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It’s soup season!
Around here, anyway. When the wind howls, the snow flies, and it feels too darn cold to even go out to the mail box, there’s often a pot of soup on our stove. Made well, it’s comfort for the soul; and nourishment for the body.
If you’re like me, you want to keep tasty, healing meals on the table for your family. But, you only have so much time and not a lot of energy. You try to balance healing foods, a teeny grocery budget, and convenience. Sure, homemade is great. It’s usually the best way to go, in terms of health and frugality. But who’s got the time? Does anyone really want one more thing to think about?
This one’s easy, friend. I promise.
Broth, or stock is one of those pantry staples that is a must-have for any kitchen. I often have a box or two on hand for emergencies, but I really prefer to use my homemade version. I know exactly what’s in it and when it was made.
Several years ago, I stumbled upon a great tip in a post by Kelly the Kitchen Kop, that changed the way I make my vegetable broth. So. Easy. Until that time, the only homemade broth on my radar was bone broth. While bone broth is hard to beat nutritionally speaking, vegetable broth has its merits- and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Some recipes are just better with vegetable broth. Besides being the base for soups and sauces, use it to replace your cooking water for rice and other grains. You’ll have added flavor and nutrition to your dish. Vegetable broth makes a yummy drink on a cold day, or when you’re feeling bleh. Add a pinch of salt, some thyme, cracked pepper, and a crushed clove of garlic. It’s pretty yummy, friends.
Here’s what you’ll need
To make your cheap and easy vegetable broth, you’ll need:
- Some sort of freezer-safe container. I use a gallon-size Ziploc bag, designated just for this purpose. Easy. It’s helpful to label it.
- A slow cooker. Vegetable broth can be made on the stove, but I prefer my crock pot. It’s cheap to run, can be ignored while it’s working, and it makes for easy clean up.
- Vegetable scraps
- “Extras”, if you desire.
- Containers for storing your broth, if you don’t plan to use it right away. (Here’s what I use.)
Here’s the Method
1. Get it together
In your freezer-safe container, you’re going to collect veggie scraps- the stuff you often compost or throw away. For instance:
- Vegetable peelings, like zucchini and carrot
- Vegetable ends, think broccoli, celery and onions
- Innards- pith and some seeds, like those of bell peppers or squash
- Skins, such as onion skins
Don’t include rotten or questionable portions that you’ve cut out of your produce. Green potato peels, tomato and pepper stems- avoid those. They’re toxic. I don’t know exactly how bad they are, but they’re not good news.
You’re not limited to scraps! If you have veggies that you’re not going to use before they spoil, toss them in your container. (I’ve saved many a summer tomato this way.) Just cut off the yuck, rinse the vegetable and bag it.
You’ll keep this container in your freezer, where it’s easy to reach. Add to it, as you cook. What makes this method so fantastic, is that there’s little thought or effort required. You don’t need to buy special ingredients. You simply keep the scraps from the veggies you’re already using. Cheap and easy.
Depending on how your family eats, it doesn’t take long to have enough for broth. In the summer time, when it’s too hot for soup, but produce is abundant, I usually have several bags on hand.
2. Making the broth
When my gallon-size freezer bag is mostly full, I’ll pull out my slow cooker to make broth. My slow cooker holds 6 quarts of liquid. I like to err on the side of more vegetable scraps than less, because I like a hearty broth. However, given your equipment and your vegetables, you’ll soon figure out just what works for you.
When you’re ready, dump your veggie scraps into your slow cooker and cover them with water. Add any extras you want to include. Turn your cooker on low, and leave ‘er be for 4-8 hours. Or, for as long as you need. I generally start mine at night, and leave the veggies to cook while I sleep. I’ll often turn it it off in the morning, and let it cool while go on with my day. I’ve also started cooking my broth in the morning to have it ready to use in our dinner.
The next step is to strain the veggies from the broth. There are several ways to do this, but I usually just ladle out what I can into freezer containers. I’ll tilt my slow cooker’s ceramic liner and squish out the last bit of juice. (Things are pretty squishy at this point.) The (squishy) veggie scraps you’re left with can then be composted or tossed.
Each batch generally provides me with 4-5 quarts of broth, given the size of my slow cooker. I really love having so much at the end of each process. This means, I’m not always making broth. Even though it’s a simple method, I don’t want it only my weekly to-do list.
Clean-up is pretty easy. One ladle and your slow cooker’s ceramic liner and lid are all that need washing. Not bad, eh?
3. Those “extras”
If you have an idea of how you’ll use your broth, or if you know you prefer certain flavors, adding herbs and spices to your batch might be the way to go. They are best added near the end of cooking, allowing their flavors to really meld into the liquid, yet not cooking them so long they lose potency. Keep in mind that while you might love basil and thyme in your chicken soup, you may not like it in your chili. I often leave the herbs and spices out of my brew until I’m using it in a meal.
Salt makes a great addition. Commercially prepared broths and stocks tend to be very high in sodium. While you may be trying to avoid those levels, your broth will benefit from a pinch of salt. A high-mineral option is what I prefer. (Himalayan Pink Salt is what I have now.) I have noticed a subtle difference between broth that had salt added while it was cooking, versus broth that only had salt added when being used in a meal. Do what works for you.
Bone broth inherently includes gelatin and other nourishing benefits that vegetable broth does not. So, I’ll usually pour in 1-2 tablespoons of this nutrient-dense, safely made gelatin. (I sneak this stuff into a lot of what I make. Don’t tell.)
Another nutrient booster I use is this liquid mineral supplement. Just by adding 10-20 drops, I’ve increased the nutrition of my broth without altering the taste. (I sneak this into everything, too.)
I hope you’ll give this simple method a shot. You’ll save a few bucks, and make your meals more nutritious without overwhelming your to-do list. It’s easy, yummy, and clean-up is a breeze. We all want to eat well. Yet no one needs the pressure of doing more, or the guilt of not doing enough. You just might find this easy to integrate into your life, and a cool way to make the most of what you have.
Do you make vegetable broth? Tell me, what are some of your favorite kitchen hacks?