by Al H.
What frugal, healthy meal plan doesn’t include soup and stews? None that I like. But store-bought chicken stock, beef stock and vegetable stock is salty. Crazy salty. Even the low-salt options have too much sodium in them. Put too much in and congratulations, you made Salt Lick Stew.
So instead of buying low-salt vegetable stock, we at MealPlanRescue we prefer to make our own for four important reasons.
- It’s easy. Prep is done in a food processor or you can just chop everything yourself. Cooking is just sauteeing and simmering. Ain’t nothing to it.
- It’s inexpensive. You can use all the vegetables that are in the autumn of their lives. The funny-looking carrots, the wilting but still green parsley and, in my case this week, the leeks from my patio garden that started to flower (the thick part of the leek where the flower comes out is too fibrous for chewing though it still has lots of flavor). You can even use the green leek leaves—typically they’re too tough for chewing but since we’re making stock it doesn’t matter because we’re extracting its flavor. It will make your stock look a tiny bit green but unless I’ve got a food critic over for dinner, I really don’t care.
- It tastes better. With no salt added, you control the seasoning. Because you used fresh vegetables, it has more flavor.
- It stores better. Unless you’re going to use the stock right then and there, you freeze the excess in either plastic freezerware or ice cube trays. The great thing about cubes of stock is whenever you need a shot of flavor, just pop a cube or two in and off you go. Use them just like you would use bullion cubes, only with a fresher taste and no salt.
Now if you don’t have everything listed below, don’t fret. My batch this week was short on shallots and onions so I just used more leeks since I just harvested a whole lot.
Traditionally, one would use fennel instead of whole star anise pods. Fennel adds a sweetness from its licorice flavor but can be pricey in American markets. Whole star anise, available at Hispanic or Asian markets, also has a licorice sweetness and gets us close enough at a fraction of the cost.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 55 minutes
Total Time: a bit over an hour
Makes: 3 – 4 quarts
- 1½ lb leeks, well washed and coarsely chopped (about 3 cups). This is about 1 large bunch. For a cleaner color and more delicate flavor, use the white part only. In my case, I used equal amounts of the green leaves and white part near the root.
- 1 lb carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped (about 3 cups)
- 1½ lb onions, coarsely chopped (about 4 1/2 cups) (about 2)
- ¼ cup canola oil
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme. If using dried thyme, about 2 tsp.
- 2 oz Italian parsley (1 large bunch)
- 3 whole star anise pods
- 10 – 12 whole peppercorns
- 3 – 4 qt. water
Vegetable stock will loses its flavor rapidly. Make it in small batches or freeze extra immediately.
- Chop all the vegetables finely or in a food processor.
- Heat a medium stockpot to low heat, add canola oil and cook the vegetables for 5 to 8 minutes or until they start to soften.
- Add bay leaves, thyme, star anise, peppercorns and Italian parsley. Cover ingredients with water.
- Bring to a simmer and skim often. An easy way to do it is skim bubbles off with a spoon then dip the spoon into a bowl of cold water. This cleans the spoon quickly allowing you to re-skim another area. The more you skim, the better tasting the stock is. Simmer for 45 minutes.
- Empty about 3-4 trays of ice into a large bowl and keep it in the freezer. If you have an automatic icemaker, then your ice supply won’t be a problem. If you’re using ice cube trays, then keep the now-empty trays aside for to use for making cubes of frozen vegetable stock. Your ice bath should be big enough to hold the container that will hold the strained vegetable broth. I like to use a clean, stopped kitchen sink myself. All you need is ice and water. An ice bath is needed to bring the temperature down quickly to reduce any microbial growth that would lead to spoilage or sickness. Plus, the cooler the broth is, the less your refrigerator or freezer has to work when storing the stock. A hot stock placed in a freezer will overtax it, melting everything else in there until its cooling system catches up. We don’t want that.
- Strain through a chinois or sieve and cool stock quickly by placing the pot with the stock into the ice bath.
The stock can be used immediately, refrigerated for a day or two, or—and this is what I do—frozen and used later. I put half of the stock in plasticware and freeze and the other half I put in ice cube trays. The next day I pop the frozen stock out of the trays and put them in a freezer bag, labeling them as veg stock and noting the date.
It really is easier than it sounds and once you get the hang of it, it’s dope-simple. Heck, it must be if I can cook it. I use the vegetable stock cubes for soups, stir frys, sauces or anything that needs a kick of extra flavor. All frugal, healthy meal plans can use this inexpensive technique to get more out of your shopping dollar. Give it a try and let us know how it works out.