I visited Philadelphia this past weekend, to see “The Largest Flower Show in the World.” Some Philadelphians mentioned it as the largest in the U.S. At any rate, it was big, and it afforded my cousin and me some time to test the cuisine in the area. The first night we ventured into a blustery, cold wind to find dinner, looked at several menus, and settled on an Italian restaurant with a large selection. We split a caesar salad, the romaine cut in ribbons like pasta, with a lovely dressing, no anchovies – my decision. I chose the sauteed chicken breast and grilled eggplant, sliced thin, which adhered to the meat with a little smoked mozzarella, a nice reduction over all. Between these courses, I ate a cup of onion soup, with no beef or chicken stock, that was rich and complex. The waitress told us the chef used tomato to thicken the broth, which led me to researching vegan onion soup recipes when I came home.
At Amber Waves today, I was restocking onions in the produce section and noticed several had mold on the skins. I removed 12 of them, and thought “OK, now’s the time to make the soup.” This recipe is a compilation of the those I saw online, plus the tomato. No one had tomato in their recipe.
Vegan French Onion Soup
12 or so medium onions, thinly sliced
3 T olive oil
salt and pepper
1/4 C red wine
1-2 T balsamic vinegar**
1 t dijon mustard
2 t tomato paste
8 C vegetable stock (see below)
1 small bay leaf
sprinkle of dried thyme
french and italian bread for croutons, plus cheese
For the stock:
top 3″ of a bunch of celery
1 onion, cut in large chunks
1 large carrot, sliced
2 cloves garlic, smashed
8 C water
salt to taste
Put veggies into water, bring to a boil, simmer 20 minutes, turn off and let sit while you slice onions.
Pour olive oil into a large soup pot, add onions, salt and pepper, and saute on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they are reduced in volume and barely cover the bottom of the pan. Add the red wine and balsamic vinegar, stir, and continue to cook until the liquids boil off. Turn the heat down, get a magazine or a good book, and cook the onions further, timing stirrings at 5 minute intervals, for about 30 minutes, until the onions are brown and sticky. Stir in the mustard and the tomato paste. (This is where I forgot to take a picture.)
Taste the stock and add salt until it tastes good. Strain the stock and add to the onions, scraping up the bottom and sides of the pot, toss in the herbs, and taste for salt and pepper. Cook gently for another 20 minutes.
Serve with toasted croutons topped with cheese of your choice, run briefly under the broiler or in a hot oven to melt. The French have nice ovenproof soup bowls for this purpose, or you can just put the bread on a cookie sheet, toast it briefly, top with Daiya or Gruyere or mozzarella, and pop back in the oven till it melts. Then put it into your soup!
I made this soup during a nor’easter, there’s lots of prep and time watching the onions caramelize. If you’re in a hurry, choose another recipe.
** One tablespoon of really thick, syrupy balsamic vinegar will suffice in this recipe. If you have the regular grocery store variety, use 2 T.