Soup

Be a Genius, Do This One Thing, Have Better Soups All Winter

October 12, 2016

There's one surprisingly simple thing you can do tonight (or tomorrow, or Saturday afternoon) that, all winter long, will give you the soup-making power of homemade vegetable broth in—snap!—the time it takes to make hot water.

It’s not magic, it’s bouillon! One jar will last you a good six months–basically through the end of broth season. And it will prove especially helpful if you identify with any of these traits:

  1. You stumble when faced with the vagaries of the boxes and cans of stock at the grocery store—weighing costs, weighing ingredients, weighing how the hell will this make my soup actually taste?
  2. You kick yourself for not making your own stock from that bag of loose stems and onion skins you keep around—because that would have been really handy for dinner right now (the skins, as they stand, are not).
  3. You do not have room for quarts of stock in your freezer, what with all the compost and sliced bread and ominous-looking bananas. You tried to make room and a banana fell on your toe.

Instead, into a relatively tiny corner of your freezer or fridge, you could tuck a jar of vegetable bouillon that you yourself made—by simply blending a heap of raw vegetables into a paste, with enough salt to preserve them. There are also some herbs, alliums, and sun-dried tomatoes, whose natural umami (glutamate) is a delicious stand-in for the MSG you might find in commercial bouillon cubes.

The technique comes from Pam Corbin via The River Cottage Preserves Handbook, and she reasonably calls it "Souper Mix." When a spoonful of the paste hits a pot of hot water, the flavors will bloom into a full-fledged, well-seasoned broth—a little like those bouillon cubes, except made only with ingredients your great-grandmother (and you) would recognize.

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The recipe below is a trusty formula, but, as Corbin writes, “You can use just about any vegetables and herbs you like—the important thing is that they are fresh and taste as vegetable-y as possible.

This means that every batch will likely come out a little different—and also that if you can’t find celery root, that’s okay! Add more celery, or leek, or whatever you do have on hand. As Corbin points out, even if you do have a brand of store-bought bouillon you like, use it enough and, “You might find an underlying uniformity creeping into your cooking.” Not possible with this DIY hodgepodge.

Armed with your bouillon, you'll be free to use it for simmering any bean, any grain or grain-adjacent. It will become the base for your soups, stews, (stoups?), braises, sauces, and risottos. (I gave my colleague Sarah Jampel a jar back in June and I'm pretty sure she's done all of the above.)

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“In the freezer I assume it will keep a very long time but do you know how long it can be frozen before it loses it's taste? As others have asked what is the ratio of this paste to water or broth when making a soup? One tablespoon per quart? Maureen from Toronto ”
— Maureen W.
Comment

Or, if you’re feeling under the weather, it will make a soothing broth all on its own. And all of it will be ready for dinner, even if dinner is right now.

*How does salt act as a preservative? By osmosis! According to Robert L. Wolke, if any bacteria are present, water within their cell membranes is drawn toward the saltier exterior, to maintain an equal concentration of salt on both sides. "The unfortunate consequences for the bacterium are that it loses water, shrivels up, and dies."

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Thank you to SKK on the Food52 Hotline for this one, and Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks for spreading the word back in 2010.

Photos by James Ransom

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57 Comments

FrugalCat December 5, 2017
I made this with celery (use the leaves too!) onion, carrot, cilantro, parsley, garlic, and a shallot. I love having a jar of this, it's like money in the bank to fall back upon. That being said, I will still continue to use my jars of Better Than Boullion soup bases.
 
cookinalong February 10, 2017
Sorry, but for me, this was a dud. Not enough bang for the buck, in every sense of the word. Lots of effort, mediocre to funky taste. I threw out most of it because it spoiled the flavor of anything it was used in and it's even nasty on its own. I followed the recipe to a T, so it wasn't user error. Just not for me. I'll go back to making my own the old fashioned way. Live and learn.
 
raralala November 23, 2017
I strongly dislike both fennel and cilantro, so I will leave them out. I wonder whether it was one of those two that ruined it for you? Some of us experience cilantro as tasting like soap, and fennel is so much like licorice to me that it's inedible. That's the beauty of this- just use what you have and like.
 
Barbara February 5, 2017
I made this last summer when ingredients were fresh and available. Have been using it ever since, in soup, beans, whatever you might put bouillon in. I love it.
 
tamater S. February 5, 2017
I've been making versions of this for years. I keep the bulk of it in the freezer, and a shaker I keep handy, unfrozen for daily use, like sprinkling on rice or what-have-you. To me, it seems that the most important thing for preserving is that you dried it really, really well. The slightest touch of moisture, and it'll get moldy. I do use a bit of salt, but not tons. It's so hard to give an amount, because the quantity I make always varies with the quantity of herbs ready in the garden. I'd like to hear others opinions on this.
 
Eileen February 3, 2017
If only there were a formula for how much salt to use to safely preserve the vegetable mixture without using a recipe!<br /><br />Is it possible to know? How much salt for, say, 2 cups of ground vegetables?
 
MadeleineC January 15, 2017
Cooks Illustrated did a version they call Vegetable Broth Base which I have made and liked. They tell you to keep it in the freezer. Because of the high salt content it doesn't freeze hard at normal freezer temperatures. You can scrape it up by the tablespoon straight from the freezer and put the container back in, where it keeps for months. They suggest a ratio of one tablespoon to one cup water for a vegetable broth equivalent.
 
Peggy G. October 23, 2016
I made this a few days ago and have 2 containers in the freezer and one in the fridge. Last night I made a huge batch of my famous fish stew. I added a couple tablespoons of this fantastic veggie booster and it put my already tried and true stew to new heights. Thank you Kristen Miglore for this genius tip. I'll be using it happily in soups, stews and spaghetti sauce.
 
Julie D. October 23, 2016
How much parsley did you use? 3.5 ounces by weight like the recipe says?
 
Peggy G. October 24, 2016
Yes. I used a scale and weighed out the parsley. I used flat leaf Italian parsley which is more flavor packed.
 
marlene M. October 20, 2016
Maybe someone could test this recipe as there seems to be a lot of interest and questions about it.<br />
 
tamater S. October 20, 2016
I think the point of a recipe like this is try it for yourself, and report on the results. If you're not a DIYer, then read the other's comments and tips. Maybe I'm wrong about this, but it seems that's what this site is about; that we're largely a bunch of food explorer/adventurers.
 
Julie D. October 20, 2016
The proportion of herbs seems off. 3.5 ounces, meaning about a third (by weight) of the amount of celery root? parsley is very light! Anybody have some insight?
 
Robert October 18, 2016
How do you know if it goes bad? Is this like after a month make a new batch?
 
Erich S. October 17, 2016
This is the first article I've felt compelled to comment on, and all I can say is: GENIUS! I am going to experiment with roasting some or all of the veggies as well.
 
marlene M. October 17, 2016
To the lastmike: What kind of salt would you use? Maybe FOOD52 should do an article on salt or maybe they have.
 
thelastmike October 17, 2016
I would just use the fine sea salt called for in the recipe as the recipe is where I always start with something like this anyway. <br />You just need to be careful if substituting with salt to think about the different size grains when your basis is volume. A cup of fine grained sea salt is a lot more salty than a cup of course sea salt. Because the fine grains fit together better and so fill the volume more efficiently. You essentially end up with more salt.<br />All that said my initial reaction to this recipe was that seems like an awful lot of salt.
 
thelastmike October 17, 2016
I'm not pro cook and this is just a guess on my part so take it as you will. However I would not use iodized table salt here as I suspect this is actually fermenting. At least I certainly don't see why it wouldn't. The salt will help set up the proper conditions for that but iodine will inhibit it.
 
Michelle D. October 20, 2016
Going directly into the fridge, I think it is unlikely that any fermentation will happen here.
 
Gina A. October 17, 2016
Would love to know more about proportions when adding to soup or anything.
 
Ann October 17, 2016
I also would like to know how long this keeps in the fridge. I understand that salt is the preservative here. Thanks.
 
tamater S. October 17, 2016
Do you know: would you get bad results from using regular iodized salt? If I don't get an answer here, I'll try it myself and report back if I remember to... ;-)
 
Laura October 16, 2016
For those of you wondering about the proportion of paste to water, just click the recipe button. It's right there with all the other instructions.<br /><br />BTW, it's 1 teaspoon paste to 1 cup water.
 
Maureen W. October 16, 2016
Hi Kristen. This sounds like a great idear. Please let me know if the sun dried tomatoes are packed in oil? How long will this keep in the fridge without it going bad or mouldy? In the freezer I assume it will keep a very long time but do you know how long it can be frozen before it loses it's taste? As others have asked what is the ratio of this paste to water or broth when making a soup? One tablespoon per quart? Maureen from Toronto
 
marlene M. October 16, 2016
I am concerned about the salt. What salt to use. You could probably not usesalt in making soup.
 
Sara W. October 16, 2016
Do you sell this?
 
[email protected] October 16, 2016
How much can you reduce the salt and still successfully preserve this? Is there something else that will help preserve the mix other than salt?
 
wendy W. October 16, 2016
Perhaps you could reduce or leave out the salt and freeze these in ice cube trays, then transfer cubes to freezer bags to save space. I realize it defeats purpose of having it handy in the fridge, but good alternative.
 
tamater S. October 17, 2016
Or you could dehydrate it well enough to put in a jar... I've been doing that for years. But I'm going to try Kristen's recipe, because I've been told not to be afraid of salt, by the doc!