Friday, September 30, 2011

Caramelized French "Five" Onion Soup

Before I switched careers to become a chef, I used to work in the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley.  And in 1998 my boss went on a trip to Paris and he brought me back a bottle of red wine and told me to keep it for six to eight years before drinking it.  So I stuck the bottle in the back of a coat closet, behind the vacuum cleaner and forgot all about it...until I attended culinary school in the fall of 2003.

During class one day we made French Onion Soup and I was so excited to come home and make it for dinner.  It was one of those great fall evenings where the air was crisp and we were just about to get our first rain of the season.  So here I am in the kitchen nursing my onions into a deep golden brown and I didn't have any red wine...or at least I thought I didn't.  But then I remembered the bottle of forgotten red wine behind the vacuum cleaner and I excitedly removed the cork and added about a cup to my onions.  All was well until my husband walked in the front door and noticed the "opened" bottle of French wine on the kitchen counter.  He asked me why I opened it and before I could explain, he grabbed the bottle off the counter and went into the home office and looked it up on the Internet.  To make a long story short, the bottle was worth $545, that's Five Hundred and Forty-Five Dollars and I used it for my French Onion Soup!!! 

Needless to say, we were both quite upset--obviously he more than me.  But in my defense, I was only focused on culinary school and making the best French onion soup ever!  But the evening had a happy ending--the soup turned out phenomenal and I let my husband drink what remained of the wine all to himself and it was one of the best meals we've ever had!

If you don't have three hours to make French Onion Soup the proper way, then wait until you do.  This recipe contains no flour, cornstarch, sugar, soy, tamari, or worcestershire sauce to obtain its deep/rich brown color.  All it takes is ruby port wine, vegetable stock and a couple of hours to nurse and caramelize the onions and you've got an amazing authentic soup.

Above is a photo of what the onions should look like before you add the majority of the vegetable stock.  Once you get to this point, all you need to do is add the remaining stock and simmer the soup for about 20-30 minutes, ladle it into bowls and garnish it with cashew cheese sauce and croutons.

Even before I started eating a plant-based diet, I was never a big fan of garnishing French onion soup with a large toasted crostini and melted Gruyere cheese.  I found it really hard to eat and I always felt like I was going to choke on all the cheese.  So instead, I skip the cheese altogether and use a cashew cheese sauce and garnish the soup with herb-croutons.  I find it so much easier to eat and you get a crunchy crouton in every bite!  But if you're a big fan of melted vegan cheese, then by all means, add it to the soup and garnish it with the croutons.

Soup Base:

2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
2 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced in half moons, rinsed
1/2 cup sliced shallots
2 tbsp finely minced garlic
1 tbsp finely minced fresh thyme leaves
1 cup Ruby Port Wine or Merlot
10 cups dark vegetable stock (homemade or Trader Joe's Brand)
1/4 cup pale dry sherry
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

  • Heat a large dutch oven or stock pot on medium heat.  Add olive oil and onions and cook on medium to medium-low for about 45 minutes until onions are soft, stirring frequently.
  • Once the onions look like they're going to burn and stick to the bottom of the pan, deglaze with ruby port and cook for another 30-45 minutes, stirring frequently.
  • Again, once the onions look like they're going to start burning ladle in 1 cup of vegetable stock and cook until reduced, about 15 minutes, stirring frequently.  
  • Ladle in another cup of vegetable stock and cook until reduced, stirring frequently.
  • Add in garlic, thyme and dry sherry and cook for another 15 minutes, stirring frequently.  At this point the onions should be a deep amber brown and look like the photo above.
  • Add remaining vegetable stock, salt and pepper to taste and simmer for about 30 minutes.

1 day old loaf Sour Italian Batard, crust removed and diced into 1-2" cubes
1 tbsp finely minced fresh thyme
1 tbsp finely minced garlic
2 tsp finely minced fresh rosemary
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

  • Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.
  • Toss bread cubes, herbs, olive oil, salt and pepper together and place on a sheet pan and bake in the oven for 15 minutes until lightly golden brown.
To assemble, ladle the onion soup into deep bowls and garnish with cashew cheese sauce or vegan cheese, herb croutons and finely minced chives.  


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