All vegetable broths are not created equal. But most of them list carrots as their second ingredient (after water), and are sky-high in sodium.
Nothing against carrots, but do you really want everything that calls for vegetable broth to taste of carrot? Years ago, when I lived in Arizona, I bought a green box of dry vegetable bouillon at the nearby New Frontiers natural food market that I used whenever a recipe called for vegetable broth. It was a greenish-brown powder that, when mixed with water, resulted in a dark brown, wonderfully rich, earthy broth without a hint of carrot that I could taste. A few years ago I attended a cooking class at the nearby PCC natural food market hosted by a chef from Seattle’s Earth & Ocean restaurant, who made a delicious butternut squash soup with a particular vegetable broth that did not contain carrot – he specifically told the class about it, because he didn’t want us going home and using any old vegetable broth and having the strong carrot flavor overpowering the squash in the soup recipe. It was nice to know that PCC happened to carry that particular vegetable broth, but it also got me to thinking about just how simple it is to make your own vegetable broth.
You need a large kettle or stock pot and a fine mesh strainer (both are available for purchase below, just flip through the “Kitchen Must Haves” carousel), water, herbs, and a bunch of vegetables – whole or scraps, it doesn’t really matter as long as they fit in the pot – and time (an hour or two, tops). Dump your vegetables and herbs into the pot, add water, bring to a boil, then simmer for an hour or two until the flavors have blended. Pour it through your mesh strainer and voila! Vegetable broth with no mystery ingredients – and not a bit of carrot if you don’t want it.
How much water you need depends on how much broth you want to make – you can always freeze leftovers in individual containers or ice cube trays for future use, such as gravies or sauces, or a flavorful alternative to water when cooking whole grains such as couscous or rice. The volume of vegetables depends on how richly flavored you want the broth to be, and the selection depends on what flavor you’re looking for. As for salt and pepper, I prefer not to use them when making broth, simply because the recipe that I’m going to use the broth in generally calls for salt and pepper, anyway. I prefer needing to add a little more at that time, rather than wishing I hadn’t added it in the first place. But, that’s entirely up to you.
Need a dark, rich vegetable broth for French onion soup (traditionally made with beef broth)? Try lots of onions, mushrooms, and dark leafy greens such as kale or spinach in your broth. Making minestrone? Since it’s full of vegetables, simply use the scraps from the vegetables you are preparing for the soup itself, plus a roughly chopped tomato or two, plenty of crushed garlic, and herbs such as basil, oregano, and rosemary. You get the idea – make your broth complement your recipe, not compete with it.
Now go give it a try!