Stock vs. broth. Broth vs. stock.
What's the difference? Well, that's a can of worms. Some say it's the difference between simmering water with bones (stock) and meat (broth); others draw the line at leaving the resulting liquid unseasoned (broth) versus adding salt (stock).
We're gracefully sidestepping the semantics by making a flavor-packed liquid that's meat and salt free, but satisfying enough to sip on its own. We call it a broth (see the recipe), but don't get too bogged down with the details—you can just call it delicious.
It starts with dried shiitake mushrooms, those umami-packed vegetarian workhorses. A good, slow soak in cold water draws out their deepest, most nuanced flavor. It's similar to the technique used to make shiitake dashi, the simple vegetarian broth that's a fundamental building block for many Japanese dishes.
But ours is a globe-trotting broth, so let's jet over to France for the next step, shall we? Instead of busting out a classic mirepoix (onions, carrots, celery), we focus instead on alliums and alliums alone, calling on the combination of onions, leeks and garlic to add sweetness and depth. A few whips of thyme and parsley balance things out as the mixture simmers, and a swath of lemon peel adds unexpected brightness.
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The finished product is clear, clean and almost shockingly satisfying to sip on its own (mushroom tea!), to say nothing of being used as a base for soups (simply throw in a handful of grains and vegetables), stews, sauces, risottos and more. It tastes richer than the sum of its parts, a perfect trompe l'oeil (or make that trompe l'palate) for this time of year, when we crave dishes both comforting and clean.
That's a nifty trick, no matter what you call it.
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