Simple, vegetarian Chinese broth

by Mattias

I cook a lot of Chinese food, especially Sichuanese food. It’s my go-to for making people dinner, especially since I, being the Stockholm hipster that I am, know many vegetarians and vegans.

However, I’m very lazy. I love cooking Chinese food because it’s often super quick and you’re active all the time. That left me with a problem when it was time to do a nice broth for noodle soup or wok dishes like fish-fragrant tofu. These often required some serious cooking time and as many things you could possibly stuff in a sauce pan. After a couple of tries and some research, I figured out these recipes for good vegetarian broth that comes together very quickly and without thinking too much.

The Shiitake

The simplest broth I’ve ever made was simply rehydrating shiitake and using the water as broth. In Japanese cuisine I’ve learned this is called Shiitake dashi and it’s quite common in combination with other things. Here’s a slightly more advanced, but better-tasting, version I’ve made:

  • 1.5 liters of water
  • 6 reconstituted dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 knob of ginger (an inch, give or take)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 tbsp light Chinese soy sauce

Put it all in a saucepan, bring it to a boil and then turn down the heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes (but longer never hurts). Remove the ginger and garlic. Remove the shiitake and slice them if serving. That’s all there is to it! Great as a base for noodles or to freeze small portions of and use in wok dishes.

Alternatively, if you’re really short on ingredients  but not on time:

  • 1.5 liters of water, hot
  • 6 whole, dried shiitake mushrooms

Rehydrate through the night—done!

The Simpleton

This is mercilessly copied from Fuchsia Dunlop’s excellent book ‘Every Grain of Rice’ that I urge everyone to buy. This is probably the simplest and fastest vegetarian broth there is, but it’s surprisingly delicious.

  • 1 liter of water, hot
  • 1 tablespoon light Chinese soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

Mix it all together and you’re done!

The Black Bean

Once again, I steal from Fuchsia Dunlop but she knows her stuff! This is, if possible, even simpler than the previous recipe but fermented black beans are less likely to be in your fridge (change that!) so I consider this “harder” to pull off.

  • 1 liter of water
  • 50 g fermented black beans, rinsed and drained

Bring it all to a boil, turn down the heat to medium and let simmer for 20 minutes. Discard the black beans if you’re a loser. Enjoy!

The Rice Water

This is inspired by how Buddhist restaurants in China and rural families make simple vegetarian broth from what they already have: the water left over from cooking rice. Of course I made it completely non-Buddhist with the addition of some lovely chili oil.

  • 1 liter of water in which rinced rice has cooked
  • 3-5 tablespoon Chiu Chow chili oil

Cook some rice with too much water and when the rice is nearing done, pour the excess water into a sauce pan. Simmer it with a tablespoon of Chiu Chow chili oil for a few minutes and you’ve got a lovely, milky, spicy broth. Sounds weird, I know, but it works.

Alternatively, make it less in-your-face and more Buddhist-friendly with this recipe:

  • 1 liter of water in which rinced rice has cooked
  • Plenty of soy bean sprouts, two handfuls
  • 6 reconstituted, dried shiitake mushrooms

Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes. Mmm, smooth, milky broth.