I cannot tell you how many times I go into a restaurant and ask for soup. I always ask for soup. I want soup. I need soup. Alas, most often soups in restaurants are created from stock that is not vegetarian. Chefs often chuckle at the idea that soup can be rewarding and satisfying without a meat base. Well,well well, I'm here to tell you. Yes, yes you can have amazing soup, satisfy your most ardent skeptics and make use of a whole lotta things you would normally toss away. Here is the deal.
*Gather goodies: onion and onion peels, potatoes (this nighshade plant is fine - never use peppers or eggplants), whole smashed garlic, celery, carrots, carrot peels, if you have or wish, you can add, leeks (more about them later) and/or fennel bulb. Then your herbs and spices: parsley, bay, thyme, whole black peppercorn are all mainstays but you could use basil and chervil too.
*Heat olive oil...no need for fancy. Just a decent brand.
*Throw in your veggies and get them searing away.
*When everything has a nice golden touch to it and the veggies are reduced down a bit, start adding water. Add more than you think because it can reduce forever.
*Then the vegetarian magic ingredients: Red Star nutritional yeast flakes and tamari soy sauce. Red Star yeast makes the stock have a chicken y (not real word) flavor. In my world I use it for everything from breading tofu to sprinkling on popcorn (then it tastes cheesy!). Tamari is strong soy sauce that is aged in oaken barrels and is a by product of miso production. (it's also usually gluten free, bonus!) Use it sparingly. You need to add some salt too in order for the stock to be balanced and when reduced, stock salts get concentrated.
*Stick a spoon and see if the balance initially seems pleasant to you. Even though it might not taste great, YET, you can tell what its future flavor profile will morph into.
*Boil, boil, toil and trouble. Let it go but keep an eye on the water level. Add more water if needed.
*Once you feel proud and happy with the depth and flavor. I often let mine simmer for an hour but you can reduce the time if you're heavy on ingredients and are in a hurry.
*Then strain that bad boy! What you are left with is a colander of really great compost and a pot full of deliciousness. You can store your stock in the fridge for at least a week or in the freezer...well, almost eternity.
A Word on Leeks
Who doesn't love the lovely leek? Well, one might love the leek but hate to contend with the copious amount of dirt that is hiding in every stinking nook and cranny. When cooking, only the white part of the leek is used but the greens are great for stock and for enveloping a bouquet garni (yet another thing to explain...oh, well, later). Cut the "butt" of the leek off. Cut the green off. See the dirt? See the futility of getting rid of the dirt? Don't worry, I've got a trick! Cut lengthwise across the white, dice into 1/2 discs. Throw into a bowl of water and separate those discs (you can also just dice them more before adding to water but I kind of like the separating). Swish and smash them around, drain and do it all over again. You will see the dirt residue in the bowl and will know if they are clean enough when your water rinse is totally clear.