Vegetarian “Chicken” Soup
If the vegetarians around your Shabbat and holiday table seem to be taking the joy out of your chicken soup, don’t lose hope! This vegetarian version of “chicken” soup is rich with enough flavor to partner with your best matzah balls. The secret is making your own vegetable stock, which is so easy that there’s almost no excuse not to do it, and it’s also a great way to use parts of vegetables that would usually be thrown out. The trick to this is vegetable detritus: save all the stems and old leaves from your kale, onion skins, carrot and potato peels, parsley and dill stems, celery tops, tough green parts from leeks, woody broccoli stalks…you get the idea. Take all those rejected trimmings, wash them, throw them into a gallon-sized freezer bag and follow the directions below. Always delicious, the stock will taste and look slightly different each time depending in the vegetables used. For example, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower add distinctive flavors, and purple onion will darken the stock. Before being turned into the ready-for-table soup below, this vegetable stock can form the base to any soup or used whenever stock is needed. If I’m not making soup right away, I refrigerate it for up to 3 days or freeze it in jars so it’s always at the ready. I like the extra touch of cutting the vegetables in matchsticks when I’m going to serve the soup with matzah balls at a holiday table. This makes for more elegant, special presentation. However, you can also cut them into bite-sized pieces, and the soup will still be a hit.
- 1 full 1-gallon bag of frozen trimmings from assorted vegetables (see above)
- 12 cups water
- 1 onion cut into chunks (optional)
- 4-6 bay leaves
- ½ teaspoon whole peppercorns
- 8-10 whole stalks of dill
- 4-6 cloves garlic (optional)
- 1 medium or large leek
- 2-3 medium carrots
- 2 stalks celery
- 2 teaspoons salt or to taste
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- Empty the bag of frozen vegetable stems, peels and trimmings into a big stock pot. Add 12 cups water, more if necessary to cover the vegetables, complete with an extra inch or 2 of water at the top. Add the extra onion if using, bay leaves, peppercorns and dill. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, cover and simmer for about an hour.
- In the meantime, peel the carrots, trim and wash the leek and celery, saving what you cut away to start your new freezer bag of vegetable detritus. Cut the carrots, leek and celery into matchsticks about 2 inches long or bite-sized pieces. Set cut vegetables aside.
- Use tongs or a large fork to gently lift out as many of the pieces of vegetables as you can and put them in a fine colander or large strainer set in a much larger bowl or another large pot. Use the back of a large spoon to squeeze out liquid, then pour that liquid back into the pot and discard the cooked vegetables. According to your preference, you can either pour all of the stock through the colander or fine mesh strainer to get out all but the little bits of vegetables or, to create a totally clear liquid, line the colander or strainer with doubled cheesecloth cut large enough to overhang down the outside. Pour the stock on top of the cheesecloth until the bowl is nearly full, then carefully lift the cheesecloth out of the liquid and discard the captured vegetables and spices. If there is more liquid to strain and not enough room, repeat the process using another bowl or pot.
- Put all the strained, clear liquid into the cooking pot if not already in one. Add the matchstick vegetables, salt and pepper, cover and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes until the vegetables are cooked, but still firm. Now your soup is ready for those matzah balls! Serve with one or two balls in each bowl, topped with some sprigs of fresh dill.