Daylight Savings Time begins today, and Spring is allegedly around the corner, with the vernal equinox next week. Yet with reckless disregard for seasonality, my watch reads 34 degrees and out my window, flurries blow in a steady 20 mph wind with gusts that are supposed to top 40 mph. I don’t bring up weather and seasons to complain. It’s March in New England, and this is just how it is: sunny and nearly 70 degrees one day last week and in the low teens and windy tonight. I never know what I’ll wake up to, since we moved here mid-pandemic. The weather definitely seems more changeable even though we’re only barely over the border from upstate NY. It makes me appreciate sunshine and warmth all the more. Days like today are good for hunkering down, reading about medicinal herbs for my Master’s in Nutrition, and letting the slow cooker do the work on some vegan comfort food.
In the kitchen, dueling crockpots are leisurely melding flavors of vegetable creations. Tony’s crockpot is preparing an Indian dish from his vegetarian slow cooker cookbook. He gravitates towards recipes. I don’t know if that’s the science teacher in him. Across the kitchen my slow cooker is creating an improvised vegetable broth, loosely based on my own stovetop recipe. I thought about following the recipe, but I just didn’t agree with the cookbook’s version. For one thing, I don’t believe tamari (or soy sauce) belongs in a broth recipe. For another, well, I just felt like I liked my old recipe, though I added the parsnip inspired by the cookbook.
Tony has inspired me to dust off my slow cooker. He likes the idea of putting together a “batch” (that’s apparently Pennsylvanian for “bunch”) of ingredients in the morning and walking away; dinner is ready at well, not quite by our usual dinnertime, but close enough. For me, the appeal is not having to babysit the meal. Or in this case, the broth that will later be turned into soup.
I used to get the vegetables prepped and into a pot and go off to do something else close by, while I waited for it to reach barely a rolling boil, but not boiling over, and then turning it down. There wasn’t much more to do, except having to check on it every twenty minutes to see what it needed. Did it want its lid adjusted to allow more steam out or less? Did it require the temperature increased a smidge to continue simmering or decreased a smidge because it was practically at a boil. Did it feel like more liquid?
Broth on the stove is a finicky baby. Broth in the slow cooker is the independent teenager–the responsible sort that you just need to check in on periodically.
Inside my pot are as many organic (or better than USDA Organic) from local farms as possible. Carrots, parsnip, garlic, and onions are local, and found at our nearby coop. The celery, herbs, spices, and dried mushrooms are all what I now think of as Industrial Organic. I am re-reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I somehow forgot what a compromise big organic farms are. Pollan was writing in 2006, and in the 10th anniversary edition in 2016, he felt considerably more hopeful about the landscape of food. Still, products of giant industrialized organic farms, while better than conventionally produced foods, are still the end products of Agribusiness with many of its environmental and health problems. So as my mix of local and distinctly non-local produce (the fresh thyme is from Colombia) languidly approaches a simmer, I am thinking about trying my hand again at gardening. I will still likely have to get spices like black peppercorns from across the world, and I will still enjoy many staples from local farms, but some herbs and veggies will hopefully come from my own digging in the dirt, enriched by my own compost. That’s the dream, anyway!
Slow Cooker Vegetable Broth
- 3 or more large carrots, scrubbed and cut into big chunks
- 3 to 4 large ribs of celery, cut into medium sections
- 1 giant or 2 smaller onions, peeled and cut into large sections
- 1/2 large parsnip, cut into large chunks
- 3 small cloves garlic, roughly minced
- 8-10 peppercorns
- 1 bayleaf
- Optional: some sprigs of fresh thyme or other herb like parsley
- Optional: 2 dried shiitake mushrooms or fresh or any mushrooms of your choosing. Adds depth and health benefits of mushrooms to your broth
- Toss veggies, herbs and spices into your slow cooker and fill the rest of the way with water.
- Turn the slow cooker to high until the mixture begins to bubble energetically. If you want to allow the broth a slower, gentler transformation, turn down to low and wait for about eight hours. If you’re less patient, just allow it to cook on high for four or more hours.
- Taste the broth. When it is flavorful, strain out the solids and keep the delicious liquid. Add water if desired.
- Salt the precious liquid to taste after discarding (composting?) the solids.
- Store the broth in the fridge (best used within a week) or freezer, or use it right away to make a soup with freshly cut up veggies you have on hand like kale, carrots, celery, parsnip, onion, cauliflower and/or broccoli.