How to Make a Really Great Vegetable Broth
Vegetarian and vegan meals should prioritize vegetables rather than being placed in a meat-shaped box. I’ll take “damn it, I didn’t know I liked eggplant” instead of “it’s surprisingly delicious, but I’d rather eat real bacon” any day of the week.
Part of the Skillet The Grown-Up Kitchen series , designed to answer your most basic cooking questions and fill in any gaps that may be missing from your home chef education.
But there is one exception: stock. A good broth certainly adds flavor to the dish, but more importantly, it adds juiciness and richness. Full-bodied broth is easy to make because animal bones and wastes are high in fat and all kinds of collagen , but since vegan collagen doesn’t exist, vegetable broth is often little more than a mildly savory vegetable tea. The great vegans are actively trying to replicate the specific properties of animal fat and connective tissue, which is actually easier than it sounds; Once you accept what vegetables cannot do, any perceived flaws turn into a sweet opportunity.
Vegetable broth generally lacks three essential properties: rich flavor, fat, and collagen. Adding them back is what separates a great broth from a weak tea. The technique is standard – brown vegetable slices and any tasty morsels in a large saucepan, add seasoning and water, simmer for an hour (or simmer for three), and strain – but a truly wonderful vegan broth depends on thoughtful choice of ingredients. By the way, there is very little meat broth. Here’s what I use to make sure my vegetable stocks are up to par.
Really good broth has an indescribable flavor profile: it is pungent, yet distinctly sweet and full-bodied, which is why one word “umami” doesn’t quite describe it. It tastes, well, meaty . Fortunately, there are a variety of vegan ingredients you can use to bring that flavor closer. Some – or all – of these will work:
- Pasternak: If I had to give one professional advice to improve stocks, that’s all. The parsnips impart a sweetness and subtle flavor that nothing can touch, and they are starchy enough to add a little consistency without breaking down completely. Carrots and my favorite celery root have a similar effect, but parsnips are the Holy Grail.
- All the onions you have: You don’t have too many onions in a vegetable broth . I use a whole head of garlic, cut in half, and a couple of onions, plus any shallots, leeks, and / or chives I have. Don’t dare peel them – the skins do an excellent job.
- Dried mushrooms: I say toss them in handfuls. I buy mine in Asian markets where there are many and very affordable.
- Apples: Half an apple with a core gives the vegan broth a subtle sweetness and texture.
- Chickpea aquafaba: Substitute some of the water with aquafaba -canned or homemade for extra flavor and body. Aquafaba from other light beans works too, but chickpeas taste best and I would avoid anything darker than pinto beans.
- Edible yeast broth: I learned this trick from the famous Pho Genius Andrea Nguyen, who soaks nooch in hot water and uses the resulting umami juice to season her vegan chicken pho . I don’t really like nooch, but it’s just great.
- MSG: A pinch or two will do.
To maximize the flavor of your chosen ingredients – which is best not to include kale unless you’re making a fart soup – you should brown at least half of them deeply before adding the seasoning and water. The mixture of roasted and raw vegetables produces the most complex meat flavor.
Speaking of browning, any broth needs fat – solid fat – to be the best, and since plants are devoid of subcutaneous fat and bone marrow, you must compensate for that. Always use something solid at room temperature to get closer to the butteriness of animal fat. A large chunk of butter is great for a vegetarian broth, and a vegan broth benefits greatly from an abundant use of refined coconut oil. You can use a natural product if you don’t mind fine coconut broth, but refined coconut oil has so many uses – sugar cookies! Smellless fried donuts! Popcorn on the stove! – I think you should keep it with you. Add a little acid (I use a full cap of apple cider vinegar) to dissolve the fat in the broth as it cooks.
Once you’ve assembled an elite squad of flavorful and fatty ingredients, it’s time to tackle the most elusive property of vegan raw materials: collagen wealth. Vegan collagen is fake, so incorporating this special and critical texture again comes down to careful ingredient selection. Whether you prefer thickening base ingredients or powerful thickeners, you have several options.
Personally, I prefer to choose ingredients that thicken the broth as it cooks. Parsnips and aquafaba are especially good, as are kombu (sheets of dried seaweed) and dried white beans (especially chickpeas). The kombu makes a magical seaweed jelly, but it can make a very oceanic broth if you consume too much of it; I use about a third of the sheet per gallon of product. For dried beans, a small handful will add firmness, especially if you’re using a pressure cooker. Boiling the broth under pressure creates an environment in which the dried beans have to share their precious starch with the neighbors, but if you’re making broth on the stove, you’ll need to soak them overnight first. (I know, I know, who didn’t forget to soak the beans? Of course not me, and that’s half the reason I have an Instant Pot.)
If you want an even thicker, more gel-like broth, a thickener can help, but don’t work with it. Add thickeners only to adjust the viscosity of the finished broth: if it is for example for vegan demiglace, completely reduce the amount of broth before using powdered additives. Agar agar, carrageenan, and pectin are great gelling agents that don’t cloud the finished product, so they’re ideal for vegan consommés or other clear soups. Arrowroot powder, xanthan gum, and good old-fashioned cornstarch thickeners will also make your broth cloudy and slightly messy – perfect for gravy or tonkotsu-style vegan ramen broth.
Whether you are a lifelong vegetarian wanting the best broth or a curious omnivore, I hope you find something here that will change the meatless game for you. Do you have any secret ingredients I missed, or what’s your favorite way to use vegetable broth? Tell us about it below.