A Worthy Vegetable Stock, Finally – The New York Times

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In this cream-free, creamy broccoli soup, neat vegetarian cooking tricks — and flavor — are abundant.
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Hello. It’s me, Eric Kim, filling in for Tejal this week. And I’m here to tell you the story of a broccoli soup recipe that took me months to get right.
I was delighted when I found that silken tofu, blended into a savory broccoli soup base, provided not only creaminess without cream — a texture reminiscent of kongbiji jjigae, a Korean ground soybean stew — but also a touch of sweetness to balance the bitter brassica.
It was a revelation, but the tofu was a red herring. The real teachable moment revealed itself only once I tried to swap out the chicken stock for store-bought vegetable stock to keep the recipe vegan. It was as if I had pulled at a stray thread and the entire sweater unraveled into a pile of yarn. With this one change, my magic tofu soup was suddenly missing so much.
Simply subbing in a boxed vegetable stock for a meat-based one doesn’t always work: Most vegetable stocks on the market taste like a dirty rag that has been dragged through engine oil, and they can overpower the vegetables in delicate dishes.
Inspired by the food writer Yi Jun Loh’s ingenious coconut water ABC soup, my “aha!” moment came when I skipped the store-bought vegetable stock entirely and built one from scratch with a box of coconut water. Coconut water, it turns out, lends an inexplicably complex flavor that is reminiscent of bone broth. From there, the aromatics can be simple: onion for base-note savoriness, carrot and sweet potato for roundness, and a tomato for that incomparable umami.
By creating a more nuanced vegetable stock as the first step of this soup recipe, I was able to arrive at a base that much better supported the verdant broccoli flavor I was after. Finally, my soup didn’t have a lick of chicken.
The flavor that coconut water lends is what Jun calls “umami-sweet.” What we’re chasing here isn’t meatiness, but savoriness.
There are other easy ways to make a vegetable stock full of that deep, savory flavor. All you need is liquid (like water or coconut water), a source of umami and aromatics. There are many sources of plant-derived savoriness, like kombu (or dasima in Korean) and miso (doenjang would be fabulous, too). And aromatics — like the ginger and daikon in Kay Chun’s vegetable shabu shabu, or the crushed coriander seeds and lemon in Melissa Clark’s carrot and cauliflower soup — add intrigue and help that umami-sweetness shine.
This journey toward a better vegetable stock required a paradigm shift. My vegetarian cooking blossomed only once I stopped trying to make my vegetables taste like meat and started asking myself instead: How do I make them taste like vegetables?
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The Times is publishing live updates on the Russian invasion of Ukraine and you can find a basic guide to understanding the conflict, if you need some background.
The United Nations estimates that at least one million people have fled Ukraine for safety, and the war is only escalating. Yesterday, Russian forces captured the city of Kherson. About 15,000 people are taking shelter in Kyiv’s subway system.
There are resources, too. Tim Carman reports for the Washington Post on how José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen and other organizations and volunteers on the ground are working to get hot meals and supplies to people who need it. And the Los Angeles Times provides this look at organizations working to help refugees and those sheltering in war zones. — Tejal Rao
Email us at theveggie@nytimes.com. Newsletters will be archived here. Reach out to my colleagues at cookingcare@nytimes.com if you have questions about your account.
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