Vegetable broth (Recipe: couscous for a summer night)
In the long-ago days of my youth, when I became a vegetarian for a few minutes during high school, I tried to make a vegetable broth as satisfying as the chicken soup that cured my colds and coddled my grandmother's matzoh balls.
Ever since then, when I've attempted a well-flavored, well-balanced vegetable broth, I've come up short. The meatiest portobellos, fresh parsnips and carrots and turnips, herbs from the garden -- all have given their lives valiantly for a decent vegetable broth but, in the end, all disappointed me.
I've tried broth in boxes, too, and broth in cans. Powdered broth and frozen broth. All brands -- all bland. (Or too salty. Go figure.)
There's always a can of some kind of vegetable broth collecting dust on my pantry shelf; after all, some of my best friends and favorite family members are vegetarians, and every now and then I must feed them. Mostly, though, I'd rather reconfigure an entire menu than use any of these canned or boxed broths.
So when the nice folks at Savory Choice offered to send a free sample of their liquid vegetable broth concentrate, I was skeptical. But then I thought, why not try it? After all, one's pantry should always be open to improvement.
I taste-tested Savory Choice head-to-head with the canned Swanson vegetable broth in my pantry. I drank it as a cup o' soup, plain and then with some mushrooms and asparagus sauteed and pureed in it. Though I'm not a true lover of vegetable broth, I liked this one as much as the Swanson, and for several reasons I've decided to add it to my pantry.
Savory Choice broths (chicken, turkey and beef, in addition to veggie -- available online and at Whole Foods markets) come in convenient pouches that make up to one cup each; the 12 pouches per box are the equivalent of three quart-size boxes or seven 14-ounce cans. Space-saving -- that's a plus in my crowded pantry. Economical ($4.50 for a box that makes three quarts of broth) -- that's another plus.
Also in the plus column, these broths are very-low-sodium, with no MSG or other artificial flavor enhancements. And because the broth comes in a liquid concentrate form, you can control the strength of the dilution to use this product in a variety of ways. Though each pouch makes up to one cup, I find that using a scant 3/4 cup of water per pouch gives a better taste for soup. For marinades and sauces, use the concentrate at full strength.
Of course, the only plus that really matters is flavor. Packaged broth will never outshine a good homemade vegetable stock -- which, as I say, I've never been able to achieve -- but this broth has a nice, clean taste.
Couscous for a summer night
A great picnic take-along. Add leftover rotisserie chicken or cold poached shrimp if you wish. If you can't find Israeli couscous, try this with orzo or another small pasta. Serves 6-8.
4 cups liquid (half vegetable broth and half water, or all water)
2 cups Israeli couscous
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup sliced celery
1/2 cup sliced onion
1-1/2 cups tomato, seeded and chopped
1 small green pepper, chopped or sliced
1 cup broccoli florets
1 cup sliced zucchini
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 Tbsp fresh oregano, minced
2 Tbsp fresh thyme, minced
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Hot sauce, to taste
In a stockpot, bring broth and water to a boil. Add couscous, reduce heat to simmer, and cook, covered, for 10-12 minutes until couscous is tender. In a colander, rinse the couscous under cold water, and set aside to drain and cool. Heat the oil in a saute pan over medium heat; add celery and onion, and cook 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, cook 5-10 minutes more, until tomatoes just start to collapse. If too thick, add more broth, 1/4 cup at a time. Combine couscous into the saute pan, toss well, and place in a large bowl. Serve at room temperature.