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Skip the boxed broth. Make soup base at home

By Jenna Cho

Publication: theday.com

Published November 14. 2013 4:00AM

Here's the thing. I love soup and largely live off it during the winter months. But I haven't bought chicken stock in close to four years.

I know. I sound like a bad infomercial. But it's because so few kitchen tricks have revolutionized my cooking life the way this one has. Since coming across it, I've been liberated of the queasiness I felt every time I had to use canned or boxed broth. There was just something about packaged meat juice that didn't sit well with me.

The trick is homemade vegetable bouillon, from 101cookbooks.com. Instant flavor, instant depth.

There's nothing really magical about this recipe, if you break it down. Just a bunch of chopped-up vegetables that you keep in loose paste form in the freezer with the help of a seemingly alarming amount of salt. (Your dishes will never taste oversalted, though. Trust me.)

But somewhere along the way, the vegetables go from just being vegetables to becoming a unit, a boost to your everyday soups and even rice and casserole dishes. I never miss the meat. I never wish I'd used chicken stock instead. I still can't get over how ingenious this recipe is, nor can I pinpoint exactly why it works so well as a soup base. It just does, and I wish everyone else would get on board already.

Heidi Swanson's recipe measures out ingredients by weight. I have no food scale and can't be bothered being that precise with vegetables, so I found another recipe that converted the ounces to general quantity of each vegetable. This recipe has a lot of give, and I've successfully substituted one vegetable for another (i.e. using more celery instead of trying to hunt down celery root) and eliminated others (cilantro - hate!), so don't worry about obtaining each ingredient in just the right amount. Also, the color of your paste will probably look a little different each time you make it, depending on things like whether your carrots are extra large or your leeks a little on the petite size. It's OK - it's all delicious.

This is my streamlined version of Swanson's original recipe. Swanson's also made so much bouillon that my food processor couldn't handle it. (Plus, I could never go through that much bouillon by myself.) So I offer you the halved version, which is more manageable but still makes quite a bit. Won't you share and revolutionize someone else's kitchen?

Vegetable bouillon

Adapted from 101cookbooks.com

2 leeks (rinse well)

1 fennel bulb

2 large carrots

2-3 celery ribs

5 sun-dried tomato halves

1 medium onion

1-2 garlic cloves

1/2 cup kosher salt

1/2 large bunch parsley

Chop all the vegetables coarsely. Toss half the vegetables into a food processor and pulse until vegetables are finely chopped. Add the rest of the vegetables (except for the parsley) and pulse. Add the salt. Continue to process, then add the parsley. Pulse until the mixture becomes a loose paste.

You can go ahead and freeze this paste, which is your soup base. The salt will keep the paste from freezing solid, so you can scoop out the soup base directly from the freezer and add it to whatever you're making.

Use 1 teaspoon of soup base per 1 cup of water to use in lieu of chicken or vegetable stock.

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