Simply Fresh by Julie Wern

Back in 2009, I wrote about a wonderful, easy way to make vegetable broth from scratch.  I thought I would reprint it here so the technique is easily accessible on the current blog.

CSA Tip:  Make Crockpot Vegetable Broth from Veggie Scraps

We all want to eat less processed food, but supermarket broth is just so convenient to have on hand and making it from scratch can be a pain.  While surfing the net for veggie broth recipes, I came across an ingenious and simple way to use up vegetable scraps and make broth while I sleep! (see crockpot veggie broth)
Here is what I learned from this and a few other web posts…just save most vegetable scraps meant for the garbage or compost pile in a large re-sealable plastic baggie stored in the freezer.  Add to it as you cook.  When the baggie is full, dump it in the Crockpot and add enough water to cover.
–Add a few peppercorns and/or a small amount of herbs (like thyme or parsley) or dried herbs tied in cheesecloth.
–If desired, add other veggies to round out the flavor (celery, carrot, onion, tomato, turnip, and mushrooms are especially good)
–Turn on low and cook for 4-6 hours
–Sieve out solids (use them now for compost), let broth cool, then portion and freeze, or use within 4 days.
Non-waxy and non-bitter scraps work best and can also include onion skins (great for color), garlic and garlic skin, bell pepper scraps (avoid seeds), Kohlrabi stems, stems from greens (beware of beet greens which may color the broth), zucchini ends, tomato seeds/pulp, asparagus ends, choi stems and greens, and mushroom stems.  Sparingly use strongly flavored vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage as they can overpower the taste.  Avoid waxy vegetables (cucumbers), bitter seeds and pits, and beet scraps.  Potato skins can add a starchy element, so I tend not to use them.
Just remember to get in the habit of washing all vegetables (even the onions) before you peel or de-stem them if you are planning to use them in the broth.   You don’t want any sand or dirt in your broth!!
For my first attempt at this venture, I collected more than a baggie full of scraps within a few days.  The bag contained kale and collard ribs, kohlrabi stems, tomato scraps, spinach stems, onion and garlic skins, and broccoli stem.  I put all this in the Crockpot and added to it a celery rib, an unpeeled carrot, one onion cut in thirds, 3 peppercorns, a bunch of fresh parsley, 2 bay leaves, and a handful of halved cherry tomatoes that were going bad.
All this preparation took about 1 minute. I cooked the whole concoction overnight and awoke to delicious smelling broth.  It had a nice deep color and was very tasty, if a bit cabbage-y—perhaps I’ll try less kohlrabi and broccoli scraps next time.  Of course the broth needs salt, but you can always add that when you use it to cook.
I have been following this method with great result on a weekly basis since I first discovered it.  After years of experience with this method I have learned a few things…
–Vegetable broth can also be made in a regular pot on the stovetop and only takes 1- 1½ hours to cook.
–The longer the mix cooks, the more bitter the flavors can be, so time it so that you turn on the Crockpot right before bed and sieve out the solids right when you get up in the morning.
–Homemade vegetable broth is flavorful enough to use as a substitute for prepared chicken broth, as long as you salt it.
–This will easily become a habit.  Try it!!

Featured Item—Collard Greens

Unless you grew up in the south, you may not be too familiar with collard greens.  Most people think of them as a southern specialty that involves hours of cooking with a highly flavorful smoked meat (like pork), an association that perhaps has contributed to collard’s unfortunate reputation as being a super tough green.  But this reputation is somewhat exaggerated.  While long cooked greens in the southern tradition are a highly flavorful dish, collards can be delicious in many quicker cooking preparations.
It really only takes collard leaves about 6 minutes to cook.  Stems, obviously will take longer.  Like kale, collards will retain some texture to them due to the amount of fiber in the leaves.  Also like kale, they benefit from a liquid to help them soften and to cook them all the way before they burn or stick to a pan.  That is one reason that braised collard dishes are so plentiful and successful.  However, collards can also be steamed, blanched or boiled.  There is some suggestion that long cooking can even compromise some of the high nutritional quality of collard greens, so if you are a fan of super long cooked collards, it might be time to try some different methods.
Like other cooking greens, collards are highly nutritious.  They contain high levels of vitamins K, A, C, B2, B6, folate, manganese and fiber and are also a very good source of calcium, iron and protein.  There is growing evidence that regular intake of greens, including collards, can reduce cholesterol, cancer risk, and inflammatory response.  Greens also are high in antioxidants.
I was surprised to learn that compared to kale, collards are significantly lower in calories (only about 50 calories per cooked cup) and have almost double the protein.  Also, among the most familiar greens (kale, chard, and spinach) collards have the highest amount of fiber.  Now that ought to get you to try those collards greens!
Some people find collards on the slightly bitter side.  One technique for reducing some of the inherent bitterness in collards is to blanch them for 3-5 minutes before cooking them further with a different method.  Just remember to shock them in an ice bath after blanching to retain their bright green color and to halt further cooking.  Also, reduce the cooking time when you cook them again to cover for the time they have already spent under heat.
Blanched collards are a great source for omelets, frittatas, casseroles, soups and stews, burritos/wraps, rice or grain dishes, and pastas.
Choose green leaves that are not yellowed or wilted.  Store in plastic in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days.  Wash well to remove any dirt clinging to the leaves prior to cooking.  Thinner, younger stems will be tenderer than larger, older ones.  Use the toughest stems in your next batch of veggie broth!
My family adores Ethiopian food, especially braised collard greens (Gomen Wat).  Unfortunately, traditional recipes for Gomen use a large quantity of spiced clarified butter.  I came up with this recipe to get the wonderful Ethiopian flavor without all that saturated fat.
Ground fenugreek can be hard to find.  I you don’t have it, simply leave it out.

Ethiopian Style Braised Collard Greens             Serves 3-4

– 2 teaspoons olive oil
– 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
– 1 half onion, grated
– 2 cloves garlic, crushed
– 2 teaspoons grated ginger
– 1/4 teaspoon tumeric
– 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
– 1/8  teaspoon ground cinnamon
– 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
– 1/8 teaspoon ground fenugreek
– 1 cup home-made or purchased vegetable broth
– 6 large handfuls chopped collard leaves
– 1/2 teaspoon salt, if using no salt broth; otherwise salt to taste
– 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
In a medium non-stick pot over medium heat, melt butter with olive oil until hot.  Add onion, garlic, ginger, and spices.  Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is soft and begins sticking to pan, about 5 minutes.  Add greens, broth and salt.  Mix well.  Bring to a boil.  Cover and cook, stirring every few minutes, until greens are tender and most of liquid is evaporated, about 15-20 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Mix in lemon juice and serve.
Here is another traditional way to serve collard greens that hails from Portugal.  This soup is great on a cool spring or summer day!  Try shredding the leaves in the food processor to save time.

Portuguese Green Soup (Caldo Verde)          Serves 4

– 1 package linguica sausage, casing removed if desired, sliced into 1/4″ slices
– 2 teaspoons olive oil
– 1 large onion, minced
– 3 cloves garlic, minced
– 6 cups low sodium chicken broth
– 1 cup water
– 2 very large starchy potatoes, or 3 medium, peeled and chopped
– 5 cups finely chopped or shredded collard greens, leaves only (pieces should be raisin-sized)
– good quality extra virgin olive oil, to taste
1. In a large pot, heat one teaspoon olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add sausage and cook, stirring frequently, until sausage is well browned.  Transfer to a small bowl.  Return pan to heat, but reduce heat to medium-low.  Add second teaspoon olive oil.  Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes.  Add broth, water and potatoes.  Bring to a simmer.  Simmer for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are quite soft.  Using a hand blender or potato masher, mash potatoes well (you can also put mixture into a blender, just be careful blending hot mixtures).
2. Add browned sausage and greens.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture thickens and greens are tender but still green, about 15 minutes.  Ladle into bowls.  Drizzle with good quality olive oil and serve.

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