Until fairly recently, I didn’t believe in vegetable stock. I’d tried a friend’s ultra-pungent homemade broth years ago, and let’s just say the experience didn’t exactly inspire me to pursue it in my own kitchen. Plus, I’m cheap, and I was never sold on the idea of buying a box of what is essentially flavored water for three bucks a pop. So whenever a recipe called for stock, I just used water, and maybe stirred in some extra salt and spices. But two winters ago, I tried some homemade stock at a friend’s house, and everything changed.

This stock, made in a crock pot, was so sweet and delicious that I could’ve drunk an entire hot mug of it then and there. This is exactly how vegetable stock should be. As it turns out, making great-tasting stock is practically effortless, and now I make a few quarts of it every couple of weeks, and always have some stashed in my freezer. As a result, all of my soups taste better!

Are you ready to make your own or what? Here’s just about everything I know about making vegetable stock.

  • First things first: don’t buy vegetables to make stock. If you’re vegan, you probably eat plenty of vegetables, and you can make totally delicious stock exclusively out of scraps. I make stock to cut down on waste. By making stock out of your scraps, you can get the most out of every last vegetable you buy!
  • Wash your vegetables before you cook. I’m sure you already do this, but if you’re planning on using your vegetable trimmings for stock, make washing your vegetables a habit!
  • Collect fruit and vegetable scraps whenever you cook. I keep a large plastic container in my refrigerator at all times, and whenever I finish cooking a meal, I add the useable scraps to the container. When the container is full, I make a batch of stock. If it takes you longer to collect enough scraps, you can keep a container in the freezer instead.
  • Use common sense! Don’t use scraps you wouldn’t put in your mouth. Trim off or discard anything slimy, moldy or rotting. Always look through (and smell) your scraps before making stock with them, and discard anything that seems off. If you peel certain veggies to avoid consuming pesticides, you obviously won’t want to use those peels in your stock, either.
  • Use a crock pot. Crock pots have many great uses, but as a person who consumes a ton of veggies, making stock is reason enough to own one. Boiling is a great way to get bitter stock. The first homemade stock I tried had been cooked at a rolling boil for nearly an hour and was so sour and bitter it was practically undrinkable. Instead of boiling your scraps, you want to cook them on a low heat, slowly extracting all of the flavors out of your vegetables. Crock pots are designed to cook food at a fixed, low temperature for hours, unattended, so they’re perfect vessels for stock.
  • Fill your crock pot with scraps and add enough water to just cover the veggies. For well-rounded flavor, use a variety of vegetables. You can use skins, peels, cores and trimmings from onions (leeks, green onions, shallots), carrots, celery, potatoes, winter squash, root vegetables, bell peppers, parsnips, corn, peas, spinach and kale, apples and pears — really, just about anything you have on hand.
  • Brussels sprouts, asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, fennel, and cabbage impart strong flavors, and beet and onion skins have a tendency to make broth bitter. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them, but in most cases, you’ll want to avoid loading up your stock with them. Alternatively, you can elect to add these kinds of vegetables a couple of hours before your stock has finished cooking, so they have less time to develop. I always make sure my scraps include some sweet elements (like carrot, onion, and winter squash) to balance out bitter veggies.
  • Fresh and dried mushrooms and seaweed are a great way to add umami to your stock.
  • If you care about your stock being crystal clear, leave out potatoes and corn, because starchy vegetables make stock cloudy. Similarly, beets will turn your stock purple. Like I said — common sense!
  • Add seasonings to taste. Think garlic (both cloves and skins), thyme, oregano, basil, cilantro, parsley, peppercorns, bay leaves, and even spice blends sold as “poultry seasoning.” Miso and soy sauce can be stirred in at the end for an extra umami boost.
  • Whether or not you use salt is up to you. Store-bought stock is usually extremely salty, but many people choose to leave out salt entirely when they’re making it at home. It’s up to your personal taste, but I think good, vegetable-rich stock should be flavorful enough on its own to not require much additional salt. I usually add a sprinkle to aid in the cooking process, and then worry about adding extra salt (or not) when I’m cooking with it.
  • Turn on your crock pot and let it do its thing. I set my crock pot to its lowest setting before I go to bed and leave it for at least 10 hours. Generally, the longer  you cook your stock, the sweeter and stronger the taste will become. Taste as you go. The flavor will develop and change over time.
  • Once it’s finished, strain the stock. If sediment freaks you out or you want a pristine, clear broth, ladle the broth into containers rather than straining it.
  • Throw your stewed veggies in the compost! Congratulations, you are officially way more frugal and green than people who just skip right to composting. Poseurs.
  • Once the broth has cooled down a bit, you can refrigerate it in sealed containers, or freeze it in ice cube trays or 1-quart containers. If you’re freezing it, be sure to leave an inch of headspace (because frozen liquid expands!). Stock will keep in the refrigerator for about a week, or in the freezer for about 6 months (or if you think like my grandma, 5-10 years). You can use stock instead of water to add flavor, nutrients, and body to any soup or risotto or sauce.

Once you’re comfortable with the basic process, play around with it! Plan ahead and veggies and herbs that will complement your finished soup or sauce. Planning on making a noodle dish with a clear broth? Leave out the starchy vegetables this round and consider adding a lot of garlic and fresh ginger. For particularly bold flavor, you can add roasted veggies near the end of the process (think roasted bell pepper or caramelized onions).

Do you have special tips and tricks for making stock, or special recipes you like to use stock in? Share them below!