There are, at last count, four dictionaries sitting on my kitchen table. A Collins, an Oxford, an Aberdeen University Press edition and a Chambers. All for the sake of trying to find out exactly what a broth is, and in particular, a Scotch broth. The basic definition that they all just about agree on, is that a broth involves vegetables and meat cooked in stock, with a Scotch broth involving a specific type of meat (usually mutton or beef), and barley.
As for the broths that are about to follow, they’ve been cooked by a Scot, in Scotland. Whether or not that makes them Scotch broths, I’m not sure. But they are broths. And they’re super scrumptious. Broths are something I love making not only for their aforementioned scrumptious-ness but because they are incredibly easy to make and easy to adapt. They can be made with meat, they can be made vegetarian or they can be made vegan. On the whole, we tend to eat broth which, if asked, would call itself vegan.
The broths – as they are made in our household – are made of different components: the stock, the vegetables, the barley/pulses/pasta/rice, and meat (or lack of). A brief note: there isn’t really a vegetarian broth, as such, that I’m aware of. Some people can put cheese on top of a broth or chuck in a knob of butter, but really, if a broth is going to stop being vegan, I suspect it would be through garnish of some kind (like the aforementioned cheese). To put other dairy products into the broth (i.e. cream) would turn the broth into a general vegetable soup.
The stock. All right, I’ll confess, I use stock cubes. I do try to make sure they’re decent ones. I’m led to believe that making your own stock is pretty awesome but for pure ease, stock cubes are great.
The vegetables. So my dictionaries suggested that a Scotch broth tends to lean more towards root vegetables (i.e. neeps and carrots) and a general broth can use any vegetables you can get your hands on. Our usual combination of vegetables is as follows: carrots, spring onions, peas and sweetcorn. These play into the ease of cooking a broth. I buy already frozen peas and sweetcorn, then chop up fresh carrots and spring onions and put those in the freezer, too. That means that come time to cook, all I need to do is get the vegetables out the freezer and decide how much we need.
The barley/pulses/pasta/rice. So a Scotch broth calls for barley. This is where things can get a little taxing: barley requires planning, because it needs to soak overnight. There are times though when the urge takes me, and I remember that I’ll be cooking broth the next day, so I whip out the broth mix*. Barley does make up for its time needs by being utterly delicious. Since I am rarely so prepared as to soak the broth mix overnight, we add either pulses, pasta or rice to our broth. Rice can be a good addition, but not one we do often. Pasta and pulses though, are frequent additions. Just a handful of pasta can help bulk up a broth. Pulses though, pulses are yummy and wonderful and nutritious. This yumminess usually manifests itself as tinned haricot beans and red split lentils. Neither need to be soaked (remember, dried beans need overnight soaking and a longer cooking period than tinned beans) and so can be thrown straight in.
The meat. Or lack thereof. Seriously, a broth without meat is quite as yummy as one with meat. I have also realised how a vegan broth can go vegetarian: meat substitutes. The fact that it has taken until now to dawn on me is not helped given that I just finished cooking a broth with a meat-substitute. So meat choices: no meat, meat-substitute, meat. If a meat is going to be used, lamb and beef are usual choices. There are other meats that can be used though, like, um, rabbit. It was rather unintentional. We were at the farmers market on Saturday, and after Juniper Junior had picked out a couple of plants for my parents, I noticed one of the stalls selling game. All in all, we don’t eat meat very often but I figured if I was going to get meat, it would be locally sourced. Hence, I ended up buying rabbit from Perthshire. Not as local as I’d have liked, but close enough. And after perusing my cookbooks, I found a lovely looking stew recipe. The point of all that, is that meat for a broth is often leftovers from another meal. And can make for another great meal.
Putting it all together. This is one of the things I adore about broths. Putting all the ingredients together goes thusly: make up stock, bring to boil, add everything. That’s it. The cooking time will be dependent on several things, so keep in mind that the chunkier the vegetables are, the longer they’ll take to cook. And when it comes to beans, follow the instructions on the pack. With meat or meat-substitutes, the basic of “make sure it’s cooked through” applies, too. Broth is lovely. Food poisoning is not.
How much to use. One the lovely parts of a broth is that measurements are really flexible. Just use as much or as little as is needed. This is the recipe I usually use, which makes two generous servings:
- 1 stock cube
- 1.5 litres of water
- 1 carrot
- 8 spring onions
- 1/2 cup sweetcorn
- 1/2 cup peas
- 200g (tinned) haricot beans
- two small handfuls of pasta
I find this recipe takes around five minutes to put together and fifteen minutes to cook. A considerable part of the speed of cooking, is the use of tinned beans as opposed to dried beans, which even with soaking, take much longer to cook.
So there you have it, Persephoneers: a Scot’s broth, cooked in Scotland, that may or may not be a Scotch broth. It’s a meal we love dearly, for its ease as well as for its yumminess. And whenever I cook it, I think of the stone soup story, too – this is a forgiving soup that’ll take whatever you’ve got, and give you a lovely meal.
*For some reason, I can’t get hold of pearl barley on its own at the moment, so I’m having to use broth mix instead, which includes: pearl barley, yellow split peas, green split peas, marrowfat peas, and red split lentils.