By Raymond Bill
When I decided to switch completely to a plant-based diet, I knew several of my treasured recipes would be sacrificially removed from my culinary collection. Afterall, this was a small price to pay for good health. There was, however, hope that I could reinvent these chosen recipes to both satiate my appetite and avoid all animal products. But will they taste as wonderful? Well, that is exactly what I have been spending these past few months to discover.
While the winter in the Coachella Valley can be brief, there are still some seasonal dishes that are best enjoyed on a cool night, snuggled by the fireplace. One of my most treasured comfort food meals recently became a challenge to recreate. Dating back to the 18th century, French Onion Soup is known for having a rich beef broth and savory, melty gruyere cheese, both of which are not part of a vegan or plant-based diet. My goal was to reinvent this classic and I believe, with just a few minor changes, I will not be missing my old recipe anytime soon.
This recipe calls for a little more time and I assure you that not only is it worth the wait, but this intermediate recipe will require no exceptional culinary skills to achieve. With the ability to make in advance, this is a considerable accompaniment to a multicourse dining event or perfect as a meal on its own.
What you will need:
- 4-6 medium yellow (or white) onions.
- 6-8 cups vegetable stock
- 2 heaping tsp all-purpose flour
- 6-8 cloves garlic, minced (remember, “more is more,” and that is ok)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp plant-based butter (I prefer Earth Balance)
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar or Agave nectar
- 2 large bay leaves
- Fresh sage and thyme (leaves stripped and chopped)
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- Vegan mozzarella
- Vegan smoked gouda
- Salt, Pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste
To begin, I chopped all the onions by first slicing off the root and opposite end, then setting flat and slicing down the middle. Laying the flat half down, I then sliced the onion into strips. Do not slice too thin as they can become stringy as they cook. At medium heat in a preheated pan, add olive oil and plant-based butter (I prefer using both for added richness and flavor). Add sliced onions to the pan and toss until coated with oil mixture. Lightly sprinkle onions with granulated sugar or drizzle with agave nectar and sauté until the onions caramelize to a golden-brown color. This will take about an hour, stirring occasionally so as not to burn.
Once the onions have caramelized, add garlic, herbs, and a pinch of crushed red pepper. I cannot stress enough the importance of waiting to add the garlic at this point. Garlic can burn or overcook and lose some of its signature flavor if added too soon or prepared at temperatures too high.
After stirring to mix completely, lightly dust the onions with flour (this will add texture to the soup as it simmers later). Now add balsamic vinegar, vegan Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce. This would also be a good time to add ½ cup of red wine if you desire. Cook down for about 5-10 minutes until the vinegar (and wine) has reduced.
Now add 6 cups of your preferred or homemade vegetable stock (if you prefer a less hearty soup, this is when more stock can be added, use your best judgement). Simmer for an additional 20-30 minutes.
While the soup is simmering, slice your baguette into thick pieces and prepare for the oven by brushing with olive oil and topping with vegan mozzarella cheese. Set the oven to broil and toast your baguette slices just enough to melt the cheese, approximately 5-7 minutes.
Finally, portion the soup into oven-safe bowls and top with toasted baguette slices, finished with more mozzarella and a slice of vegan smoked gouda (I enjoy the brand, “Follow Your Heart”) and place in the broiler until the cheese has melted. Garnish with fresh herbs and enjoy!
This rich, savory/sweet onion soup will leave you wanting more so you might want to make extra and store for later. This will hold for 3-4 days in the refrigerator and for several weeks in the freezer, making this an easy leftover dish that can be ready in minutes.