Make Your Own Vegetarian Soup Stocks

Have you ever noticed that the phrase “soul-satisfying” often accompanies the word “soup”? A good soup does as much for the spirit as it does for the stomach. Whether it’s an Asian-style broth or a robust puree, I can think of no other food that gives as much comfort.

I’ve often been asked how to give a vegetable-based soup depth of flavor, given the absence of a strong meat-based stock. Though I make soup at least once a week, no matter what the season, I’ve honestly never found this to be much of an issue.

True, almost any soup can benefit from a good stock to round out its flavor, but I place fresh and flavorful ingredients and creative seasoning above stock in contributing to the success of a soup. Many of the soups I prepare work nearly as well using water as they will with a stock. Still, it’s useful to have a few basic stock recipes on hand to refer to.

The right balance of seasoning is also particularly crucial for certain vegetarian soups, where even the use of a good vegetable stock may not be enough to create a complete, full-bodied flavor. The success
of a vegetarian soup depends on using a variety of flavorings, adding dried seasonings early in the cooking process (and, conversely, adding fresh herbs at the end), and tasting often to adjust seasonings.

My favorite sneaky trick is to use spice blends in soups. This makes for an easy and quick way to pack a lot of punch without having to measure minute quantities of a dozen spices. With the proliferation of
fine seasonings in specialty stores, natural foods stores, and some supermarkets, the cook has a variety of blends and brands to choose from. Here are my favorite herb and spice spice blends for soup making:

* Good-quality curry powder or garam masala: Purchase this blend from a spice shop, natural food store, or Indian grocery, if possible. If purchasing from the supermarket, choose the Spice Islands brand. Use your sense of smell—curry powder should be fragrant and pungent.

* Italian herb mix: A blend of several herbs such as oregano, thyme, marjoram and rosemary, this is commonly available at specialty outlets as well as supermarkets.

* Salt-free herb-and-spice seasoning mix: A savory blend of many different herbs and spices eliminates the need for excessive salting and adds a complex flavor to soups. There are several good brands available in supermarkets and natural food stores. My favorite from the supermarket is salt-free Mrs. Dash Table Blend; from the natural food store, salt-free Spike or low-sodium Veg-It seasonings are good choices.

* Lemon-pepper: This mix gives a pleasant, lemony bite to Oriental soups and vegetable purees. Available in several brands in supermarkets and specialty outlets.

STOCK UP ON SOUP SEASONING TIPS

* Add salt toward the end of the cooking to give the other flavors a chance to develop and thus avoid oversalting. Salt a little at a time, stir in thoroughly, and taste frequently.

* Those who need to limit their intake of salt might try adding lemon juice and some extra salt-free herb-and-spice blend for added zest.

* Where appropriate, a small amount of dry wine adds nice depth of flavor. I use wine in some of the soups, but you might like to experiment with it in other recipes.

* Most important, use the amount of seasoning given in any soup recipe as a guide. Use more or less as suits your taste.

* When the craving for soup runs high, but time is short, have a few cans of vegetable stock (preferably reduced sodium) or natural bouillon cubes on hand. Natural foods stores offer other interesting options such as Imagine Garden Vegetable Broth in 32-ounce containers and a vegetable
broth powder by the makers of Veg-It seasoning that comes complete with B-complex nutritional yeast.

Here are two basic stocks. One is an all-purpose stock that can be used in most any vegetarian soup. The other is a broth to flavor Asian soups. Following the stocks are two soups that I love serving as winter segues into spring.

LIGHT VEGETABLE STOCK

Makes about 6 cups
This is a basic stock that may be used in place of water in most any vegetable soup to give added depth of flavor. It’s also a good way to use up vegetables that are limp or less than perfectly fresh.

7 cups water
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large carrot, sliced
2 large celery stalks, sliced
1 medium potato, scrubbed and diced
1 cup coarsely shredded white cabbage
salt to taste
2 teaspoons Italian herb mix

Place all the ingredients in a large soup pot. Bring to a simmer, then simmer gently, covered, over low heat for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the vegetables are quite tender. Strain the stock through 3 layers of
cheesecloth.

ASIAN MUSHROOM BROTH

Makes about 6 cups
This strong broth is a great flavor-booster for Chinese-style vegetable soups but is also a pleasing broth to be eaten on its own. Vary it by adding noodles, diced tofu, sliced scallion, and/or a crisp Asian-type vegetable such as snow peas.

2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 small onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
6 cups water
8 to 10 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 to 2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari, or to taste

Heat the oil in a large heavy saucepan. Add the onion and garlic and sauté over medium heat until the onion is golden. Add the water, mushrooms, and soy sauce or tamari. Bring to a simmer, then simmer
gently, covered, for 15 minutes.

Remove from the heat and let stand another 15 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve. Reserve the mushrooms, trimming them first of their tough stems. Save them for another use or slice them and return them to the broth.

Adapted from Vegetarian Soups for All Seasons, by Nava Atlas. Copyright (c) 1992 by Nava Atlas. Permission to reprint granted by Nava Atlas.
Adapted from Vegetarian Soups for All Seasons, by Nava Atlas.

5 comments

W. C
W. Cabout a year ago

Thanks.

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William C
William Cabout a year ago

Thank you.

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Edvanir L.
Edvanir L6 years ago

I mean: Sounds awesome

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Edvanir L.
Edvanir L6 years ago

Sound awesome!

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Cynthia U.
Cynthia U8 years ago

This souns lik a delicious way to make soups--which I love---and to have a healthy, low or no-sodium meal. Thanks!

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