Being a vegetarian doesn’t mean subsisting on steamed broccoli and bowls of pasta. In her monthly column, nearly lifelong vegetarian Sarah Jampel will tackle cooking, eating, and navigating the world meat-free—even when her grandma still doesn’t know what she makes for dinner.
If I were ever to go on a meat bender, I have a mental list of what I’d eat first. (Maybe that’s weird, but is it really so different from keeping a rolodex of celebrity crushes? Not going to happen but fun to imagine?) It’s a short list, really: lobster, duck (it just gets so crispy), chorizo, and chicken. Chicken soup, in particular. As a vegetarian, I feel like I’m missing out every time I smell it. (And if you’re like, “Sarah, why don’t you just eat the chicken soup already?” I respect the question but feel like it’s a topic for another article.)
There are few vegetable broths that can achieve that same depth of flavor and body as chicken soup, but this recipe does. In 15 minutes, I’ve got a rich, savory, totally chickenless but chickenesque broth that makes me forget those swampy vegetable brews of the past.
It starts with softening onions in olive oil, then grating in garlic and adding a dollop of miso paste. By smashing the miso paste down into the fat and cooking it until it starts to darken and stick to the bottom of the pan, you’ll draw out moisture, caramelize the sugars, and intensify the flavors, just like you would tomato paste.
But now comes the real kicker: steeped nutritional yeast, the idea for which came from the brilliant Andrea Nguyen’s vegan pho. To capture the cheesy, nutty, saltiness of nutritional yeast without making the soup sludgy or gritty, you’ll pour hot water over the nooch, let its flavors permeate the liquid, then pour off the golden top, leaving behind the thick sediment.
You can stop here and use the broth as is—it really is good enough to sip and will accommodate any vegetables, beans, or grains you throw at (in?) it. But I encourage you to make the second component of this recipe, too. Inspired by the South Asian dish dharan ji kadhi, chickpea flour fritters stewed in tomato sauce, the dumplings are a simple mixture of chickpea flour (a.k.a. besan), yogurt, and herbs. When simmered in the broth, they puff dramatically, becoming tender but still toothsome, not far from a matzo ball. If you don’t have chickpea flour, you could make matzo balls (am I crazy?). If you don’t have matzo meal, you could make the dumplings from Rick Martinez’s Chicken and Dumplings. Or you could skip the dumplings entirely and add frozen peas and noodles. It’s your game!
Yes, maybe I’ll still get a sparkle in my eye when I catch a whiff of chicken stock bubbling on the stove. But now that I have this recipe in my arsenal, I can safely say the meat bender has been delayed for many years in the future.