Wednesday, March 3, 2010


How do I make something that really tastes good?
My Green Bean Soup, the small pot for the upcoming Soup Night, is for my vegetarian guests. Anyone else can have some, of course, but these days I make it especially for them. There has always been a second pot of soup just in case someone doesn’t care for the main event, but my guest list has included several vegetarians recently so the second pot has turned into a vegetarian choice. And by the way, my non-vegetarian friends seem to gravitate toward that pot quite frequently! The grocery store I shop at does not carry Vegetable Stock in a can or a box. Go figure. I will often use the stocks off the shelf in the grocery – they are quite tasty and most of them are low sodium and low fat. (I try to make my soups as healthy as possible.) It’s a lot work to make your own so save yourself some time and use what you can buy when you need it. Even the generic brands are good. Just be sure to taste whatever you use so you don’t end up putting in too much salt. You may not even need any more salt depending on the brand you use.

Vegetable stock is a lot easier to make than chicken or beef stock. Obviously, you don’t need any meat. Whenever I do choose to make my own chicken or beef stock, I make sure to brown the meat very well before I add the water and other ingredients. It doesn’t have to be cooked through, it only has to have lots of brown on it. So you can brown it on medium-high to high heat. The brown color will add a LOT of flavor. You can certainly do the whole thing without taking the time for browning, but you are missing out on extra flavor that way.

Since I have to make my own vegetable stock this time, I used the opportunity clean out the vegetable bin after grocery shopping today. And keep in mind, I didn’t buy any of this today, it was all left over from last time I shopped. Here’s what I found.

A partial bag of carrots, a small zucchini I didn’t use, some celery that had slightly frozen (I hate when that happens), a large leek, some celery tops I used for a garnish and didn’t throw out, and two heads of romaine lettuce. You may remember I told you about how I used some romaine in a vegetable soup I made a couple of weeks ago and how good it was. I have some more lettuce that is not going to get used before it goes bad, so it’s going in the pot too. Everything you throw into the pot will be thrown away, so you can use pretty much anything in here. I mean, you could even use potato peelings if you had them (and of course if they were clean). I had some dried, sliced, roasted garlic in my pantry but fresh garlic will work just as well.

Here’s what I used: Keep in mind – you can really use anything you have in the fridge.

Into a soup pot with about 2 quarts of water, enough to cover everything with about an inch of water over the top:

2-3 carrots, chopped into large chunks
3 – 4 stalks of celery cut into large chunks
1 small zucchini
1 large leek chopped up and then rinsed very well (leeks can be very dirty inside)
or 1 medium yellow onion, cut into quarters, peel and all (the peel gives a lovely rosy color)
1 or 2 Romaine Lettuce heads (the whole heads, or just the trimmings (bottoms, stalks from leaves)
1 large dried porcini mushroom (throw in any kind of dried or fresh, for some extra flavor)
1½ - 2 Tbs. salt
Pepper to taste
Two cloves of garlic, smashed with the back of a knife, or the equivalent of any form of garlic you have
A dash of nutmeg (Approx 1/8 tsp)
½ of a small bay leaf (I don’t like too much of this unless it’s chicken or beef stock)
Bring it to a boil, turn it down and let it simmer for about an hour. All the veggie parts you put in there should be very soft. Notice what a nice color the stock has taken on from all the goodies you added to the pot.

Taste it. You can add salt/pepper now, or leave it as is and add salt/pepper later when you use the stock to make your dish.

Drain the stock through a large sieve. I would just throw all the veggies away now. You’ve cooked all the flavor out of everything so the veggies themselves are really not worth much at this point.

It’s now ready to use to make any kind of soup or sauce you like. If you’re making vegetable soup, just throw in some fresh veggies and let them cook to your taste. This will provide the veggies you want in the soup and add a little extra flavor to the stock at the cook.

Freeze leftover stock in small portions and you can use it make sauces or just thaw, heat and sip on it on a cold winter night.

It’ll never turn out the same twice unless you write down what you’ve used and the quantities you used. I find I like it just as much no matter what I put in the pot. However, there are a few of things I personally prefer NOT to add to any stock. I think a good stock should be fairly benign to allow you to add whatever “different” flavors you want to the dish/recipe you’re making with the stock.

Green Peppers – I find them a little bitter in the stock when simmered for a long time.
Ginger – unless you want the whole batch for something that “screams” for ginger, I would leave it out.
Green Beans – the flavor is too distinct in the stock and will make anything you use it in taste like green beans.
Whole fresh peas – same as green beans – they add too much pea flavor to the stock, unless you want that.
Corn – corn is OK, but it adds a lot of sweetness to the stock. So it’s good in chowders, or corn soup.
Potatoes – adds too much starch to the pot and a little too much potato flavor, unless you’re making potato soup or a chowder that asks for potatoes.

Just think a little about the flavor of the veggies you are adding, and about how they might taste in the finished product. This has a lot to do with knowing how to cook without a recipe, being an intuitive cook. If you think about what different foods taste like, then try to imagine how certain things would taste together. How would peas taste with a bay leaf added? Don’t know what a bay leaf tastes like? Then experiment because you will never know what it tastes like unless you try one. Here’s one good way to try a bay leaf. Make some chicken stock without one. When it’s nearly done, taste it. Then add a bay leaf, and ½ hour later. You will taste a depth of flavor that you did not have before.

I know it all sounds like too much to absorb, but this is the way you learn to know how flavors work together. Knowing what individual ingredients taste like is an important key to cooking intuitively, and it doesn’t happen overnight.

I’ve been cooking since I’m 11 years old and didn’t’ start using herbs and spices until maybe 5 – 7 years ago. I have no shame telling you that while I clean the house wash dishes, process vegetables from the vegetable garden, and even sit here writing a Food Blog, the Food Channel is on. Even if I’m not listening closely. It’s almost like “brainwashing”. But I’ve learned more from that TV show than from anywhere else! I never used fresh ground pepper from a pepper mill before! I never used rosemary before!!! It has become one of my favorite herbs! (I’ll write a Blog on herbs soon). And I will tell you that I have become a much better cook by watching/listening to the Food Channel.

I know I had a lot to say today. But don’t let it overwhelm you. One step at a time. Don’t ever hesitate to ask me a question or ask me for a recipe for something you’d like to make. Nothing could give me more satisfaction that sharing what I know with you.

(FYI -All the pictures you see are taken by me, of food I've prepared myself. I'm taking pictures of everything I make these days!)


  1. Maggie,

    Thanks for sharing this (great idea). So far I have not had an occassion to need vegetable stock but I see it all the time where I shop (Giant Eagle). They carry it both in the regular soup isle and they also have an organic section and it's there too. I would not have known how to make stock, but now I do! Very cool! I enjoy your blog and look forward to reading it. Please keep me on your notification list. It so easy to click the link and your right there. I am abscent minded these days and may not remember to check every Wed and Sun.
    Thanks again!

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