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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Vegetarian French Onion Soup

You don't need me to tell you its cold out. And it's been raining for days. I don't know how I feel about this winter thing. Actually, I do know. I feel like eating soup. I want to stock my freezer with eight different kinds that I can choose from on a whim. I'd even make nice labels for the tupperware containers.

The way I see it, everyone should have soup to choose from. Ready at your beckoning. February might sneak on by in four short weeks, but you might notice that you've made good use of your ladles, bowls and soup spoons. Carry on, carry on, soup spoons!

I have always loved french onion soup and have really wanted to make a vegetarian version that still carried some heft and dignity. Some people like to add soy sauce or a dash of Worcestershire to offer some "meaty" flavor and darker color, but I like to bolster my broth with a solid dose of red wine. And, between you and me, if you happen to have an open bottle of red wine, you could use it here even if it is a little bit oxidized. I mean, ahem, I don't find myself in this situation because I finish the bottle right away, but I hear that leftover wine can add a little vinegary tang here.

The thing about this soup is that it takes time. You want to start up some onions in a pot in the mid-Sunday afternoon and then forget about them while you are folding laundry and mailing out bills. Since the onions are the true base and foundation of the soup, You have to give these onions some love and let them slip into a nice coma submerged in the depths of butter and olive oil. It just can't be rushed.

But, rest assured, love and tenderness always pays out handsomely in the end. After the onions melt down and you build up a rich stock base, you add in some flecks of thyme for an earthy boost. Toss a hunk of bread on the top with some grated gruyere cheese and pop it under the broiler for just a minute or two until the cheese bubbles and browns lightly.


* 5 cups good-quality vegetable broth (homemade if you have it, or I used Trader Joe's organic vegetable broth)
* 2 cubes of vegetable boullion (or "not beef" bouillion if you have it)
* 1 cup red wine
* 4 onions, sliced thinly
* 4 Tbsp. butter
* 2 Tbsp. olive oil
* 1/2 tsp. salt
* 1 tsp. sugar
* 1/2 tsp. dried thyme (or 1 Tbsp. fresh thyme)
* 1 bay leaf
* bread (ciabatta or country bread is best; day old is even better)
* gruyere cheese for topping


Heat a large dutch oven on medium heat. Add the butter and olive oil. Add in the sliced onions and lower the heat a little to medium-low. You can stir occasionally, but give them lots and lots of time to melt down. About 20-30 minutes. They will begin to relax and soft into a sticky mess, but you don't want them to brown so resist cranking up the heat.

After the onions have softened, you can deglaze the pan with the wine and stir. Add in the salt, sugar, thyme and bay leaf. And then the stock--I like to heat my stock and melt in the bouillion cubes and then add it all to the pot. Let this simmer uncovered for another 15 minutes.

Ladle the soup into oven proof bowls. Top with a slice of bread and shredded cheese and pop under the broiler for just a couple of minutes until the cheese is melted and lightly browned.

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