Monday, January 12, 2015

Great Beginnings
What’s cooking? Vegetable Stock and Mushroom Barley Soup

Happy New Year, everyone! In the spirit of great beginnings, here are a few of my favorites:

“If you want to find Cherry Tree Lane all you have to do is ask the Policeman at the crossroads.” (Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers)
“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.” (A River Runs through It, Norman McLean)
“The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship.” (Stiff, Mary Roach)

Here’s another of my favorite beginnings: broth.

Just so you know, the Kitchen Goddess does not consider herself a trendsetter. On the other hand, she loves gossip, and sees it as her responsibility to pass along whatever food world news and trends come to her attention. It turns out that one of the latest trends is... broth.

In the cooking world, great beginnings often have something to do with stock or broth. Whatever the cuisine, there’s a broth in there somewhere. Think about the simplest dishes: egg drop soup (Chinese), stracciatella (Italian), and avgolemono (Greek) – all basically the same dish tweaked with flavor variations and/or some type of added grain. So whatever you’re cooking, unless you’re throwing a piece of meat on the fire, the chances are good that you’ll make use of a broth.

Since late fall, I’ve seen broth-based articles about ramen shops, how-to pieces on making your own broths, and a story about a meat company in Northern California that sells cups of house-made “bone broth” at its butcher shops. Not to be outdone by the West Coast, a New York restaurateur, Marco Canora, has opened a walk-up window called Brodo, attached to his larger restaurant, Hearth, where customers can walk up and buy (in three sizes, from $4.50-$8.50), one of three different broths; various flavorings can be added in at just 75 cents apiece. And you thought Starbucks was expensive.

What’s the difference between broth and stock? After extensive research, I can safely say: not much, and who cares. According to the Culinary Institute, stock is for soups and broth is for drinking. But they’ve got an entire book on soups, with no mention at all of stocks – only broths. So go figure.

Vegetable Stock, a.k.a. Vegetable Broth
Both start with cold water, bones, meat, mirepoix (sautéed onion, carrot, celery), and a small bundle of herbs. Bring them slowly to a simmer, frequently skimming off any scum, and continue simmering for up to 2 hours, depending on the type of stock/broth you’re making. Strain out the solids, and skim off any fat. Et voilà – stock. Add some seasoning and you have broth. For extra flavor, you can roast your ingredients before adding them to the water.

So for at least a couple of months, the Kitchen Goddess has been carefully saving veggie scraps – those bulky, dark green ends of leeks, the thick inedible stems from collards or kale, and the stems and fronds from fennel bulbs – with the goal of bravely venturing into the world of stocks. Throw them into zip-lock bags and stash them in your freezer. It’s easy, and once you have 2-3 pounds of scraps, you have the basis for what turns out to be a really great stock. And among the stocks, veggie stock is by far the easiest and fastest to make.

Friends, I would make this stuff again just for the smell wafting through the house from the vegetables roasting. Oh, my. I also am swayed by the extra richness and flavor I get from roasting the veggies, but you can get perfectly good stock without roasting, so I’ve given you the recipe below to allow both options. I can even imagine certain uses for the stock that would be better from unroasted veggies.

And then you can use the stock to try a wonderful Mushroom Barley Soup. Of course, you can also use a good store-bought stock to make the soup – it’s a great weapon against the cold and rainy weather we’ve been having. But in this new year, I say you should try something new. Branch out. Be brave. Make stock – you will not regret it.

Vegetable Broth

Adapted from the CIA Book of Soups.

Makes about 2 quarts.

2 tablespoons olive or corn oil, separated
3½-4 pounds vegetables, to include:
  1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 carrots, sliced in 1-inch lengths
2 stalks celery, sliced in 1-inch lengths
1 parsnip, sliced in ½-inch lengths
1 leek, well rinsed, trimmed and sliced in 1-inch lengths (white, light green, and dark green parts)
Assorted other non-starchy vegetables or vegetable scraps (such as broccoli, fennel, or turnips),
     Kitchen Goddess note:
chopped into pieces 1-2 inches long – enough to reach 4 pounds total.
      Avoid beets and beet greens, as they’ll turn the whole thing red. 
2 teaspoons minced shallots
2 large garlic cloves, minced
3 quarts cool water
½ cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon kosher salt, or to taste
4-5 whole black peppercorns
3-4 whole juniper berries
1 large bay leaf
large sprig fresh thyme, or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
2-3 sprigs fresh parsley

If you’ll be roasting your vegetables:
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Place the sliced vegetables into a large bowl and toss well with 1 tablespoon of the oil and a sprinkling of kosher salt. Spread the vegetables out onto a large sheet pan and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, until they start to brown. (Don’t overcook them.)

These are the same veggies as below, after roasting. Notice that the collard/kale stems got quite dark in only a half hour.

2. In the meantime, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots are translucent, 3-4 minutes.

3. Once the vegetables have begun to brown, remove them from the oven and add them to the soup pot, along with the water and the rest of the ingredients. Deglaze the roasting pan: pour about a cup of the water into the pan and stir it around to release any of the cooked bits of vegetable and juices (the “fond”) that have remained there. Add that flavored water to the soup pot. Go to Step 3 below.

If you are not roasting your vegetables:
1. Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots are translucent, 3-4 minutes.

These are the same vegetables as above, before roasting.

2. Add the vegetables to the soup pot, along with the water and the rest of the ingredients.

3. Bring the mixture slowly to a simmer, and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the broth has a good flavor, about an hour.

4. Strain the broth through a sieve. Allow the broth to come to room temperature before storing in the fridge or the freezer. Be sure to label and date batches of broth in the freezer. Some cooks recommend freezing the broth in ice cube trays, then transferring the cubes of broth to plastic freezer bags for easy measurement.

* * *

And now you’re ready for the star of today’s show. I have specified crimini mushrooms here, because they’re firmer in texture and contribute an earthier flavor than white button mushrooms. Also I like the color. But you should feel free to use either. If you prepare this soup a day in advance, you’ll find that the flavor deepens and the soup itself gets thicker. Correct the thickness by adding a little broth or water as you reheat.

Kitchen Goddess note: The Kitchen Goddess does not always remember to heat her bowls before serving a nice warm dish like this soup. But you can do better. Especially in cold weather, when your dishes are likely to feel a bit frosty, let the bowls sit with a little hot water in them for a few minutes before serving.

Mushroom Barley Soup

Adapted from the CIA Book of Soups.

Serves 6-8.

1 ounce dried wild mushrooms
¼ cup dry sherry
1 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, in ¼-inch dice (about 1¼ cups)
1 carrot, in ¼-inch dice (about ⅓ cup)
1 celery stalk, in ¼-inch dice (about ½ cup)
1 parsnip, in ¼-inch dice (about ⅓ cup)
3 cups sliced crimini mushrooms (about 10 ounces), or white button mushrooms if you prefer
2 quarts well-seasoned vegetable broth or chicken broth
¾ cup pearl barley
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

About 30 minutes in advance, put the dried wild mushrooms in a small bowl and add the sherry and the boiling water. Set aside for 30 minutes.

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. (I use my Le Creuset 5.5-quart Dutch oven.) Add the diced onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it turns golden, about 13 minutes.

Stir in the diced carrot, celery, and parsnip, and the sliced creminis, until they are all well combined with the onion. Reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, for 3-4 minutes.

Remove the cover. Add the broth, the barley, and the wild mushrooms with their soaking liquid. Raise the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the barley is tender, about 30 minutes.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the parsley and serve. If you are making the soup to serve the next day, save the parsley and add it when you’re getting ready to serve.


  1. Finally! I have THE perfect answer to the burning question concerning the differences between broth and stock.

    Eileen in Atlanta

    1. You know, Eileen, I felt sure that of all my readers, you'd be the one most concerned about it. :-)

  2. You're motivating me to start saving my veggie scraps (and roasted chicken carcasses) and make broth. Thanks for the reminder of how easy it is to make something that will taste so much better than what is sold in the store!

    1. I'm so glad, Kay. I felt so noble doing it, and yet it's really easy, especially for veggies, to just toss them into the freezer. The stock/broth -- I still don't know what to call it! -- was amazingly flavorful and tasty.

  3. question for you - i have a nicely seasoned clam/mussel broth in the freezer, leftover from steaming 2 of the 7 (shell) fishes on Christmas eve. trying to decide how to use it.

    1. Mmmm... that sounds delicious, Hen. I posted a wonderful NJ Fish Chowder on Sept 4, 2012, and a Salmon Chowder on Aug 14, 2014. The Salmon Chowder says chicken broth but your seafood broth would work great in either dish. Let me know how it goes. Or try my friend Joy's Beach Chowder, which I posted Jan. 16, 2012 -- super easy and very tasty. It's the only dish I insist we make every time we go to the beach to write. Use your broth instead of the bottled clam juice -- I'll bet it would be fab.

    2. thanks, we'll see what turns up!