Save Money, Add Flavor

DSC_1617When we’re craving something warm and have a lot of veggies on hand, Travis and I go for soup. Homemade soups make for quick and filling lunches/dinners and welcome almost any random assortment of vegetables, beans, lentils, or grains. The most satisfying soups have a strong stock base. I learned a lot of what I know about cooking basics from THE Rachael Ray, who always says that using a quality stock gives soups, stews, chilis, and sauces a slow-cooked flavor in a lot less time.

Today’s post isn’t focused on soup, but rather that essential stock base, located in my Basic Formuals. Purchasing stock in those cardboard cartons is expensive, and often unnecessarily ridden with added sodium. I’ve found a way to make veggie stock that is affordable, healthy, flavorful, and makes the most of vegetable waste.

If you tuned in for my post on fruit scrap candles, you know that I like to use every square inch of my fruits and veggies. My veggie stock utilizes the parts of your vegetables that you likely normally throw away. If you don’t plan on using your veggie scraps for composting, consider making them into a stock that you can later use in a variety of cooking applications.

What veggie scraps make for a yummy stock? While this list certainly isn’t exhaustive, I have used all of the following:

  • Carrot tops, ends, and peels
  • Potato (all varieties, especially sweet) and yam ends and peels
  • Bell pepper tops
  • Tomato tops
  • Celery ends and leaves
  • Broccoli stems*
  • Kale ribs*
  • Leek tops (the green part)
  • Root veggie (beets, turnips, radishes, etc.) tops and tails
  • Onion ends and peels
  • Zucchini and cucumber ends
  • Large mushroom stems
  • Garlic ends and peels

*Incorporating too many green veggies may leave your stock tasting a little bitter; use sparingly!

Many of these seemingly inedible vegetable parts, like the veggies themselves, are often dirty when first purchased or harvested. It’s imperative that you get in the habit of thoroughly washing your vegetables in entirety before you peel, chop, or otherwise break them down. Then, when it comes time for your scraps to become stock, you aren’t simmering dirt in the pot. 🙂

I accumulate veggie scraps for stock in a 4-quart Pyrex bowl in the freezer, pictured below. I’ve never had an issue with freezer burn, partly, I’m sure, because I go through veggie scraps so quickly. You can see that this batch has started thawing and has only a light layer of frost on parts that are still frozen.

DSC_1616It isn’t necessary that you thaw the veggies before making your stock. I usually let mine defrost on the counter top for just a little bit (maybe 20 minutes) so that they loosen up for dumping into the crock pot. If any of your veggies have frozen to their freezer receptacle, fill it with hot water and they should come right up. I place the veggies in my crock pot, fill it with water, put the lid on, and set it to low overnight or while I’m at work. I don’t add any salt, pepper, spices, or herbs so that the stock is a blank slate, ready for any number of dishes.

Don’t have a crock pot? Simmer low and slow for several hours on your stove top, or on medium high heat for just an hour or two, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pot.

After the veggie scraps have cooked through and the water has taken on a rich caramel color, drain your stock through a fine colander. If necessary, you can run it through paper towel to catch any small bits that remain. Discard your veggie scraps, once and for all. Store in the fridge for up to a week before using in cooking. Enjoy!

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New Fresh Formula: Totally Vegan Chili

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A few days ago, a friend posted an inquiry on Facebook seeking crock pot recipes. I instantly thought of my totally vegan chili recipe, which I always simmer for hours in my crock pot. I thought about what I typically put in the chili and concluded that it’s the tomatoes and spices that make it chili; the beans and vegetables could really be anything. Thus, a new fresh formula—now housed under Square Meals—was born.

This formula is inspired by the spice blend in my mother’s meat chili, a dish I absolutely loved growing up. She now makes her chili vegan, too, often getting creative with her vegetables. She used sweet potatoes in her last batch, which I happened to be in Michigan to taste. Boy was it yummy!

Making this formula work for you will depend on how spicy or sweet (or both) you like your chili, so you’ll see some flexibility in how you prepare it. Consider beans and/or lentils that are on sale, that work well together, and of course, that you enjoy. Call on vegetables that are in season and whenever possible, organic.

A well-stocked spice cabinet should ensure that you’re ready to make this chili at any time. By “any time,” I mean just before you go to bed or leave for work, as it cooks slowly over many hours. It is quite often my go-to dinner when I’m craving something warm and filling and I’m low on veggies, since beans are really the star here.

A note about canned tomatoes: I recently read that canned tomatoes are among one of the most dangerous foods that one can purchase. The high acid level in the tomatoes causes them to eat away at the can’s interior, exposing them to dangerous BPA. As always, starting with fresh is a little more work, but better for you.

Canned beans, on the other hand, I’m okay with, so long as the can contains beans ONLY…no added sodium, spices, or fats.

Finally, rather than cheese or sour cream, I sometimes top this chili with crumbled homemade vegan cornbread, broken tortilla chips, cilantro, green onions, or a squeeze of lime juice… or, I just eat it plain – it’s that good. It also makes for a delicious addition to a burrito or other Latin or southwestern dish. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: CHILI

Serves 6

  • 6 cups cooked beans and/or lentils –>  I’m using 2 cups each of black, kidney, and pinto beans.
  • 1-1 ¼ lbs tomatoes  –>  I’m using 6 roma tomatoes.
  • Approximately 4-4 ½ cups vegetables  –>  I’m using one green bell pepper, one yellow onion, and ½ cup frozen corn.
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsp dried minced onions
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp dried cilantro
  • Pink Himalayan sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste  –>  I’m using ½ tsp salt and no ground pepper.
  • Sweetener to taste (optional)  –>  I’m using 2 tbsp agave syrup. I like a little sweetness to balance out the spices and acidity of the tomatoes.
  • Cayenne pepper to taste (optional) –>  Not for me – I’m a wimp.  🙂

Set your crock pot to low. Coarsely chunk your tomatoes and place in a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth and pour into crock pot. It will look orange/pinkish and frothy right now, but will cook down and deepen in color with time and spices.

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Dice and add all veggies. Mince and add garlic.

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Add all spices, seasonings, and sweeteners, if using.

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Drain and rinse beans/lentils (if necessary) and add to the crock pot.

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Fill any remaining space in the crock pot with water to your thickness preference*. I fill my crock pot almost to the top, knowing that it will reduce a bit.

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I keep the crock pot lid slightly ajar to allow for slow evaporation and ultimately, a thicker chili, but keep the crock pot completely covered for a soupier dish. Simmer for 8-10 hours, depending on the power of your crock pot.

*ALTERNATIVE IDEA: Add only enough additional water to cook your veggies through and create a super thick warm bean dip rather than a chili. A new party favorite with tortilla chips!