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The luxurious richness of slowly caramelized onions gives a fragrant taste to this surprisingly low budget, but fancifully French soup. Although very little fat is used in its making, this entrée-worthy dish has an almost buttery taste that makes it seem over-indulgent. Make the full batch and freeze half to pull out on sick days, during unexpected snow storms, or just a Wednesday that has you enduring a case of the “blahs”.
The most important part of making this dish is the caramelization process. It can’t be rushed. But, don’t fret! Despite its importance it isn’t difficult at all. However, it is a bit time consuming, but so worth it. (This is why I suggest making a double batch and freezing half.) The slow, careful cooking of the sugars within the onions is what makes French Onion Soup so decadent. It is also how something so very inexpensive can be equally as impressive.
To broil, or not to broil? That is the question!
Although I’m not opposed to gratinée in general, as a professional gypsy/wife-of-a-Travel-Tech, it just isn’t always possible. When we arrive at each temporary house or apartment, I never know what type of dishes we’ll be provided. (Usually a mismatched assortment from IKEA and most definitely nothing oven-safe.) What I do know is that I can’t lug cumbersome, oven-proof bowls with me around the country, so I’ve had to make some tough choices about what kitchen tools to bring. More to the point, I’ve had to learn to make the ones I have work.
So, for this seemingly lavish (and in our home, year-round) soup, I’ve skipped the French finishing touch of broiler-melting wonderfully smelly cheese over slices of crusty bread (aka gratinée). Instead I’ve adapted it to make it work with what I have. I’ve come to prefer it served simply with shredded cheese on top that melts on its own from the warmth of the soup, and thinly sliced bread for dipping on the side.
Stinky Cheese is the best cheese.
Walking around the marché (market) in Paris, one will inevitably catch a waft of an ammonia-like aroma. The guilty culprit emitting such a confusing scent may just be the extravagant Raclette Cheese. It is what I recommend for topping your French Onion Soup if you want to splurge a bit. This cheese is an easy way to dress up a dish made simply of humble onions. Although it is extremely pungent smelling, I swear it tastes AMAZING. Here in the U.S. its often found at specialty cheese shops, or sometimes Whole Foods.
For a more budget friendly option, I truly enjoy using Red Wax Gouda which is easy to find at grocery stores and Trader Joe’s. Plus its a fraction of the cost. I always have a wedge of it in my cheese drawer to go with sliced apples, between two slices of seeded bread for grilled cheeses, or to top a steamy bowl of this soup.
Leno says what?!
In general, I agree with Jay Leno when he says, “It seems like
[soup is] a way for people to screw you out of a meal.” This is one of the very few exceptions. For under 300 calories, each big bowl of my Uncomplicated French Onion Soup provides you with over 14 grams of protein. Although its filling on it’s own, serving one of these protein rich salads from Hurry the Food Up on the side won’t hurt. I promise your tummy will be satisfied!
Looking for more vegetarian entree ideas? Check out my “Meaty (Meatless) Manicotti, 220 cal +13g protein each“, and “Vegetarian/Vegan (& low budget) Carrot Osso Bucco“. What are your go-to vegetarian entrees? Comment below!
Uncomplicated French Onion Soup, Made Simply to Taste “Fancy”
- 2 lbs (8 cups/2 qt) thinly sliced yellow onions *See note below*
- 2 tbsp (1 oz) unsalted butter (or Vegan butter)
- 2 tbsp EVOO 2-3 tsp sea salt (depending on your broth’s salt level)
- 1 tbsp white sugar
- 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp (6 tbsp) AP flour
- 1/4 cup sweet vermouth
- 2 quarts (8 cups) low sodium beef (or vegetable broth)
- 3 tbsp white vinegar
- 1.5 tsp dried thyme, or 1 tbsp fresh
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4-5 oz Red Wax Gouda or Raclette* Cheese, shredded (Vegans use Daiya cheese, or omit all together)
- French or other crusty bread, thinly sliced
*If you get onions that are still pretty green on the inside, the Caramelization process may take up to 55-60 mins.
- Melt the butter and oil together in a wide pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions & coat them in the mixture.
- Cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Let them slowly steep for 20 minutes, without removing the lid. This will begin to soften the onions and draw out their water. *Chef’s Note* At first, there will be a great deal of liquid, which is the enemy of caramelization. Once it cooks off and the onions will start to turn more golden, you’ll need to stir them more frequently. Just pay attention at that point because they’ll become perfectly gooey, but can burn quickly.
- Uncover the pot and add in the salt and sugar. Stir to combine.
- Raise the heat to medium, and cook the onions stirring often, for 30-40 minutes.
- Once they are caramelized, sprinkle with half the flour and stir well constantly, until you no longer see any white. Sprinkle in the second half of the flour and cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes.
- Add in half the vermouth, while stirring constantly. You want to stir it all in well and not add more until the flour is dispersed and not lumpy. It’ll be sort of like paste. At that point add in the other half of vermouth and do the same.
- Add the stock in 4 stages, stirring well after each addition in order to avoid flour lumps. (It’ll seem like a whole lot of broth, but its going to cook down and thicken a bit, so don’t fret!)
- Add the fresh black pepper and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Add in the vinegar and continue to simmer uncovered for 25 minutes.
Ladle into 6 bowls and divide the shredded cheese over top of each each. It’ll become wonderfully melty and gooey. Mmmm. Serve thinly sliced crusty french bread on the side.