SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Markets are bursting with tomatoes, peppers, squash, and other late summer vegetables, prime stuff for everything from salad to sauces and vegetable stock. Somebody - somebody asked NPR's Neda Ulaby to make some vegetable stock. Neda, take it away.
NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: So when I got this assignment, I was like, really. I have to do a piece about vegetables?
BREN HERRERA: Vegetable stock, how boring, right?
ULABY: Yes, vegetable stock. But I'm at the home kitchen of Bren Herrera, a personal chef determined to make vegetable stock not boring. To start, she puts on the old-school Cuban music she uses to create atmosphere in the kitchen.
HERRERA: There is soul here, girlfriend. There is a lot of soul in this cocina.
ULABY: Whatever, vegetable stock is still needless work. You can just buy it by the carton at the store.
HERRERA: I'm going to convince you to make stock for yourself.
ULABY: All right.
HERRERA: No more canned, no more bottled. So are you ready to make this?
ULABY: Let's do it.
HERRERA: Let's do it.
Truth, I've made vegetable stock before, the predictable kind with the potatoes, carrots, parsley, mushrooms. Herrera has a different set of ingredients in a bright orange cast iron pot.
HERRERA: So we've got some yellow and white Spanish onion, some green pepper, some tomato on the vine that I took off.
ULABY: Green pepper in stock?
HERRERA: Yeah, green pepper in stock. It's just a little sweet. You find it in a lot of Latin and Cuban food - in our sofrito. Our sofrito is our flavor base, which is onion, green pepper, sometimes red pepper, cumin...
ULABY: So for this Cuban-flavored stock, green and red peppers, cilantro, cumin, a lumpy green squash called a chayote and a spice packet made by the Latino food company you can find it any big supermarket. It's called Sazon Goya.
HERRERA: I use Sazon Goya. This is like my little secret, and I bet you, you ask any Hispanic person, you know, if they use Sazon Goya, and they'll be like, yes.
ULABY: Next, browning up everything with an entire head of unpeeled garlic.
HERRERA: Because I love garlic, and it just makes everything better.
ULABY: Add a couple quarts of water, simmer for an hour. Then strain the precious liquid through a colander. And the used up mushy vegetables?
HERRERA: Normally, somebody would tell you, or you would even think to just chuck these because you're done with them, right?
HERRERA: You've got what you need out of them - but no, no, no, not in my kitchen. We're going to use all of that.
ULABY: Herrera's parents lived in Cuba during the revolution. They lived on the rations called libreta.
HERRERA: And so they had to be very conservative with how they used food. They had the libreta, and so they only got a certain amount of vegetables per month, if that - a certain amount of milk, a certain amount of meat.
ULABY: Growing up in a home careful about not wasting food, this is how Herrera imagines throwing away even a pile of soggy vegetables.
HERRERA: It's sacrilegious. It would - yeah, I have no words if I saw somebody take this and throw it away.
ULABY: Instead, she says throw them in the blender, and add them to the broth for texture.
HERRERA: OK, so here we go again.
(SOUNDBITE OF BLENDER RUNNING)
HERRERA: I've wasted nothing. And you have a super robust stock.
ULABY: OK, I'm going to concede that this is a very sexy vegetable broth.
HERRERA: Isn't it beautiful? I like that.
ULABY: But it still seems like a lot more work than going to the grocery store and buying a container off the shelf.
HERRERA: Yeah, but guess what? This is yours. It's craft.
ULABY: It's stock, says Herrera, that can be a painting of the season in a bowl. Use it, she says, to add depth and heart to gazpacho, vegetarian chili, ratatouille, or freeze it to make a vegetable soup sing with summer memories on a cold, fall day. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.
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