While cooking, listen to this: Dancing in the Street by Martha and the Vandellas
I have to dedicate this post to my brother, Alex, who shares my boundless admiration for both French Onion Soup and John Mayer.
French Onion Soup was one of those treats my mom never exposed us to. I’m not totally sure if that was because of its richness or because she didn’t know how to cook it, but either way, I remember the day I had my first bowl vividly.
When I first moved to New York, my job was smack dab in the middle of the Halal-meat Central part of Midtown. For someone new to the city, and stuck in Midtown, no less, I felt I’d been sentenced to a food purgatory. Except one day, a trilingual colleague of mine suggested we grab a bite at this tiny French restaurant - Le Bonne Soup. Her perfectly coiffed French made it sound like we were about to drop some serious dollars for a plate of snails. But in reality, this low-key restaurant was a far cry from uppity. Believe me, I had my doubts (though why I couldn’t tell you - soup covered in a layer cheese with a crouton floating in the middle is one of life’s greatest treats), but it was love at first bite.
After that initial bowl, I became a French Onion soup fiend, ordering it whenever it was on the menu and the weather was appropriately cool (I refuse to sweat the soup as I eat it). It was pure bliss.
My brother moved to NYC a few years after I did and it wasn’t until much later that we realized we shared more in common than just DNA. French onion soup is a bond stronger than blood and we both loyally order it, together, whenever we have the chance. I’ve had delicious bowls and I’ve had questionable bowls (I’m looking at you Long Island City steakhouse), but as long as there’s a crusty layer of cheese on top, I’m game.
Being a vegetarian, I’d always assumed Rina was missing out on this deliciousness, which is traditionally made with beef stock. Guys, will I ever learn? Rina has a magical way of making vegetarian versions of foods that will make any meat-eater buckle at the knees. I should know this by now. Regardless, I was completely floored when she pulled these babies out of the oven. Becca, who was our sous chef for the day, even gasped.
“Thank god we got those baby Staub’s,” I said, as we dug in. Clearly, purchasing Insta-worthy white cookware wasn’t a completely useless plan. They make great photo props, but excellent soup holders.
The key here is shamelessly caramelizing the onions. Like don’t quit on it. All that rich flavor comes from onions + butter + time. So pour a glass of wine and relax while you wait for them to cook. Maybe throw on some John Mayer. If you’ve got sensitive eyes like me, crack a window open. It’ll all be worth it when you realize what you’ve been missing all this time. As always, we got you.
VEGETARIAN FRENCH ONION SOUP
Yield: 4-6, depending on how much everyone wants
Active Time: 10m | Cook Time: 1h 45m
Category: Soup, Comfort Food
Source: very slightly adapted from May I Have This Recipe
Special Equipment: oven-proof bowls/crocks
Note: we use both olive oil and butter for caramelizing onions - the butter gives an amazing flavor, and the oil has a higher smoke point. Together they make the perfect caramelizing team!
3 Tablespoons olive oil
3 Tablespoons butter
4-5 large onions, sliced into thin half-moons
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 cups vegetable broth
1 Tablespoon vegan Worcestershire sauce*
⅓ cup dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 French baguette
14 ounces Gruyere cheese
*Traditional Worcestershire sauce has anchovies in it! If that doesn’t bother you, go for it, but we use and love Annie’s version.
Caramelize the onions: add the olive oil and butter to a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot and place on low heat (like, 2/3 max on your dial). When the butter has totally melted, add in all of the sliced onions, toss to coat, and leave alone. The magic ingredient in caramelizing onion is just time - check on them every 10 minutes or so to make sure nothing is burning, but other than a quick stir every once in a while, walk away. Cook until the onions are a deep golden brown - this might take a while, so as along as you keep ⅓ cup of wine for the soup, you can start off on the rest.
Add the rest of the ingredients: once the onions are caramelized, add the flour, stir to combine and cook for 5 minutes. Add the vegetable broth, Worcestershire sauce, white wine, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 20 minutes, then taste and adjust as needed.
Prepare the cheese toasts: while the soup is simmering away, preheat the oven to 350 F and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Shred the Gruyere and slice the baguette into ½-inch rounds.
Assemble! place 4-6 oven-proof crocks or bowls on the foil-lined baking sheet and ladle soup into each of them. Stir in a few Tablespoons of the Gruyere and mix well. Place a baguette slice on top of each bowl and smother with more Gruyere. Stick in the oven for 10 minutes, and then broil for 1-2 more, or until the cheese is golden and bubbling.
To serve: immediately. Just get it into your face as soon as possible.
To keep: you can keep the soup in the fridge for a few days, in a tightly-sealed container. Save the cheese toast part for when you’re ready to serve.