leek and potato soup. I changed up the very basic recipe (which Bittman calls "medieval") for a bit more flavor, but more or less followed his method.

2-3 leeks, white and pale green parts only, cut into thin rounds
3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 small white onion, diced
2-3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
6-8 cups vegetable stock (enough to cover the vegetables, plus another cup)
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1 bay leaf
salt and black pepper to taste
thinly sliced scallions and hot paprika for garnish

Melt the butter in a large stock pot over medium heat. Put the vegetables into the pot, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and stir until they begin to soften (five minutes or so).

Pour in the broth and simmer briskly for twenty minutes or so, until the vegetables are quite soft. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste. At this point, you can eat the soup--it's vegan (if you used oil instead of butter), and healthy, and totally delicious. But you can also make it more awesome...

Let the soup cool for at least half an hour, and carefully blend it, using an immersion blender (preferred method) or by transferring to a traditional blender (don't fill it too high or it will attack you, like when I made butternut squash soup). Add the bay leaf and cream and slowly reheat to just below boiling. Take out the bay leaf and serve hot.

Garnish with scallions and a dash of hot paprika (or a lot of hot paprika), eat with dense, crumbly bread.

Sunflower seeds react within the bread for a festive green touch.

Two of us made a dent in the pot of soup before going out for the evening... and the four of us who came back later demolished it completely, along with most of a bottle of whiskey and a stack of poetry books. Overall, a good holiday.