The Easiest Plant-Based Broth For Flavorful Vegan Cooking

Creating a traditional vegetable stock is easy, and allows for a much richer and more customizable flavor than store-bought stock. There's also less of a chance that your stock will contain added preservatives or artificial flavors. 

But while making homemade vegetable stock is pretty straightforward and less time-consuming than making meat stock, it still involves a certain level of commitment. You'll need to buy carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and robust herbs such as thyme and rosemary, plus add salt, pepper, and bay leaves for extra flavor. These ingredients must then be simmered in water for about an hour and then strained. You'll also probably find yourself buying entire bundles of various green produce when you might only need small fractions of them, resulting in unnecessary food waste.

But if you don't have time to go shopping and want to whip up a quick plant-based broth, there's an even easier alternative that requires nothing more than mushrooms and seaweed.

Dashi will take your vegan cooking to the next level

Dried shiitake mushrooms and kombu seaweed are the top picks for a no-fuss vegetarian soup broth. These key ingredients in Japanese cooking make preparing vegetarian meals significantly easier, creating a broth known as dashi, which serves as the basis for many traditional Japanese soups, including miso soup. Dashi is packed with a lot more umami and brininess than a traditional veggie stock, which has a sweeter flavor from the carrots and celery.

Both shiitake mushrooms and kombu have a long shelf life and don't occupy much pantry space. They need no washing and little prep work. They're also versatile, as the shiitake mushrooms used in making broth rehydrate during the process without becoming mushy like celery or carrots might, and can be reused or simply added to your soup. Furthermore, these ingredients are cost-effective, making them budget-friendly options for creating delicious dishes.

Kombu seaweed provides an added bonus in vegetable soups containing beans. This seaweed type aids in breaking down the sugars in the beans, making them easier to digest, per UMass Chan Medical School.

How to make dashi

To make your mushroom and seaweed broth, you simply need to cut a 2-inch piece of kombu and simmer it in 2 quarts of water for about 20 minutes. The kombu can be wiped clean before simmering, but shouldn't be washed. Avoid letting the water boil, as it can make the seaweed bitter. Once the seaweed has expanded and turned slippery, remove it, and put in a few shiitake mushrooms. Let these simmer for about half an hour until they're meaty and al dente, then remove them. If you're planning to use them in your soup later, remove the ends of the mushroom stalks, as they will be too tough to eat.

You can actually make this broth even more easily by throwing your seaweed and mushrooms into a container of water and allowing them to soak overnight. The flavors will infuse into the water and the ingredients will rehydrate, all without the need for heat.

This broth can be used for any vegan soup recipe, from a classic minestrone to a creamy broccoli soup. You can also cook rice or pasta in it for a little extra flavor boost. Play with Japanese ingredients to bring out the broth's umami backbone, perhaps in a miso-infused pasta dish, or a Japanese curry with eggplant.