Monday, July 9, 2012

Meatless Monday + Book Review: Homemade Vegetable Stock and 'An Everlasting Meal'

Before I start the post I intend to write, I must make a confession right away: I feel slightly embarrassed about some of my Meatless Monday posts.

There I'll be, typing away and listing the ingredients you'll need for a recipe. I'll throw in a few photos, some commentary here and there. I'll go back to read (and re-read) what I've written, only to realize that I've called for chicken stock in a Meatless Monday recipe. That's when I'll add, in parenthesis, that I used chicken stock because I had it on hand but that vegetable stock would work fine. It just seems like a cop-out. I mean, shouldn't I go all out and make it completely meatless?  What makes it even more of a cop-out is that vegetable stock is SUPER easy to make. You just need the bits, pieces, and ends of vegetables, some herbs, a little salt and pepper, water, and you're set. So, I figured, it's about time I made a batch of the stuff already.

Feeling better now. On to the post!


A few weeks ago, we harvested all of our peas.  

My older son was right there with me picking all the fat little pods from our garden (in his cowboy clothes, no less. Awesome.). He proceeded to take them inside, count every single one, and arrange them in a nice little pattern all around the kitchen table.

 The baby, who is at the into-everything phase right now, disrupted the arrangement a little.

Once he had counted every single pod (we got up to about 150, if I remember correctly -- it was a great counting lesson!), we both started shelling the peas together, just chatting and marveling at how full our bowls were getting.  It was one of those parenting moments when I feel like I actually know what I'm doing. They don't come that often, so I relish them when they do.

Which leads me to the two purposes of this post:
  1. How to make vegetable stock.
  2. A review of Tamar Adler's book, An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace
If I had to sum up Tamar Adler's book in word I would probably pick inspiring. Or lovely. Here's a passage that I just loved -- especially since it related to the aforementioned pea-picking and shelling:
"Children must help shell peas. In a world of things too big, getting peas from pods is a chance for pea-sized people to exercise authority. Always told to put things back where they found them, here, children have it right. Pea shelling goes only in one direction: dig, disperse, and never look back. Shell English peas by digging a fingernail in by their stems and sliding your finger along their seams, seam side down, over a bowl. Keep a second bowl for everything that isn't a pea."

That's exactly what we did -- peas into one bowl, pea pods into a bag.

But why keep the pea pods? For pea pod stock! I had already planned to do this and then I came across the suggestion in An Everlasting Meal, too. It was meant to be.

This pea pod stock captures not only the basics of vegetable stock making, but also the essence of Ms. Adler's book. In the frugal kitchen, very little needs to go to waste. Throughout her book, Ms. Adler shows how peels, skins, and bones can be used to make food better.  Meals can be made better if you approach them as something continuous, with a sort of flow to them. Yesterday's dinner turns into part of tomorrow's lunch; the stems of the parsley you chopped for dinner play a part in the stock simmering on the stove the next day.

A week ago, I made a batch of coleslaw for a barbecue with some friends (mmmm....slaw dogs) and I decided it was time to finally make a batch of vegetable stock (especially since I'd just read the part in the book about pea pod stock).  Into the pot went the stems of the parsley, the end and peels of the carrot, and the unused part of the onions -- all the remnants of the slaw preparation. Then I pulled the pea pods out of the freezer (since I'd saved them for this reason) and dumped them into the pot, too. I threw a few whole peppercorns into the mix, sprinkled it with some coarse salt, and added water (to about a couple inches over the vegetables). I brought it to a boil then let it simmer for about 45 minutes or so.

Let me tell you, I don't know if I've ever been so eager to boil a pot of water. That's what I love about An Everlasting Meal -- she makes the mundane seem graceful and beautiful (the first chapter is entitled, "How to Boil Water", after all).  The book made me even more anxious to get our first egg from our hens. The way she blends cooking and prose is elegant.  But I'll be honest, the book scares me a little. Maybe intmidates is a better word. Not in a bad way, but a sort of out-of-my-comfort-zone kind of way. I don't really know how to cook the way she cooks. I need recipes -- I rarely trust myself to make anything without one. I so want to cook like she does, though, and use all five of my senses to really get a feel for what I'm making in the kitchen.

So I tried it with this stock. Ms. Adler says to taste, taste, taste whenever you're cooking -- even tasting boiled water to see if it's salted enough. I kept tasting the pea pod stock to see if it was ready. The first time I could taste the pea flavor immediately, but it needed to boil down more and a little more flavor. I added some more salt and let it simmer.  Tried it again. Still needed more time. By the third taste, it was just right. It was simple. It was different than the chicken stock I've made time and time again. It had a clean, fresh taste. It tasted like vegetables! So, all the time I've said that chicken stock or vegetable stock is fine, as if they're interchangeable, isn't entirely true. Vegetable stock isn't chicken stock and chicken stock isn't vegetable stock. Each has its own flavors and contributions to whatever you're making.

Once the stock was cooked down to the flavor I wanted, I strained it and poured the stock into glass jars. I always freeze stock in glass jars (I just re-use jars from spaghetti sauce and other things). As long as you leave some space for the liquid to expand during freezing, they'll be fine. I've never had any trouble with glass in the freezer.

I can't recommend An Everlasting Meal enough. I'd say it is a sort of love letter to food and the preparation of it. The book has something for everyone, of every skill level, and it captures so well the way people have cooked for generations before us. Food doesn't have to be complicated or fancy. Food doesn't have to cost a lot or include exotic ingredients to be delicious. You can use the food you buy and grow to its fullest, without much waste.

And you should make some vegetable stock, too. It'll make you feel even better about going meatless -- even if you only go meatless on Mondays.

{Sidenote:  I have to include this link to a clip from Arrested Development. It kept coming to my mind as I read An Everlasting Meal. "Baby, you've got a stew going!"}

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

(This post is linked up to Homestead Barn Hop and Your Green Resource.)

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails