French Onion Soup. . . Vegetarian Style

I'm an onion lover.  Not everyone is. Don doesn't really like onions  but he eats them cooked (and raw if I use a mild onion and don't mention it's in the salad).  I don't know if our marriage would have lasted if he refused to eat any onion at all.

And because I love onions, I love French Onion Soup with all its lovely caramelized onions, broth-soaked bread and gooey cheese.  But French Onion Soup can pose a problem for a vegetarian if one wants to order a bowl in a restaurant.  Most French Onion Soup is made with a beef stock and we vegetarians don't eat beef broth.  (What would the cow do without her broth?)  So, like many other vegetarians I forgo the pleasure of eating French Onion Soup when eating in a restaurant because I'm trying to keep true to my life-style choices.  And then to top everything off, I don't drink alcoholic beverages and most soups are made with some kind of wine.  What to do???   Well, that's an easy answer:  make it myself.

Although it has a fancy name this French Onion Soup is quite a simple soup to make.   It takes a little time and attention but if you can follow a few directions you should have a nice satisfying bowl of soup for your dinner or supper.  The most important step in making the soup is the caramelization of  the onions to a deep golden brown without burning or scorching them.  This is where time comes in.  You don't have to stir the onions continuously but you should be near the stove to stir every few minutes.  

I use bouillon cubes in this soup because they are convenient but feel free to replace the bouillon and water with 6 cups homemade vegetable stock.

This is also a great soup to serve to company, especially if you are having a fancy meal with an appetizer before the main dish.  Make the soup early in the day and heat it up before your company arrives and pop it in the oven with the bread and cheese

French Onion Soup. . . Vegetarian Style
2 pounds yellow or white cooking onion, about 5-6 large onions
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon flour
2 vegetarian "beef" bouillon cubes or vegetable bouillon cubes
6 cups water
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, optional
Bay Leaf
Sprigs of thyme, if you can find fresh thyme
Salt & pepper to taste

1-1½ cups grated Gruyere or Swiss cheese
Mozzarella cheese, optional (see note below)
Thick slices of French bread, lightly toasted, one slice for each bowl of soup. 

Peel and cut onions in half length-ways.  Slice each half in ¼-inch slices.  

Melt the butter with the oil in a heavy bottomed pot until it gets hot and foamy but do not burn the butter. Place the onions in the pot; sprinkle with the sugar and a little salt. Go easy on the salt because you will be adding bouillon cubes and they tend to be salty.  Cook the onions slowly over medium low heat until caramelized to a golden brown.  This will take at least half an hour or more.  Stir every few minutes so the onions do not burn.   

When the onions have caramelized, sprinkle with the flour.  Stir to coat the onions and let cook another minute.  Add the bouillon cubes, water and vinegar.  Stir and scrape any brown residue from the bottom of the pot.   Add the bay leaf and a few sprigs of fresh thyme. Bring the soup to a gentle boil and then simmer 20 minutes.  Taste and adjust salt and pepper to taste.  

Just before the soup is ready to serve, preheat the oven to broil.  Ladle the soup into 4-6 deep oven-proof bowls.  Lay a piece of the toasted bread on top of the soup.  You may rub the cut side of a clove of garlic over the bread to give extra flavour.  Divide the cheese evenly between the bowls of soup and sprinkle on top of the toasted bread. 

Note:    Gruyere and Swiss cheese can be quite expensive so sometimes I cheat by mixing Mozzarella cheese in with the Swiss cheese at a half and half ratio.  Because the Mozzarella cheese is mild flavoured you still get that nice nutty flavour of the Swiss cheese. 

Lay the soup bowls on a baking sheet or cookie sheet and place under the preheated broiler until the cheese bubbles and starts to turn a golden brown.  DO NOT BURN THE CHEESE.  Remove  from oven and serve immediately.  

Makes 4-6 servings.

This soup can be made vegan by using vegan bouillon, vegan margarine to replace the butter and vegan cheese to replace the Swiss or Gruyere.  

Slice the onions in ¼ -inch slices. 

 Heat the butter and oil in a heavy bottomed pot.

Add the onions to the butter and oil and caramelize them watching carefully and stirring every few minutes.   When the onions are a lovely golden brown stir in the flour and cook for another minute.

When the soup is cooked, ladle into oven-proof bowls.  My bowls were huge so I didn't fill them to the top.

If you wish you may rub the cut side of a clove of garlic on the toast.  This will give a nice boost of flavour to the dish.

Lay the toast on top of the soup.

Sprinkle the grated cheese on top of the toast.  You may use as much or little cheese as you desire.  In this picture I have sliced Swiss cheese and grated Mozzarella on top of the toast. 

Place the soup under the broiler and broil until a rich golden brown and the cheese is blistered.

Doesn't that look ooey gooey good!

As good as any restaurant--French Onion Soup!


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