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6 ways to ‘beef up’ your vegetarian vegetable stock

These simple tricks add the depth and flavor that plant-based vegetable stock can sometimes be missing.

There is a reason why so many soup recipes start with simmering a hunk of animal parts in water – meat and bones add a rich flavor and depth to stock. But for anyone preferring not to take part in eating animals, vegetarian stock does not need to be a bland affair.

I recently made French onion soup using my trusty bowl of frozen vegetable scraps to start the base. Now just about everyone will swear that you have to use beef stock for French onion soup, but don't believe them. I sauteed my scraps in olive oil for a few minutes, added water and a bay leaf, let it simmer for an hour, and then tasted to see what direction to go in. It wanted red miso paste, I added some, and it was transformed into a rich and deep stock that was perfect for its job.

The scraps I used were a mix of leek greens, carrot ends and peels, butternut peels, sweet potato skins with some flesh, a half-dead yellow bell pepper, tarragon stems, a wilted piece of celery, a fresh clove of garlic and the top half-an-inch of a jalapeno pepper – as pictured below.

vegetable scraps© Melissa Breyer

It was super flavorful on its own, but didn't have that je ne sais quoi. And while I decided to boost it with miso paste, that's not the only way – here are other ingredients that you can add to give vegetable stock a little more oomph.

1. Add mushrooms

Mushrooms are masters of umami, that elusive fifth flavor characterized by savoriness and often obtained from meaty things. You can add fresh mushrooms, but I like adding dried ones – like porcini or shitake – because they have so much flavor and umami. However, dried mushrooms can be gritty, so here's what to do: Put a small handful in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Let soak for 20 minutes, remove and squeeze excess water out of the mushrooms over the bowl. Chop the mushrooms and add to the stock; filter the water through a coffee filter or cheesecloth and add it to the stock as well.

2. Add tomatoes

Tomatoes are not as obvious an umami booster, but they do a great job in stock, as long as a tomato flavor will go well with what you plan to use the stock for. They also add some nice color. A little bit goes a long way with tomatoes, but try fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes, or use up leftover tomato paste or sauce.

3. Add miso paste

We always have a jar of miso paste in the fridge and use it all the time; it is one of my favorite plant-based cooking secret weapons. Since miso soup is obviously a perfect thing, adding miso to one's vegetable stock is a logical next step. I used about a tablespoon for my stock and it made the whole thing sing.

4. Add soy sauce

If you don't have miso paste, soy sauce works similar magic, just with a bit less depth and body. It is salty, so add it at the end, and a little at a time until it tastes right.

5. Add cheese rind

If you eat dairy, save your rinds from aged cheeses like Parmesan or pecorino. Rinse them and add them to your stock; they add umami and richness.

6. Add nutritional yeast

If you don't eat dairy, instead of adding cheese rinds you can add a little nutritional yeast once the stock is done – it adds the same kind of subtle cheesy richness.

Also note that these additions don't only apply to stock made from scraps – try them with any vegetable stock recipe you use, or even as a way to elevate store-bought stock. The one thing to keep in mind is how you plan to use the stock once it's made, and add ingredients that will be compatible with those flavors.

These simple tricks add the depth and flavor that plant-based vegetable stock can sometimes be missing.