Vegetarian broth (and savory baked custards)

Broth with tarragon and savory custards

Broth with tarragon and savory custards

I’ll admit it, I’m fascinated by the history of food. I’m a buff. I’m curious about what people ate, and how they cooked it. I’m curious about how people discovered that food acted in certain ways when it was cooked – that some things melt and some things solidify. I’m curious about the things that people ate every day, and the elaborate dishes they created to impress people, for holidays and celebrations. I love to see pictures of ornate, inticately detailed jellies and creams, and pies bigger than my dinner table. I like to think about the care and craziness that went into these productions, which we still exhibit today when we make something special. I like to read about the foods people believed to be restorative, the meals they fed their children when they were sick; the cakes that contained a bit of soul; the gold-flecked cordials that held the power of the sun. Food is so much a part of who we are and where we live, such an elemental and intimate way to understand a person and the way in which he or she lived. It’s fascinating to see how things have changed, and how much they’ve remained the same. If we are what we eat, and the food that we’ve eaten has changed drastically over the centuries, have people fundamentally changed, too? It boggles my little mind. The history we read about in books may have been made in war rooms and battlefields, but surely a more profound and human understanding of the past can be gleaned from the larders and kitchens.

I stumbled upon this website, recently, called Historical Food. It’s a treasure trove of recipes and stories! Some outlandish, some delightful. Recipes for quince and gooseberries, asparagus ices, medlar cheese and the queen’s potage. One recipe is very similar to my version of Jane Austen’s white soup, right down to the pomegranate seeds and pistachio kernels. (Red and green for christmas!) And one was very similar to my version of soup meagre, except that it had little decorative savory custards floating in it. I read about this when Malcolm was sick and craving brothy foods, and it seemed such a sweet and simple preparation that I decided to try it. I don’t have the fancy punches to cut out the custard that they had at the time, so I made diamonds, but I made them red and green with smoked paprika and spinach. I made a broth and added baby spinach, green peas and tarragon. I wanted it to be simple and green. I thought it was quite good!! The little pieces of custard were a bit like pasta, I suppose, and the whole effect was very comforting. I should say that my kids liked the savory custard, but once it was floating in their soup they decided it was weird. Oh well!! I also thought I’d take this opportunity to post my recipe for vegetarian broth. I’ve been making broth every week, this season, and adding it to soups, stews, and risottos as I go along. I’ve provided my simplest version, and you can add vegetables, spices and herbs to suit your finished dish. And that’s that!

Here’s Linton Kwesi Johnson with Making History.

2 T butter or olive oil
1 shallot, not peeled but roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, not peeled but smashed or roughly chopped (Or a small handful of very small cloves – this is a good way to use up the cloves that are too small to peel and mince)
1 carrot, washed and roughly chopped
3 or 4 mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 potato, scrubbed and roughly chopped
1 small handful french lentils
1 t each dried basil, rosemary, sage and thyme (or whatever herbs complement your dish)
2 t tamari
1 t marmite
1 T tomato paste (optional)
any vegetables trimmings you have – lettuce leaves, parsley stalks, cilantro stalks. Try to stay away from brassica, cause they’re a bit stinky when boiled (that’s broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts…)
salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper
splash of balsamic, lemon, or sherry vinegar
butter (optional)

In a large soup pot, warm the butter or olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic, stir and cook till they just start to brown. Add all of the other vegetables, whatever herbs you’re using, the lentils, tamari, marmite and tomato paste. Stir everything together – you should have a thick lumpy mix. Cook this for a few minutes, till it’s sizzling and everything’s starting to brown. You can keep cooking till everything is fairly-well browned, it will give the final broth a deeper flavor and color – and a bit of a roasty taste.

Add 8 or 9 cups of water (or as much fits comfortably in your pot!) Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for at least half an hour. I tend to leave mine all afternoon on a very low heat. The longer it simmers, the stronger the taste.

Strain the broth, season with salt, lots of black pepper, a dash of lemon or vinegar, and, if you like, a knob of butter.


1 T olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 t red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup lettuce leaves or baby spinach, roughly chopped
1/2 cup tiny peas (you can use frozen)
1 t tamari
1 t white wine vinegar or lemon
1 T butter
salt and plenty of pepper
1 T fresh tarragon, chopped
broth (see above)

Warm the olive oil, add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for about half a minute. Add the wine, and cook till it’s reduced and syrupy. Add the lettuce and baby spinach and the peas. Stir till wilted. Add the tamari and 5 or 6 cups broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for five or ten minutes. Stir in the vinegar, butter and tarragon, and season well with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Top with…


1 1/2 cups milk
3 eggs
1/4 cup flour
1 t salt
lots of ground black pepper
pinch nutmeg
1/2 cup fresh baby spinach
1/2 t smoked paprika

Preheat the oven to 375. In a large bowl, beat together the milk and eggs. Whisk in the flour and salt, then the pepper and nutmeg. Divide the mixture in half. Whisk smoked paprika into one half. Combine the other in a food processor or blender with the spinach and process till smooth and pale green.

Butter and flour two small baking trays. Pour one version of batter in each. It should be about 1/8th of an inch thick, but a little thicker is fine, too.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the edges start to brown and pull away from the pan. Let cool. With a sharp knife or pizza cutter, score crosswise into diamonds, and then carefully lift out each diamond onto a plate.

Float these in your broth.


4 thoughts on “Vegetarian broth (and savory baked custards)

  1. wow, I can almost smell the lovely savoury steam coming from that soup. My children don’t do soup, or stew which is irritating as I cook one pot dishes frequently this time of year. You’ve introduced me to a new ingredient, never come across tamari before, does it taste similar to soy sauce?

    • Hello, Beth!!

      My children only like a few kinds of soup. I’m attempting one now that I hope they’ll like! I’ll let you know how it goes.

      And yes, tamari is almost exactly like soy sauce. I’m not sure how to describe the difference. It’s a little deeper and less bitter, somehow. (and more expensive!!) You can use soy sauce in any recipe that calls for tamari, though.

  2. Pingback: Roasted rutabaga, corn and cheddar soup | Out of the Ordinary

  3. Pingback: Summer stew with white beans, potatoes, crispy eggplant and basil-pistachio pesto | Out of the Ordinary

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