Flavour, flavour makes the world go round and there is absolutely no excuse not to have it. I have heard numerous arguments from people who are carnivores or omnivores that there is no point going vegetarian, or that they couldn’t go vegetarian, because they couldn’t give up the taste of the meat.
Understand that I am not advocating that everyone goes vegetarian, I love meat, as well as vegetables. But I am advocating that the argument to not become vegetarian cannot be solely due to flavour.
One little caveat before you read further. You will not find the bog standard “vegetable stock cubes” SURPRISE – you can supplement meat stock cubes with vegetable. No, that is a cheap cop-out. As well, I have no included salt. If you don’t know that salt pulls out flavours, I don’t think the rest of this blog post is for you (sorry). That being said, I have added the wackier and some not so wacky, I will admit, alternatives that you may not have thought of. I hope to inspire you to look deeper into the abyss that is your spice cupboard (and if it is not an abyss – buy more) and really think about the seasonings staring back at you.
Who will need alternatives
This should be obvious, however, meeting people’s dietary requirements is a basic politeness aspect. If you don’t like cooking for someone who has a wacky food requirement (I know people who are incredibly picky in basic flavours) do not invite them over rather than not meet their requirements. However, if there is a guest coming over, or yourself, who is a vegetarian or vegan, it is essential to make sure that your broth fits with their dietary requirements. Keep in mind that vegetarianism or veganism can be as a result of religious choice, health choice, or moral choice, and things can get more complicated from there.
If you are a person who is much more comfortable using meat bouillon cubes, this can be a daunting undertaking. That being said, this resource is not just for people who are used to cooking with meat and having to feed a new houseguest, but also you maybe feeling uninspired for other vegetarian options, this can be a difficult thing to overcome. I know that I used to rely very heavily on meat bouillon cubes, and it was cooking for a vegetarian work colleague (we traded food, it was amazing) that I realised that I needed to up my game.
What you are trying to replace
Broth and bouillon cubes are excellent ways to add flavour to a recipe and enhance the existing flavours. I find that whenever I am adding water to something, there is a flavour enhancer in there to umph it out. It is something that is just better than plain water. There are times when even something as simple as rice can get a boost by being boiled in broth rather than plain water.
What are these alternatives?
There is the normal vegetable bouillon cubes, but I want to give a list of things that just – a little bit different.
It will add a richness that will almost mimic beef stock. This is a great ingredient which will dissolve in sauces. It is a great alternative if you want to make a vegetarian gravy. A bonus for this option is that it will also darken your sauce and add some colour. However, it is marmite and super strong flavour so don’t add a lot and tear the ass out of it. Make sure to add a little at a time and taste as you go.
2. Miso Paste
Regardless if your food is Asian or not this will definitely add some great flavour. It doesn’t give a beany flavours which is a plus. I usually add about a tablespoon per saucepan to start, and then add more when it is needed. I made a curry this weekend and added it as a vegetarian alternative. Miso does not always dissolve when it is in water alone. You may have noticed from Miso soup how it will fall to the bottom. However, in the thicker sauces it won’t move around a lot. I have this vague memory of there being different types of Miso paste. However, in UK general grocery shops, I have yet to find a different type. This paste is light and can be put into almost anything (I think I should make a post around my love of Miso paste, HA!).
3. Instant Coffee
Only use a little bit, and work it in with a dark colour sauce. But it adds a richness and also enhances existing flavours. It is a bit of a dark-horse as a flavour. You really would not expect it. But I made a marinade for a courgette and chourizo skewer to go on a bbq. I mixed some instant coffee with the tomato paste and it added this really amazing depth to the flavour. Then off of the back of that I added it to a bbq sauce as well.
4. Vinegar / Lemon Juice
This flavour can be over-powering, however, just a little bit will bring out the flavours more. You know those sauces where you think to yourself hmm this is missing something – and you don’t want some over powering flavour, but you want to pull out the flavours without adding additional salt. Lemon juice really works. I definitely suggest it for tomato based sauces.
Not just garlic, but garlic puree paste! It can thicken sauces, and it also does not have as strong a flavour so you can add more or less as you choose. Also, as a puree the garlic has a larger surface area to the volume of the garlic and does not need a long time to cook (think of a thin steak cooking versus a thick steak – there is more area for the heat to penetrate a smaller internal space), so you can add it at the very end if you really need another kick of flavour.
6. Tomato Paste
You need to make sure that you add salt to this. But like, ya, it can get sweet and also acidic. I highly suggest a salt alternative – celery salt, soya sauce, worchester sauce, and a vinegar-like addition, lemon juice etc.. Tomato paste also thickens broths and really does hold it’s own. If you are looking for a tomato broth, without having to cook tomatoes you can get away with just the paste. I use this quite regularly and so I buy the squeezy tubes. If I am not using a whole can, I do find the squeezy tubes more manageable to eyeball how much you want.
7. Soya Sauce
Just a bit is a good alternative to just general salt. It adds a richness and a dark colour to what you are cooking. Thus, if you are making a light-coloured sauce, do not use soya sauce. There are also 2 types which I feel some people decide to over-look. Light soya sauce and dark.
- Light Soya Sauce – I find this saltier in flavour, but less flavour overral.
- Dark Soya Sauce – I do find that this has a much richer flavour, but does not have a lot of salt.
- A happy blend of the 2, or using them as additions to other ingredients would be very nice.
8. Sundried Tomato Paste
I just tested this out over the weekend and it was INCREDIBLE in a curry. It added a depth of flavour and smokiness that I really had not expected. You can add this in addition to tomato paste (you don’t want to use AS MUCH as the tomato paste, so do have them side-by-side) for dishes that are intending to be smokier, and sometimes cosier. I don’t think this is how the Italians intended this to be used, but I do find that this does give a lovely warming depth to cosy recipes. As well – fabulous in bbq sauces.
If you have any additional alternatives that you think would be great additions to this list, do tell me as I want this to be a useful collaborative resource!