It’s just a guess, but I’m betting that vegetable consumption across the U.S. is at an all-time high each January. But when you eat lots of veggies, you end up with lots of veggie scraps. I always strive to reduce food waste in my kitchen, so instead of throwing those scraps in the garbage, I use them to make delicious homemade vegetable stock.
I first started making stock in culinary school, as my school processed hundreds of pounds of veggies (and scraps) a day. There was always an industrial-sized batch of stock in the works. It was simple to take what I learned in school and adapt it for home use. Now, I bring the wisdom to you.
1. How to Save Scraps.
I happened to have an extra pop-top container laying around, so I put that to use. Of course, a zip-top bag works just as well. Each night, I add scraps to the container, then return the bag or box to the freezer for storage. Keep putting scraps in the same container until it’s full.
2. What to save.
There are SO many scraps that make for great stock, but here are the ones that turn up most frequently in my household:
- Outer layers of onions – While I don’t save onion skins (they retain quite a bit of dirt), I do save the outer layers of onion flesh for stock. You know, those layers that are kind of tough that don’t make for great eating.
- Dark green parts of leeks – Ever notice that 99% of recipes that call for leeks call for “the white and light green parts only”? Ummm hello, leeks are expensive, and throwing away half of each stalk (the dark green part) breaks my heart. Into the stock bin they go!
- Corn cobs – okay, so maybe not the ones that people have gnawed on at a barbecue. Just the ones you’ve cut the kernels off of for soup.
- Mushroom stems – Making a recipe that calls for just the mushroom caps (oh hey, stuffed mushrooms)? The stems have SO much flavor – put them in the stock bin.
- Celery and carrot leaves – These aren’t really part of my regular diet, so they go right into the stock bin.
- Veggie peels – This one is a judgement call. If a carrot or a parsnip has REALLY dirty skin, and looks musty even after a good scrub, I won’t save the peels, as they’ll give the stock a muddy flavor. But if the peels are pretty clean, game on.
- Herb stems – Parsley, in particular, has plenty of goodness in its stems, even though they’re a bit woody for using in a delicate dinner.
3. What Not to Save.
While most everything is fair game, there are a few things that aren’t optimal for stock.
- Moldy or rotten vegetables – While vegetables that are just a little bit past their prime (such as bendy celery) are fine, if anything is REALLY old and looks terrible, it’s best just to introduce it to the garbage can or compost bin.
- Anything with a very strong, specific flavor (or color) – Cabbage, broccoli, artichokes and beets are a few examples.
4. How to Make Lazy Cook’s Stock.
In which we throw everything into a pot, don’t measure anything, and it turns out fine. Who has time for measuring cups? Here are the very loose instructions.
- Grab a big pot.
- The base of a good vegetable stock is carrot, celery and onion, so make sure these three ingredients are well represented, even if you have to add a few whole (chopped) vegetables to your scrap mix.
- Drop in all your precious scraps.
- Add some herbs – A few sprigs of parsley and thyme work well. Also, throw in a couple of bay leaves.
- Whole black peppercorns – Exactly 12. No, just kidding. A small handful is sufficient.
- Garlic cloves – If you want. Don’t even bother chopping them. Just smash ‘em and throw ‘em in.
- Pour cold water over everything until water just barely covers the veggies.
- Simmer uncovered, over medium heat, at least 1 hour, but preferably 2.
- Strain stock through a fine-mesh strainer; discard solids.
- Use stock immediately for soup, poaching fish, risotto, or any vegetarian dish. Or, refrigerate stock up to 3 days or freeze up to 3 months.