We’ve been in something of a quandary lately when it comes to vegetable stock, that important ingredient of most soups and many other savoury dishes. We’ve used powdered stock but it is high in sodium and many brands contain MSG (monosodium glutamate). Concentrated packets of stock contain slightly less sodium but are high in added oil. Ready-prepared cartons of stock are also high in sodium. We decided to try making our own vegetable stock so that we could control the ingredients going into it.
A bit of research revealed that making stock is actually quite easy. We also discovered an idea that originated hundreds of years ago in institutions such as monasteries where nothing was allowed to go to waste. The idea of using good vegetables to make stock and throwing them away afterward was considered extremely wasteful. After all, the parts that we cut off of vegetables during their preparation contain the same nutrients as the plants we intend to eat, perhaps even more in some cases. For example, sweet potato peels contain nearly ten times the antioxidant power as the flesh, giving the peels of a sweet potato an antioxidant capacity “comparable to that of blueberries” (1,2). Studies have also found that though carrot peels account for only 11% of the weight of a carrot, they contain 54% of the antioxidants (3). This tendency of a higher concentration of nutrients in the outer layers of a vegetable is also true for vitamins (4).
Consequently we have been making our own stock for a few months now and are finding it a simple and worthwhile activity. The stock that results is beautifully clear and fragrant and our recipes have received a boost in flavour and nutritional value. Here is how to do it.
FIND AN APPROPRIATE CONTAINER
It takes a few days to gather up enough vegetable pieces to make a pot of stock. Throw your scraps into a large air-tight freezer bag or other sealable container and store it in the freezer until stock-making time.
BE SURE TO WASH ALL THE VEGETABLES THAT YOU ARE PREPARING BEFORE CUTTING INTO THEM
WHAT TO PUT INTO YOUR VEGETABLE SCRAP BAG
Save all your scraps except spoiled or mouldy pieces.
It’s okay to use vegetable pieces slightly past their prime such as wilted or limp vegetables.
Save peelings, skins, leaves, roots, ends, stalks, stems and unused pieces. If the pieces are large, cut them into smaller bits before storing them in your bag.
You can use pieces of almost any vegetable but some make better stock than others.
The best stocks contain some carrots, celery and onions. You can never have too much of these in your stock.
Other vegetables you can throw generously into your stock pot are leeks, scallions, garlic, lettuce, chard and other greens, potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, green beans, summer and winter squash, peppers, mushrooms, corn cobs and herbs like parsley and cilantro.
Some vegetables have a much stronger flavour and the amount of these in your stock should be limited although they are less noticeable if they are balanced by sweeter vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes. These include cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, bok choy, kale, arugula), tomatoes, asparagus, turnips, rutabagas and artichokes. Cucumbers generally add nothing to stock. Beets turn the stock red.
Onion skins are great in a stock pot but be aware that they may darken the stock or turn it dark brown or red.
MAKING THE STOCK
Wait until you have enough vegetable scraps to easily fill half of a medium pot.
About 4 cups of vegetable matter will make about 2 quarts of stock.
Retrieve your bag of vegetable scraps from the freezer.
If your collection seems short on carrots, celery or onions add in about half a cup’s worth of the scanty ones.
Place all your scraps in a large pot and add enough water to just cover them. Proportions of about 1 part vegetables to 1 part water will result in a product with nice body and flavour.
Add a couple of bay leaves, a few peppercorns, a small amount of thyme, perhaps some cilantro or parsley and a pinch of salt.
Bring the whole mixture to a boil then let simmer for one hour. Longer simmering is not necessary and can negatively affect the flavour of the finished stock.
Avoid stirring the stock while cooking as that tends to make the finished product cloudy.
Strain stock to remove solids. Throw leftover solids into your compost.
Let the stock cool then place into storage containers that hold about 2 cups of stock.
If you have an immediate use for it you can store your stock in the fridge and use within 7 days.
For longer storage, place the stock in plastic or glass containers (leaving 2 inches of room at the top for expansion) or in leak-proof plastic bags and store in the freezer until ready to use.
Alternatively, freeze the stock in large ice cube trays. Once frozen the cubes can be put in a bag and pulled out as needed.
When it comes time to use the stock simply thaw out the amount you need for your recipe.
We have found the making of stock to be a surprisingly fun and rewarding activity. It’s startling to see how much we actually chop off of our vegetables during food preparation and it is satisfying to pile all that goodness into a large pot and make something useful out of it. Stock is often a major ingredient in many plant-based recipes and it is pleasing to know exactly what went into the making of it. Moreover it is an enjoyable way to glean more nutrients from your vegetables. The best part though of making your own stock is the delicious and satisfying taste of the meals that result.
1 Padda, M.S., Picha, D.H. Phenolic composition and antioxidant capacity of different heat-processed forms of sweetpotato cv. ‘Beauregard’. Int J Food Sci Tech 2008 43(8):1404 – 1409.
2 Khattak, K.F., Rahman, T.U. Analysis of vegetable’s peels as a natural source of vitamins and minerals.
International Food Research Journal 24(1): 292-297 (February 2017)
3 Zhang, D., Hamauzu, Y. Phenolic compounds and their antioxidant properties in different tissues of carrots (Daucus carota L.). Sciences of Functional Foods, Graduate School of Agriculture, Shinshu University, January 2004.
4 Booth, V.H. Distribution of carotenoids in different parts of the carrot.
Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture August 1951; 2 (8): 350-353.