It’s a common misconception that French onion soup is meat-based. Although this may be common today, French onion soup traces its roots back to quite vegetarian origins. One of the oldest known soups of the world, we can trace onion soups back to Roman times (possibly even earlier), where the ingredients were simply onions, butter, water, and bread. Over the years, seasonings varied in quantity and complexity, but the core idea, astonishingly enough, still prominently remains. In fact, today’s methods for making onion soup haven’t changed much from when the Romans made it centuries ago.
Incidentally, what we know as onion “soup” is actually not what we historically know as a “soup” at all, but rather, a sop. Onion soup in particular rings very true of this original idea of a sop, which is broth served over a thick slice of bread. The bread would then “sop” up the liquid, thereby making it easier to eat. In a time where spoons were sometimes optional (read that as “unavailable”), the piece of bread was instrumental in making soup work, because it proved to be a very good way to both contain and eat the broth.
The key to good, rich, onion soup lies in the caramelization of the onions. The caramelization process does two things: first, it drives out excess water, which does not add much flavor to the soup, and second, it brings the onion’s natural sugars to the surface. Heating these sugars slowly causes some chemical changes to take place: really yummy chemical changes. We find evidence of this change in the appearance of the sticky coating, or fond, left behind on the bottom of the pan. In fact, some French chefs will spend the good part of an hour on this process, alternating between stove and broiler, to achieve the darkest color, and most complex flavor possible. No, it doesn’t have to be this way. Although the idea of achieving new levels of caramelization excites me, I’m ultimately much too impatient to wait this long for soup.
Below is an easy, quicker (but not speedy) version of onion soup. I’ve added Bragg’s Liquid Aminos and nutritional yeast to the soup for extra nutrition and complexity of flavor, but you can feel free to leave them out, if you wish.
2 lbs. Onions, sliced
2 Cloves Garlic, through a garlic press, or minced
3 Tbsp Margarine
7 cups (approximately) Hot Water
1 Tbsp Nutritional Yeast Flakes
1 Tbsp Low Sodium Tamari
1 tsp Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
Kosher Salt and Pepper, to taste
1) Heat margarine in a pot on medium heat. Add onions and sprinkle with some Kosher salt, stirring onions occasionally. The role of the salt in this step is not for seasoning so much as to help draw the water out of the onions faster. This speeds things along a little bit. After the liquid evaporates, pay watch the onions carefully so that they do not burn. You may want to turn the heat down a bit during this stage to help prevent burning. Add garlic, and continue to stir until onions are a uniform caramel-brown color, and a fond accumulates on the bottom.
2) Add hot water to the pot to deglaze the pan, scraping the fond off the bottom of the pot to dissolve it into the water. This is your soup stock. It should have a pretty tasty oniony flavor that will get better with some more simmering and reducing.
3) Add seasonings to the soup (yeast flakes, tamari, liquid aminos, ground pepper, and more salt, as desired). Be careful not to over season the soup at this point, since it will be simmering for a little while. We season now to draw out some more flavors locked in the onions. Cover pot and simmer about 30 – 45 minutes. Test and adjust seasonings to taste.
To Serve Gratinee:
Place thick slices of crusty bread onto a baking sheet and top with shredded cheese of your choice. Traditionally, Gruyère cheese is used, but one can substitute Swiss, Gouda, Muenster, or even Mozzarella, if desired. For a treat, try aged, goat’s milk cheddar. Place cheese-topped bread into a hot broiler and broil until cheese is slightly browned and bubbly. (Alternatively, if you have oven-safe crocks, feel free to place the bread into the soup, top with cheese, and place the whole crock into the broiler.) Place cheese covered bread into individual soup portions and serve immediately.
To Serve Parve:
Place a toasted slice of crusty bread into a soup bowl, and ladle hot soup over it. Serve immediately.
~ Recipe submitted by Allaya Fleischer