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July 1, 2007

Vegetable broth (Recipe: couscous for a summer night) {vegan}

Vegetablebroth

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.

I failed.

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.

You'll find storebought or homemade vegetable broth handy when making mushrooms and tofu, minestrone, vegetable stir-fry, or kedgeree. You can even use it to make matzoh ball soup.

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.

Ingredients

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

Directions

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.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

Comments

Oh, Good!!! Another recipe using Israeli couscous. I really think it's so much better than the regular couscous.

Will look for this product. I agree, vegetable broth is very hard to make from scratch.

i'm all about the stock concentrates, maggi cubes are the most popular here... one day i'll get around to doing the all day slow simmer thing tho... one day :)

never had this infamous israeli couscous.. i think we only get the more common kind here :(

So, tell us more about this pantry. You can't fit all this and more in my pantry! How much storage space do you have? Any suggestions for keeping access to all the goodies, avoiding the "how did I get so many of these?/
I'm sure I have more celery seed" syndrome?
As for veg stock, especially for matzo ball soup chick pea miso is a good stand-in.

I have this same issue as well (lots of funky non msg veggie bouillon cubes in the cupboard)- I'll keep my eye out for this brand. I'm now guilty of just using better-than-bouillon jars and they're probably chock full of msg too!

I just made some Quinoa last night with vegetable broth instead of water and it added a nice flavor. And, I've got a bag of Israeli Couscous in my pantry that I've been wondering what to do with ...

Pauline, to me the Israeli couscous is more like barley than like regular couscous, at least in texture. I like both!

Kalyn, glad to hear I'm not the only one who thinks homemade vegetable broth is tricky. I really feel I've never gotten the hang of it.

Trini, I find that some of the cubes are too salty for my taste, so this liquid concentrate is good because it leaves room for me to salt to whatever level I need. I wonder if Israeli couscous goes by other names?

Susan G, I'm definitely not the poster child for pantry organization -- no matter how hard I try to avoid it, I end up with three jars of peanut butter, or five bottles of vinegar (all the same kind!), and then I run out of some basic things like chili paste with garlic, or confectioner's sugar. I keep many things on open shelves in my basement; I can access the shelves from both sides, so nothing gets buried in the back of a cupboard. Thanks for the tip about chick pea miso, too.

Callipygia, I think I've tried every brand of vegetable broth in my supermarket, trying to find one I like. At heart, I'm a chicken broth girl...

TW, did you use some of that beautiful red quinoa? I think cooking grains with stock really does give a flavor boost.

Thanks for the link to my soup! The couscous sounds great!

I´ve tried every brand of no-msg cubes here, and they all suck profoundly. So I use regular cubes, hope I won´t sprout green horns, and load the thing with lots of vegetables to try and compensate.
I like the packaging in these

One to add to the "tried but failed" category: veggie broth made from potato peelings. It had possibilities, but even this Irish/Polish girl found the resulting mound of potatoes to be eaten daunting.

And at least the packaging is kind of cute!

Mental note to get some of this the next time I'm in the U.S. The only vegetable stock I can get here (all of it, beef, chicken, fish, is granules) is so salty I actually don't know if it has any other flavor to it (than salt)

I just discovered couscous last year - perfect for summer and using up the leftover bits of veg....I love it! Great recipe!

I always have good vegetable broth/stock in my pantry, Lydia - I'm always in need of them when I want to make risotto! :)

Catherine, do you have a good recipe for homemade vegetable broth? I'd love to try making it again.

Lobster, same here. The cubes are soooo salty. I'd rather start with something mild and then salt to taste.

Mary, thanks for the heads-up! No potato peels for me.

Stephanie, it is cute, isn't it?

Katie, couscous made with part broth and part water is a great starting point for many terrific summer recipes. Glad you're having fun with it!

Patricia, do you make your own stock? I feel like such a failure in the vegetable broth department, so I'm glad to find a decent packaged broth.

Hm! Can you compare it to "Better Than Bouillon"? I like BtB; my only complaint is that it's rather salty. Using it definitely means I don't add any additional salt to my dishes until after it's prepared and I can taste it's impact.

The best vegetable broth I ever had started with onion skins and resulted in a rich, browned stock. I watched it being made but have never been able to pull it off myself.

The recipe sounds wonderful. I've been playing with a kind of Italian couscous lately that I bet would work just as well.

I like the packaging and I'm happy to hear it doesn't have any MSG. But I have to admit I've never tried to make homemade veggie stock--I guess I'm too much a meat and fish broth person.

Patrick, I've never used BtB, so I can't compare. But I can tell you that this broth is definitely not salty.

Christine, I enjoyed your post on fregola sarda. Readers, here's the link:
http://myplateoryours.typepad.com/my_plate_or_yours/2007/07/fregola-sarda.html

Lisa, I'm definitely a chicken broth person, but when those pesky vegetarians show up for dinner, I need to have options!

I tried once making my own chicken stock but I though it was too much of a mess, Lydia - I try to buy good ones! :)

I don't know what I did the most: the packaging, the space saving aspect, lack of MSG and added preservatives...I think all! Great produt, thanks for sharing!

I meant to say "what I dig the most" and "product"...obviously I need to stop typing with toffee sticky fingers!

The best veggie broth I've tried at home is one with stock like this, fresh veggies and a bit of Thai 7 spice powder - the spice seems to fill the void a bit!

Patricia, me too.

Tartelette, toffee is soooo much better than vegetable broth.

Kelly-Jane, I love the idea of boosting the flavor with Thai 7-spice. Never crossed my mind! Will try it with this packaged broth.

I'd recommend trying the Better than Bouillon stocks. They're compact -- an 8 oz jar that stores easily in a small space in the fridge (once opened). They'll last a year or so once opened.

I'd just omit any salt until you've tasted the finished product and adjust after.

I stock the Beef, Chicken, Mushroom and Veggie in my fridge. The veggie tastes robustly of onions, carrot and celery. I think it's nicely balanced, too.

Cook's Illustrated rated the BtB Chicken broth it in their May 2005 issue with a "recommended", right behind Swanson's Free Range Organic broth. They gave the same rating to the Veggie broth in their September 2003 issue.

I'll see if I can track down the Savory Choice stuff locally, though. :)

Patrick, thanks so much for this good info. Now you've got me searching for the Better than Bouillon to do my own taste test. I'm not sure anything will make me a huge fan of vegetable broth... but the mushroom sounds intriguing.

Whats up with the broth dude's bedroom eyes?!?

Steamy Kitchen, cute, isn't he? How could you not want this in your pantry?!

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