By Mary June Thompson, CelebrateKnoxville.com food writer. In previous Sustainable Cooking columns, I have mentioned that making stock is a great way to get extra mileage out of food scraps. For the past couple of weeks, I have been saving my vegetable odds and ends in a zip-top bag in the refrigerator. I collected quite an assortment: pieces of onions, leeks, carrots, bell peppers, scallions, mushroom stems, celery tops, jalapeno pieces, garlic ends, stems from parsley and thyme, and even some broccoli stalks. I planned to make a vegetable stock with them and use this a soup base. There are lots of recipes available for vegetable stock, but you don’t really need a set recipe to make vegetable stock successfully.
The key to soup deliciousness is having a variety of vegetables to flavor the cooking water, along with the basics of onions, garlic, celery, and carrots. And if, like me, you find yourself coming up a little short on one thing or another (mine was carrot), you can always add some extra into the mix. I like to add a teaspoon of whole peppercorns and a couple of extra herb sprigs (parsley, thyme, oregano) for depth of flavor.
To make the stock, place the vegetable pieces in a large saucepan or Dutch oven on the stovetop. Add enough filtered water to cover the veggies, usually 6-8 cups, and bring to a boil on medium heat. Continue to boil for a couple of hours until the liquid is reduced to about half of its original volume. Cool to room temperature, strain liquid into an airtight container, and refrigerate for up to a week or freeze for up to three months. It really is that easy.
Another “discard” item that I always save for later use is the rind off of a block of Parmesan cheese. The rinds freeze beautifully and add a luxurious umami note to simple soups. (Of course, you must buy the real Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano to get the rind, but I don’t recommend using that other stuff anyway, as it doesn’t impart the same flavor.)
During the cold of winter, I find myself craving warm, comforting, distinctly Southern dishes. I recently came across a recipe in a traditional southern cookbook for Black-Eyed Pea Soup. I loved the thought of that, but that recipe was way too bland for my taste, as it involved little more than the peas, water, and some salt, so I decided to come up with my own version of Black-Eyed Pea Soup. Most of the time, authentic southern food isn’t suitable for vegetarians or vegans, so the recipe I developed using my homemade “vegetable scrap” stock can be easily adjusted to suit any food preference. And if you make the stock in advance, the soup comes together very easily.
Black-Eyed Pea Soup
½ cup dried black-eyed peas (or substitute 1 can of black-eyed peas in a pinch, but the flavor won’t be as good)
1 bacon slice (omit for vegan/vegetarian soup; substitute 1 Tablespoon olive or vegetable oil)
½ of a small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
3 cups “vegetable scrap” stock
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1 Parmigiano-Reggiano rind (omit for vegan soup)
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper
The night before, place the dried peas in an airtight container. Cover with water and soak overnight in the refrigerator. Rinse and drain them just before using. To make the soup, heat a medium Dutch oven or heavy-duty saucepan on the stove top over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until crispy, or alternatively, add oil to pan. Set bacon aside to cool. Add the onion to the fat in the pan. Sauté for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Add the peas, Cajun seasoning, rind (if using), and stock to the pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until the peas are tender, about 45 minutes.
When peas are tender, sprinkle flour over the soup, 1 teaspoon at a time, stirring well to incorporate, until soup is slightly thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve topped with your choice of thinly sliced green onions; the reserved bacon, crumbled; freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese; and/or hot sauce. It’s best served with a slice of freshly baked cornbread on the side for a true Southern comfort food meal.
Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a first course.
Mary June Thompson has been cooking and entertaining for nearly two decades. During this time, her cooking style has expanded and evolved from typical American fare to encompass many different types of cuisines, including Italian, French, Greek, Asian, Mediterranean/North African, and Latin American. Focusing on obtaining the best available ingredients and preparing fresh, healthy dishes with bold flavor defines her cooking style, regardless of cuisine.