Don’t Throw Out Those Veggie Scraps! (or, Why to Make Your Own Stock)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

STOP!  Don’t toss those peels, carrot tops, and other veggie scraps into the garbage disposal or compost pile just yet. What you have here, along with some water, herbs, and a few other ingredients, is the makings of a homemade vegetable stock. And that, my friends, is the beginning of great soup.

It could not be easier, as you’ll see in the following introductory video clip. (The longer version showing all the steps is here.) But first, here are a few good reasons why you should make your own veggie stock:

It basically costs you pennies. You are using mostly veggie scraps you would have otherwise discarded, along with water and a few other ingredients you probably have lying around. Or, they are very inexpensive to buy and you’ll use them in other things.

It’s a great way to extricate every last nutrient from your veggies. Remember, you would have otherwise discarded what you thought was veggie detritus. Instead, you are flavoring water for a stock. A very efficient way to use up all parts of your veggies, indeed.

It reduces your waste, hence the carbon footprint of your meal. Stocks (or broths) come in cans or boxes, and other soup starters like bouillon come in a variety of other packages like envelopes and jars. We can avoid all of that by making our own. Even if we are able to recycle the packaging, reducing consumption is the starting place for sustainability.

Sources: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference and Nutrition Facts panels from items.

It’s generally much better for you. Let’s get quantitative. (Note table to the right.) It’s best for you to consume

It’s ridiculously quick and easy. Bring water with various veggie scraps up to boil, simmer for 30 minutes to an hour (no longer), strain, then use, refrigerate, or freeze. Check out the brief intro video below.

For more details on making stock, beginning to end, click here.

And guess what? If you are prepping vegetables for another dish you can always store your scraps in a plastic bag in the freezer for a day when you do feel like making stock. I always have a bag in there for just this purpose. This makes the preparation of homemade veggie stock even that much quicker, bringing you one step closer to a steaming bowl of homemade soup one cold autumn day.

Supplemental video notes

Just a reminder to make sure your veggies have been washed.  I know you know that, but don’t forget you need to wash the entire garlic cloves and onions if you plan to use the peels. You don’t want dirt in your stock.  And if you do use the peels and skins, I’d also try to use organic vegetables. (This is something you should always try to do, anyway – a topic for another day.)

Add some onions (or scallions) along with some chunks of whole carrots and celery. (Cut 2 or so carrots and celery into 2 inch chunks or so, and quarter 1 onion or use 4-5 whole scallions.)  Here’s a tip: when I’m cutting off the tops of the carrots (whether the stubby ends or the green tops) or the ends of the onion that I won’t use in cooking, I throw them all in that plastic freezer bag. Then you don’t even need to use whole veggies because you have scraps ready to go. You can also add whole cloves of garlic, but peel them first to increase the permeability of the flavors into the water. Or, you can just smash them in their skins and drop the whole thing in there.

Finally, the note about tomatoes. Tomatoes are very high in water and have lots of seeds. They basically just disintegrate into the stock and even though you can strain the seeds out later they tend to impart a distinct flavor that I don’t always want. I like to create a stock that I can use as a flexible base and then add specific ingredients and flavors when making the soup itself.  Also, part of the appeal for me is to use the parts of the veggies I wouldn’t otherwise eat; I use all parts of the tomato. All that said, there are lots of recipes for vegetable stock out there and I’ll bet people have different opinions on this. I can tell you my vegetable stock recipe is a tasty base for any soup, but try making up a batch of your own and see what works for you!

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Dr. P.K. Newby is a nutrition scientist, speaker, and author with expertise in all things food, farm to fork, whether preventing obesity and other chronic diseases through diet or teaching planet-conscious eating. As a health expert and food personality, she brings together her passions for food, cooking, science, and sustainability to educate and inspire, helping people eat their way towards better health, one delectable bite at a time. Healthy Hedonism (TM) is her philosophy: Because healthy food shouldn’t suck.

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