How to Make Homemade Organic Vegetable Broth for Free

Well, almost free.

I like to make my own broth for many reasons.  It tastes better, I can choose how to salt it, it’s environmentally friendly, and it doesn’t sit on a shelf in plastic for an indeterminate amount of time before it arrives in my soup pot.  But, let me be honest, the biggest reason I make my own broth (or stock, maybe, if you want to get technical) is that it’s irresistibly cheap.

Buying mostly organic produce is good for the environment and, I believe, for my family’s health.  But the price tag still rankles a bit, especially here in Seattle where the only things that appear to grow effortlessly are rosemary and moss.  Making my own broth allows me to essentially use my vegetables twice: I eat the trimmed part the first time around, and save the peelings for the stock pot.  At $3.50 a quart, I’m saving over twenty dollars every time I make my own broth.  If I do it once a month, the savings really add up over the course of a year.  Of course, you might not eat as much soup as we do…but still.  It makes me feel better about how much I pay for organic produce.

[UPDATE: Many of the comments below mention composting veggie scraps or feeding them to the chickens.  This, of course, is their third and final use after you have boiled them for stock!]

The basic method is to chop your selected organic vegetable trimmings into 1-2” pieces and save them in a bag in your freezer.  (I wouldn’t do this with non-organic vegetables, because I’d be concerned about concentrating the pesticides that are in the peels.  This is my completely unscientific personal opinion.)  Add to the bag over time.  When it’s full, put everything in a pot, cover it with water, add some seasonings, and simmer for 30-45 minutes.  Add salt until it tastes like something you’d like to drink by the mug.  Strain and use your broth, or freeze it for later use.  Get a new freezer bag of trimmings started and repeat.

The only mental effort required is the contemplation of whether the trimmings you have before you will taste good in your broth.  Some are easy: Carrots? Yes.  Broccoli rabe?  Probably not.  Turnips?  Trick question!  They’re great.

You want to aim for a balance of flavors in your stock pot.  For me, the essentials are onion, celery, and carrots (or another sweet vegetable, like winter squash).  If I don’t have some of each in my frozen mix, I will sacrifice a whole onion or a few stalks of celery to balance out the flavors.  Beyond, that, though, the sky’s the limit.  I have tried to list some of my favorites (and a few un-favorites) below, but if you want an opinion from me and/or your fellow readers about whether a particular vegetable would be good in a broth, please just ask in the comments.

One more note: this process has the added benefit of giving you seasonally-flavored broths.  The vegetables I’m cooking this month are going into the freezer, and what goes into the freezer ends up in the stock, which means that my stocks reflect current seasonal flavors.  Perfect, because my soups usually do as well.  It’s a beautiful cycle.  When cooking in the summer, I usually do want a light broth with corn and tomato flavors, and in winter I am glad to have a rich one full of mushrooms, root vegetables, and winter squash.

Homemade Vegetable Broth: I usually wait to make broth until I have two gallon bags full of frozen vegetable trimmings, which I dump into my huge stock pot and cover with 8 quarts of water.  I add 2 Tb. salt, a small handful each of dried bay leaves and peppercorns, and several branches of parsley and/or thyme if those stems weren’t already in the mix.  Peer into your pot and consider the flavor balance; add a chopped onion, celery branch, or carrot if needed.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat (consider adding a Parmesan rind now for a deeper flavor if you have one handy) and simmer 30-45 minutes, until the flavor of the broth is well-developed.  Add additional salt to taste.  Strain and freeze. I usually freeze some in quarts and some in pints, and I sometimes also wish that I had frozen some in ice cube trays, but I never do.  (These quantities yield 6-7 quarts of broth.)

Always good (only use unspoiled vegetables and trimmings without bad spots):
Root vegetable peels (including potatoes)
Celery
Alliums (tops and trimmings from onions, leeks, garlic, scallions)
Apple and pear cores (just a few, can replace carrots for sweetness)
Herb stems, especially parsley, oregano, thyme, bay
Winter and summer squash (including seeds and peels of winter squash)
Beet greens, spinach, chard, and chard stems
Mushrooms
Corn cobs (cut to 2” lengths)
Pea pods
Tomato cores and peels
Green bean tops and tails
Mild-flavored lettuces

Not so good:
Brassicas (kale, broccoli; cabbage is ok in small amounts)
Chicories (radicchio, dandelion)
Beets (unless you want a very pink soup; golden beets are ok in small amounts but they’re very sweet)
Asparagus
Fennel
Peppers
Artichokes
Anything with a very strong flavor (see the first comment below about inadvertently making a pickle brine broth from dill stems)

And finally: After making this list, I went to consult my vegetable bible, Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, and I saw that she has a similar but much more detailed list of vegetables that she recommends using and/or avoiding.  And our lists are not the same.  So experiment!  And, as always, consider your own tastebuds as you curate your frozen vegetable scrap collection.

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39 thoughts on “How to Make Homemade Organic Vegetable Broth for Free

  1. Eileen

    Yes, yes, yes! The freezer stockpile is my absolute favorite cooking trick. Perfect broth for the unbeatable price of $0!

    I don’t use kale leaves (or other brassicas) in my broth, but I do use kale stems–they don’t seem to produce the same off effect for some reason. I’d also like to warn against using dill stems, as they will give your broth the unmistakable tang of pickle brine.

    Reply
    1. emmycooks Post author

      TRUE about the dill. I will add a general warning above about using strong flavorings of any sort. And thank you for the kale stem tip! I always compost mine but would love to use them first instead. I also sometimes see them thinly sliced in kale salads, which I also haven’t tried but should.

      Reply
  2. Lauren

    I might actually…. TRY this.

    We go through a lot of broth when it’s soup season and even the veg. bouillion cubes seem kind of pricy.

    What do you make in the summer with veg broth? It doesn’t feel like soup weather to me (but we’re not in Seattle!).

    Reply
    1. emmycooks Post author

      What if I put it on Pinterest, then will you try it? ;-) I do still make soup in summer: radish top soup! Carrot top soup! Corn chowder! But then again, we ARE in Seattle.

      Reply
  3. hännah

    I recently started making my own broth at home and love it! Your post was very helpful for filling in the gaps (I can never figure out just how much salt to add). And I love the idea of using parmesan rinds…I’ve got some in the fridge that I’ll definitely throw into my next pot!

    Reply
    1. emmycooks Post author

      Isn’t it a little addictive? I don’t think I’d ever buy boxed broth now (although I do use the occasional Rapunzel bouillon cube). Also, I think a lot of people don’t salt their stock at all when they make it and then just do it to taste for each dish as they use it up. You’ll love it with those Parmesan rinds!

      Reply
  4. Little Sis

    Thanks a ton. Looks like I’ll have to add an intermediary step between cutting and compost blending. So that would be THREE uses of a single vegetable, right? Awesome.

    Reply
  5. Ben

    Ethical question: I keep a chicken bone and vegetable scrap bag in my freezer from which I make stock. When I use the stock, should I tell my guests that I gnawed at the bones that made the broth? It’s boiled. That means sanitized to me. Any opinions?

    Reply
    1. StefanGourmet

      Don’t tell them. Some people are irrational about hygiene. I know people who won’t wear 2nd hand clothes, being washed or not makes no difference… Ignorance is bliss!

      Reply
    2. emmycooks Post author

      I love this question because it makes me realize that I should start a “Dear Emmy” advice column, answering pressing ethical questions about food (except, you know, about if you should be vegan, or whatever). Here goes: Dear Ben, Obviously, your ethical obligation to disclose your gross-but-not-health-threatening chewed bones is identical to Starbucks’ obligation to disclose the gross-but-not-health-threatening red beetles ground into their drinks. Best wishes, Emmy (How did I do?)

      Reply
  6. StefanGourmet

    I just blogged about cooking from scratch last night and mentioned stock as one of the most important examples :-)
    I agree mostly with your list of things to use/not to use, except that I never add anything from the cabbage family. Fennel and asparagus do not have a ‘neutral’ taste, so I do use them but only in stock for a dish that will have fennel or asparagus in it.
    In winter I usually add one or two pieces of dried porcini mushrooms for more flavor.

    Reply
    1. emmycooks Post author

      AND I forgot to tell you that I roasted a head of cauliflower the other day and steamed half first so I could taste them side by side. The steamed florets were more tender and the un-steamed a bit chewier (I think that’s what you said you thought too). Now that I know the difference, I will probably consider what texture I want in my finished dish next time I’m roasting cauliflower! Thanks for inspiring me to experiment!

      Reply
      1. StefanGourmet

        You’re very welcome, great experiment! You could also influence the texture by using smaller/larger pieces of cauliflower.

        I didn’t really know what to expect when I started blogging a few months ago, but it certainly has been both fun and interesting to interact and share ideas with other knowledgeable bloggers like yourself!

  7. musingmar

    Emmy, this is a wonderful idea, and one that has completely escaped me even after all these years in the kitchen! Of course I have made broth from various bones … chicken, beef, turkey … but I’ve never saved my vegetable peelings. I do compost, though. What a great way to get full value from the produce we buy or grow. And, I think I’d be able to compost the veggie trimmings once the stock is done, since there’s no fat added to it.

    What a wonderful lesson in intentional living … from now on I will give everything a good rinse or scrub before peeling. Stop #1 for the trimmings will be the stock bag in the freezer, and stop #2 will be the composter.

    Reply
    1. emmycooks Post author

      Yes! That’s exactly how I do it: stock then compost (although sometimes I pick out some good bits, like the mushy carrots, for the chickens). :)

      Reply
  8. baconbiscuit212

    I love the idea of seasonal broths! I can’t believe that it never occurred to me before, but it makes so much sense. Thanks, Emmy!

    BTW, I am loving the photo of the carrots and the vegetable trimmings on the cutting board. So pretty!

    Reply
    1. emmycooks Post author

      Thank you so much, what a nice compliment! And can I just say how impressed I am that you read a fiction book a week? I wish I could say that!

      Reply
  9. Michelle

    We do this with chickens and sometimes rabbits (that is, throw the bones in the freezer for later stock-making). Must get in the habit of doing it with veg, too. Especially those things like root veg peelings and ends that the chickens won’t eat. Nice post!

    Reply
    1. emmycooks Post author

      Thanks! I should add that I see the stockpot as in intermediate step between the peeling process and the chickens, since mine are quite happy to eat the cooked veggies after I’ve made stock.

      Reply
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  11. leroywatson4

    Love the thrifty-ness of it all! Its the only way to cook (regularly). Thanks for the tips. Happy blogging, Lee (www.thebeachhousekitchen.wordpress.com)

    Reply
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  13. Allison

    I’m so happy I just found this post, since my summer CSA just started and I will have even more vegetable scraps around the house than usual! I’ve also read somewhere else about saving vegetable stock goodies in a freezer bag, but then must have forgotten about it, so thank you!! (Both for the reminder and for your two handy lists!)

    Reply
    1. emmycooks Post author

      Then I’m glad you found it too! I always feel better about buying expensive organic vegetables when I use them a second time for stock. :)

      Reply
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