A good soup stock can enliven the flavor of more than just soup. It adds richness to stews, sauces, grain and bean dishes, salad dressings, poached fish, and braised tempeh and tofu. Using readily available vegetables, you can create wonderful stocks that will add pizzazz to almost anything you cook.

A basic stock usually consists of about 50 percent allium vegetables (onions, leeks, shallots, garlic) and 25 percent each of celery and carrots, plus herbs, spices, and water. Many chefs prepare their stocks from vegetables they have on hand, or whatever is in season, and may also add dried or fresh mushrooms or dried beans. Vegetables that have a strong, dominating flavor, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and peppers, should be avoided. They can add a bitterness to stock and overwhelm the taste of other dishes.

The standard method for making stock is to place the vegetables in a large pot, add three times as much water as vegetables, and bring to a boil. Add a little salt, if desired – don’t add too much or it will interfere with your preparation of recipes using the stock. Simmer uncovered for 1/2 to 2-1/2 hours. (The vegetables will become bitter if cooked longer.) Discard the vegetables and strain the stock – the vegetables will not be palatable after the lengthy boiling.

To add body to a basic stock, innkeeper and cookbook author Crescent Dragonwagon recommends adding a small amount of miso paste or nutritional yeast, or both, after straining the vegetables from the broth.

The stock is now ready. You can consume it plain as simple broth, or you can use it in any recipe in place of water. Stock can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week or in the freezer for several months. To make frozen stock easier to use in small amounts, freeze in an ice cube tray. When frozen, place the stock cubes in a plastic bag, then use as needed.

We have included favorite stock recipes from three chefs. While all three of them have their preferred recipes and individual stock styles, they agree that there are no set rules – only certain recommended techniques. and all soups. Somerville strongly recommends using fresh herbs instead of dried in stocks because “they create fuller flavor and more complexity.” A popular technique at Greens is to boil finished stock until it reduces in volume, then add a little mirin, port, or sherry. The concentrated stock creates a rich, full-bodied flavor that allows the chef to cut down on fat in a recipe.

TOMATO-MUSHROOM STOCK

Makes About 7 Cups

7 quarts cold water 1 yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced 1 leek, white part only, sliced and washed 8 garlic cloves, in their skin, crushed with the side of a knife blade

1 teaspoon salt 1 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms 2 medium-sized carrots, sliced 1 large unpeeled potato, sliced 1/4 pound white mushrooms, sliced 2 celery ribs, sliced 1 28-ounce can tomatoes with juice or 2 pounds fresh tomatoes coarsely chopped 6 parsley sprigs, coarsely chopped 6 fresh thyme sprigs 3 fresh sage leaves 2 fresh marjoram or oregano sprigs 1/2 teaspoon peppercorns

Pour 1/2 cup water into a stockpot and add the onion, leek, garlic, and salt. Stir, then cover the pot and cook the vegetables gently over medium heat for 15 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and cover with the remaining water.

Bring the stock to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for approximately 1 hour. Pour the stock through a strainer, pressing as much liquid as you can from the vegetables before discarding them.

Use stock immediately or cool and refrigerate or freeze. The stock will keep for 2 days in the refrigerator and for several months in the freezer.

LOUISE HOFFMAN, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, has a background in French cuisine and runs “Dinner is Served,” a vegetarian catering company in Brooklyn, New York. “The stockpot isn’t the garbage pot.” Hoffman says. “A stock is not a place for rotten vegetables, because the flavors become concentrated. A stock should be a flavorful liquid that won’t offend whatever it is added to. The flavor should be rich but not overwhelming, so that no one taste can be identified.”

Hoffman advises cutting the vegetables into small pieces for maximum extraction of flavor. In the following brown stock recipe the vegetables are roasted, and green lentils are used for their dark color. A brown stock can be used for a rich and dark sauce for grain entrees, casseroles, baked bean dishes, pasta, or stuffed vegetables. This recipe for Brown Stock, adapted from the Natural Gourmet Cookery School in New York City, is one Hoffman teaches in her cooking classes.

BROWN STOCK

Makes About 2 Quarts

5 cups unpeeled onions, sliced in half-moons 3/4 cup shallots, cut in half 2 cloves garlic 2 large carrots, sliced 4 stalks celery, sliced 1 medium parsnip, sliced 1/2 cup parsley root, diced (if available) 2 medium unpeeled potatoes, sliced 1/4 cup canola oil 1/4 cup mirin (sweet rice wine) 1 gallon water 1/4 cup navy beans, soaked overnight and drained 1/4 cup green lentils 1/4 cup walnuts 1-1/2 cups tomatoes, diced 2 tablespoons tamari 4 parsley sprigs 3 bay leaves 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 2 cloves (spice) 10 peppercorns

Preheat the oven to 450 [degrees] F. Place the onions, shallots, garlic, carrots, celery, parsnip, parsley root, and potatoes on a large baking sheet and brush with oil Do not overcrowd the vegetables. Roast the vegetables, uncovered, for about 1 hour or until brown, turning them occasionally.

Place roasted vegetables in stockpot with mirin and 1 cup water. Cook over medium heat until the liquid evaporates. Add the remaining ingredients. Cook uncovered for 1-1/2 hours and strain.

JOHN CALEO is a gourmet natural foods chef specializing in spa-style cuisine. He is currently writing a cookbook on making the transition to a lighter, more healthful diet, and serves on the board of directors for the Natural Gourmet Cookery School. He believes that stocks are especially important for vegetarian dishes, and he uses them in many types of cooking, including poaching. Like Somerville, Caleo concentrates his stocks through the reduction technique of boiling the finished stock until it reduces in volume.

Caleo’s favorite ingredient is dried mushrooms: “They are more potent and have more strength than fresh mushrooms and they give an incredible flavor.” Beans also add depth to a stock, Caleo adds. Green lentils can be used to replace the meat in a traditional dark stock, and chicken stock. The sea vegetable kombu in his vegetable broth recipe adds calcium and trace minerals to the broth.

VEGETABLE BROTH

Makes About 2 Quarts

1-1/2 gallons water 4 large onions, cut into quarters 6 stalks celery, sliced 6 carrots, sliced 4 leeks, both white and green parts, sliced and washed 4 turnips, peeled and cut into wedges 4 zucchini, sliced 4 cloves garlic, peeled 4 sprigs parsley 4 bay leaves 2 sprigs fresh thyme 15 peppercorns 1/2 cup chickpeas, soaked overnight and drianed 8 dry shiitake mushrooms 2 3-inch pieces kombu sea vegetable

Place all the ingredients into a large stockpot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer, uncovered, for approximately 1 hour. Strain the stock and discard the solids.