That's where bouillon cubes come in. They're little cubes of dehydrated broth made from either vegetable or meat stock. While in the past, bouillon cubes have been high in sodium and preservatives, the best products on the market are lower in sodium and in some cases, full of anti-inflammatory spices instead. Incorporating them into your meals adds flavor without the guesswork of figuring out what spices to pair together or spending many, many hours making meat stock.
"Bouillon cubes are a great way to add quick flavor, especially when it comes to spices that you normally wouldn't use every day," says Chopped winner and Institute of Culinary Education chef Palak Patel. "The individual cubes are easy to use, make cooking small portions a breeze, and they are inexpensive." They also can live in your pantry for a full six months without going bad—definitely a bonus in pandemic times.
What to look for when buying bouillon cubes
Anything that's made to have a long shelf-life means there's potential for it to be loaded with salt and preservatives, so this is the first thing Patel says to check for when buying bouillon cubes. "Buy a quality bouillon cube that doesn't have a lot of preservatives or added ingredients you can't pronounce. The smaller the ingredient list, the better," she says. Some low-sodium options include Dark Horse Ancient Modern ($20), Edward & Sons ($10), and Bou Indian Curry Cubes ($12), the latter being a product of Patel's partnership with the company Bou.
Then it comes down to choosing bouillon cubes that have a flavor profile that sounds good to you. Keeping it basic, with a vegetable, chicken, or beef flavor means you can build upon it using your own herbs. Or, you can choose bouillon cubes that already have spices incorporated into them. Often, this is a fun way to experiment with flavor profiles you might not have in your usual repertoire.
How to use them
Once you have your bouillon cubes on hand, you're ready to put them to delicious use. Patel says they can be incorporated into soups, stews, curries, dips, sauces, marinades, and dressings. Basically anytime there's water involved, you can use a bouillon cube.
All you do to bring the flavors of the cube to life is combine it with water. Most bouillon cubes will recommend one cup of water per cube, but double-check the directions on the specific product you're using to be sure. Simply heat the water in a saucepan and then add a couple of the cubes. Once dissolved, the liquid is ready to be used in the range of ways Patel mentioned above.
Patel also encourages mixing differently flavored bouillon cubes together. "I often mix and match Bou cubes to come up with fun flavor combinations," she says. "I pair my curry cube with a vegetable cube to create a spice and herbaceous combo. The ginger miso with roasted garlic is the perfect sauce base for noodle-based soups." She also often incorporates fresh herbs and spices as well. The only pantry staple she doesn't recommend adding is salt. "The most common mistake is adding salt on top of using a bouillon cube—they are salty," she says. "It's important to reduce the amount of salt in the recipe to compensate for the saltiness that comes from the cube."
In terms of storing your bouillon cubes, Patel says the pantry is perfect. "Keep them in a cool, dry place away from the stove," she says. "The heat from the stove and oven deteriorates the quality and melts the oils from the cube." When stored this way, she says your bouillon cubes should last about six months. "You can also store it in the refrigerator to increase the shelf life a little longer," she adds.
Bottom-line: Bouillon cubes are great. They take the pantry items that are saving us right now—rice, chickpeas, beans, and more—and make them taste downright delicious. Plus, they take hardly any time at all to incorporate into your meal. Now that's a pretty handy little cube.
Watch the video below to see how to make Patel's warming one-pot vegetable dal:
Get more ideas on what to cook in Well+Good's Cook With Us Facebook group.
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