Making Your Own Vegetable Broth
Cooking healthily doesn't have to be expensive.
I love cooking with vegetable broth, because it adds complexity to soups, stews, and sauces. However, I hated the price of prepared broth, and the stock cubes were not only sometimes hard to find, but also extremely high in sodium. The products you buy in the stores are also not always compatible with food allergies and preferences.
One day, a coworker on an extremely restrictive medical diet told me how she makes her own broth from kitchen scraps, and I felt like such a fool for ever spending money in it in the grocery store. This method allows you to use scraps from things you're already cooking, and also allows you to control which ingredients you're cooking with.
Making your broth - start with kitchen scraps
1. Obtain a large zippered plastic big. Freezer bags are great, but I've used the regular ones with no issues. This is where you will keep your scraps until you're ready to cook them.
2. Whenever you cook, save the skins, peels, and ends of your vegetable and fresh herbs, and put them in the zippered bag. Keep the bag in the freezer so that the scraps don't spoil. You can use everything - stems, skins, papers, pulp, etc. The smaller the scrap, the more flavor you'll get out of it when cooking. Dumping the whole bottom of a cabbage in the bag seems convenient at the time, but the flavor will be better if you dice it up first.
3. Certain items will affect the flavor of your finished product more than others. Onion skins (yes, the papery bits) are great for adding a deep flavor and color to your broth, but too many will make it very bitter. If you use a lot of onions in your cooking, save some of the skins but not all of the skins. Seeds of hot peppers tend to be very spicy, so keep that in mind if you cook with hot peppers frequently. I've heard that potato skins can be overpowering to the broth, making everything taste like potato starch, so I have not experimented with either regular or sweet potatoes.
Cooking your scraps
1. Once your scrap bag is full, it's time to cook. Put your scraps into a big pot filled with water and put the heat on very low.
2. The stock will need to simmer all day. If you don't add anything else to it, it will taste like weak vegetable water. However, I like to add a little salt (still less than what comes in the premade stuff). I also add some oil, a bay leaf or two, pepper, a tablespoon or two of vinegar, and red wine if I have it. I add these things later in the cooking so I can adjust the taste. Adding tomato sauce/juice/puree will brighten the flavor if it's too deep.
3. The longer you cook the stock, the deeper the flavor will be.
4. When the stock is at its desired strength and flavor, remove from heat and let cool. You can do this overnight in the fridge if needed.
5. Strain. I generally use a colander and strain into a mixing bowl, and then if there's still grit, I'll use a reusable coffee filter (the kind that comes in its own plastic basket) and run the liquid through that again.
6. You can store your stock as is in the fridge, or freeze it. It goes well into muffin tins or ice cube trays. You can freeze the cubes and dump them into another zippered plastic bag if desired.
Using your stock
If your stock is a very deep flavor, you can dilute it with water as you cook. If it's weaker, you may need to use several cubes to get the desired result.
I use my stock in soups and stews, but I also use it to add flavor when cooking lentils, rice, or beans. I add it to my mixture for moisture when making meatloaf, and I like to cook cubed potatoes in this to make a savory hash.
This is a great way to add flavor with less sodium than store brands, and it's a way to get the most out of the produce you're already paying for.