Tag Archives: soup

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.

Continue reading How to Make Homemade Organic Vegetable Broth for Free (click for recipe)


Cauliflower and Cheddar Soup

There was a thoughtful post today on The Yellow House that asked whether cooking has become so fetishized that it has begun to seem inaccessible to home cooks.  It reminded me of the brouhaha over models’ bodies: if you see too many airbrushed glossy spreads, do you forget what normal looks like, and maybe start to doubt yourself for not looking so perfect?  I don’t think it’s crazy to think that TV cooking shows and perfect Pinterest culinary glamshots might similarly intimidate novice or busy home cooks.

For my part, I try to remember that it can be easy to get nourishing food on the table quickly, and I try not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  Use what you have. Make it easy for yourself.  While I have been trying to include a few photos of my recipes so you know what you’re getting yourself into, none of the food we love to eat is magazine-good-looking aside from the natural beauty of vegetables themselves.  And if I zoomed out, most days you’d see photos that look a bit like Mama Nervosa’s This Is Not A Lifestyle Blog series.

Home cooking is messy and sometimes unglamorous.  Home cooks don’t use mise en place unless everything has to go into the pan at the same instant.  We’re clearing space for the cutting board on messy counters.  And we sure don’t have dishwashers tidying up after us as we go.  If you’re me, you might even burn three separate pots in one night trying to make one simple soup.  (First: the butter.  Second: the onions.  Third: half the croutons.)  Oh, well.  Luckily I only set the fire alarm off once.  To enjoy home cooking is to embrace these moments and circumstances.

And the soup was delicious.

Cauliflower and Cheddar Soup, adapted from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day:  Heat a knob of butter in a pan over medium-high heat (don’t burn it).  Add a chopped onion and a couple of chopped shallots with a big pinch of salt and saute until the onion softens.  Stir in a peeled, finely diced potato, cover, and cook for a few more minutes (check and stir your pot, don’t burn it).  Uncover and add 2 minced cloves of garlic and 3 1/2 c. water or stock.  (I was in a hurry so instead of defrosting stock I used boiling water and 1 cube of Rapunzel herb and sea salt bouillon.)  Raise the heat, and once it boils, taste a potato.  When potatoes are tender, stir in a small head of chopped-up cauliflower (or half of a big head) and cook about 5 more minutes until cauliflower is tender as well.  Puree soup, then stir in 1/2 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese and 1-2 Tbsp. dijon mustard.  Taste and adjust flavors with additional salt, cheese, and/or mustard.  Serve garnished with more cheese and butter-toasted croutons (don’t burn them!). I made my croutons from this Whole Wheat Spice Bread with Brown Sugar, Orange Zest, and Walnuts, of course, but if you weren’t able to save any of that I certainly understand.  The croutons in the original recipe look great as well: 3 c. cubed bread bathed in 2 Tb. each melted butter and olive oil, whisked with 1 1/2 Tb. dijon and 1/4 tsp. salt.  Bake 10-15 mins at 350, turning occasionally.

The Best Red Lentil Soup of 2012

It’s no secret around here that I like to cook big when I can.  A big pot of beans, a big pot of soup, a big pot of chili.  Doubling a recipe saves time and isn’t much more work than making a single recipe.  Usually when I double up, I’m feeding a crowd or making one meal for tonight’s dinner and another to freeze for another time.  But then there are occasions when I make a huge pot of something and just eat it twice a day for a week.  This soup is one of those somethings.  It’s that good.

You might think that March 2 is a little early to be declaring anything the “Best of 2012.”  But I’m pretty sure.  I’ve had a go-to red lentil soup recipe for years (it was The Best Red Lentil Soup of 2008 or thereabouts, and has held the title since).  This soup has replaced it with a vengeance.

I knew it would be good, because it was recommended to me by the same friend who gave me that amazing chilaquiles recipe.  She is a great cook and discerning recipe collector, and when she tells me to try something I always do.  This recipe is slightly adapted from 101 Cookbooks, which is another good sign, because I always like Heidi Swanson’s flavorful and sometimes quirky cooking.  In this case her stroke of genius is to add raisins to the soup, which plump up into barely-there bursting bits of sweetness mingled with the curry and coconut flavors.  In case you are feeling cautious to begin with, I will give you the regular-size recipe and you can use your discretion as to doubling it.  (You definitely will next time.)

The Best Red Lentil Soup of 2012: Bring 1 c. red lentils and 1 c. yellow split peas (both picked over and well-rinsed) to a boil in 7 c. water.  Reduce heat to a simmer, add a chopped carrot and 2 tsp. finely minced ginger (I like to grate it with my Microplane), and simmer until split peas are entirely soft, 30-45 minutes.  Meanwhile, heat a gob of coconut oil in a separate pan and saute a bunch of chopped green onions (reserve a handful for garnish) with 2 more Tbsp. minced ginger and 1/3 c. golden raisins.  After two minutes, add 2 Tbsp. Indian curry powder and saute for another minute, stirring constantly, then add 1/3 c. tomato paste and stir for one minute more.  When the lentils and peas are soft, add the tomato-spice mixture to the soup with a can of coconut milk and 2 tsp. salt.  Simmer uncovered for a bit to blend the flavors and thicken the soup; you can adjust the consistency with more water or more cooking.  Serve over cooked brown rice, garnished with those reserved chopped green onions, chopped cilantro, and a dollop of Greek yogurtIf you try this and know of a better red lentil soup recipe, please let me know in the comments.  I never get tired of lentil soup.

White Bean and Spinach Soup

I’d say that in the past few months, I’ve been quite successful in my quest to stop feeding my family scrambled eggs for dinner all the time.  But I’m still not much of a planner.  Which means that the dinner hour is often neigh by the time I roll into the kitchen, wondering how our evening meal is going to materialize.

At times like these, it helps to have a well-stocked pantry.  And freezer.  This is one of those recipes that you can spend all afternoon making–or it can take 30 minutes if you keep the right ingredients in stock.  In this case, the right ingredients are an onion, a leafy green vegetable, a good vegetable broth, and some well-seasoned home-cooked white beans.  (Of course you can substitute canned beans, but you must first brown an onion, then toss in a handful of chopped garlic and sage for a few minutes, then add the beans and cover with water or vegetable broth and simmer to let the flavors blend.)

Do you cook your own beansMake your own broth?  I do, because I find the homemade versions of these things so much better and SO much cheaper than anything I can buy.  This might seem inconsistent with my professed inability to plan ahead, but I just do it every once in a while when I will be home on a Sunday afternoon: put a huge pot of beans on the stove or make eight quarts of stock.  It helps that I have a large freezer to store these things in.  What do you people do in Manhattan?  Anyway, I will start sharing recipes for some of the pantry basics that make it easier for me to get a good meal on the table quickly.  Another day.Today, White Bean and Spinach Soup: Grab a quart of good vegetable broth and a few cups of well-seasoned white beans from your freezer.  Warm the beans in a soup pot with a cup or so of broth while you saute an onion over high heat in a separate pan.  Once the onion is nearly golden and nearly caramelized, use a slotted spoon to scoop about half your beans into a blender and puree them with the onion and another cup of broth.  Add the puree to your soup pot and stir in a big bunch of chopped spinach (chard, kale, or other greens would also be great).  Simmer until the greens are tender, then thin the soup to your desired consistency with additional broth and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve under a shower of Parmesan shavings or a drizzle of olive oil, with crusty rolls on the side.  (The one pictured is a mini whole wheat soda bread, recipe to come after a little more experimentation.)  And what’s that gorgeous salad, you ask?  Radicchio? Endive? Apples? Blue cheese?  Oh, yes.  Hop on over to the lovely blog Salt On the Table for the full recipe.

Roasted Maple Squash Soup

Some days you need something delicious in a hurry. Preferably something warm, if it’s February and you live in Seattle. Preferably soup.  In fact, hopefully you have some of this soup stashed in your freezer.  If you don’t now, you will soon.

This is the kind of soup that can turn you from a recipes-only cook into a confidently-winging-it cook.  It’s kind of foolproof that way.

Roasted Maple Squash Soup: Roast a winter squash.  Any winter squash.  Roast a few, while you’re at it.  Cut each in half, rub the cut sides with oil, bake face down on a rimmed sheet at 400 degrees until soft.  (Scoop out the seeds and save them in your freezer to make vegetable broth.)  Scoop the roasted flesh into a soup pot.  (Put the peel in the freezer with your seeds.  Mmm, homemade veggie broth.  That will be another post.)  Cover your squash with broth, maybe one that you’ve made yourself.  (Come to think of it, you could make a quick broth now with those seeds and peels: cover with water and add 3/4 tsp. salt per quart of water and maybe a chopped onion or some herbs, simmer 30 minutes and strain.)  So: roasted squash, broth, salt and maple syrup to taste.  Simmer, mash or puree the squash, adjust the seasonings.  Maybe that’s it.  Maybe you’re feeling indulgent?  Try a splash of cream or coconut milk.  Make sure you make some extra soup for the freezer.

Vegetarian Split Pea Soup

I like to have a pot of soup around.  It can be simmering on the stove or left over in the fridge or even packed away in the freezer–I just like to know it’s there.  I eat a lot of soup.  It’s a quick lunch, an easy dinner, and you can always double the recipe to feed even more of the people you love.  (But let’s be clear: I almost always double the recipe whether company’s coming or not.  See above.)

I make lentil and bean soups often but, strangely, I don’t think I had ever made split pea soup before this week.  You know why? Because the recipes always call for an “optional” ham hock.  Whatever that is.  And I can never believe that recipes calling for “optional” meat are going to be any good if you leave the meat out.   I automatically skip over any recipe that calls for bacon and then implies that the vegetarian version will be just as good if you simply omit the bacon.  The bacon is the FLAVOR in that recipe, and a good vegetarian recipe builds flavors in a different way, through spices and cooking technique.

But when I made that Smoky Cauliflower Frittata recently and J said it tasted meaty, I had the obviously-delayed epiphany that the flavors that bacon and ham hocks add are smoke and salt.  I was ready to make split pea soup.  I went right to the source for my recipe: Pea Soup Andersen’s Facebook page.  This recipe is vegetarian in the original, but just to be on the safe side–in case those ham hock recipes are on to something–I replaced the cayenne with hot smoked paprika anyway.

This just the kind of recipe I like: simple, flavorful, hearty. I doubled the recipe, of course, but I supposed you don’t HAVE to.  (A double recipe made a truly huge pot of soup.  The original recipe says it makes 8 bowls, which is a regular-big pot of soup.) 

To make a regular-big (not truly huge) pot of Vegetarian Split Pea Soup, dice a large onion, a large carrot and a celery stalk and saute in olive oil until the vegetables soften and the onion is translucent.  Add 1/4 tsp. dried thyme and 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika and stir, then add 2 c. sorted and rinsed green split peas, 8 c. water, a bay leaf and 1 1/2 tsp. salt.  Maintain a peppy boil for 20 mins, then reduce heat and simmer until the split peas are very soft, probably about an hour in all, stirring occasionally.  Season with salt and pepper.  I originally planned to puree the soup, but once I cooked the peas down to mush I loved that texture too.   It tastes great both ways, but I think the pureed version looks a little more elegant.

If you want to get fancy, you could top the soup with another sprinkle of smoked paprika or some homemade croutons.  Or serve it with a nice easy bread or homemade rye crackers.  Or just keep it in the fridge to reheat (thinned with a little water) for lunch this week.

Soup Swap Magic

Tonight, I magically turned six quarts of my Lentil Rosemary soup into six OTHER quarts of soup by attending a Soup Swap in my neighborhood.

As a bonus gift with my soup, I included the bread recipe I posted here, which makes just about any soup into a hearty meal.

My 6 quarts of lentil soup became one quart each of French Onion soup, Cream of Wild Mushroom soup, meaty chili, Mushroom and Barley soup, Beer, Cheese and Bacon soup, and Lively Up Yourself Lentil soup.  And I made a bunch of new friends at the same time.