Sunday, 5 April 2020

Vegetarian French Onion Soup

Vegetarian French Onion Soup
"Welsh" Onion Soup

So we were sitting in our house yesterday, prohibited from going out (much) by the coronavirus thing, and fancied some soup. I was going to make carrot soup, but there aren't very many carrots left and they're a bit manky. When did we start to think that washing carrots is a good idea? When they were covered in soil they lasted loads longer. Anyway, we bought one of those bags of "marvellous misshapes" onions from Co-op last week or the week before, which couldn't be more perfectly shaped in fact, and there are loads left. So onion soup it is.

Our 6 year old daughter says this should be called "Welsh Onion Soup" because it's not French at all. She's right really - the French classic is made using beef stock, which would make it very non-vegetarian, and white wine. I used Marigold Organic Vegan Bouillon and red wine, because there's a bit more flavour to it than white wine. And because I was already drinking from a box of it. Pub's not open...

The quantities here will make a decent bowl of soup for a couple of people, as a lunch with a bread roll.

Ingredients

  • 3 medium sized white onions
  • A clove of garlic
  • A splash of extra-virgin olive oil
  • A knob of butter
  • A dessert spoon or so of soft brown sugar, or any sugar really
  • A dessert spoon of plain flour
  • A splash of red wine, perhaps half a small glass or so
  • A pint (568 ml, so half a litre and a bit will do) of stock
  • A splash of dark soy sauce to taste
  • A slice of two of nice bread for croutons
  • Grated cheese to sprinkle on the top
  • Sea salt and black pepper to season

Tips

All soups benefit from long cooking. Any recipe which says you can make a soup in 15 minutes is optimistic at best. But this one really does need quite a long time - the onions need to be properly caramelised, and that will probably take 30 - 40 minutes before you add the stock. So if you want it earlier, start sooner.

I'm using Marigold organic (and vegan) Swiss vegetable bouillon in this. I've always got a tub of it in the cupboard and I use it for most things really. I'm not particularly bothered about the organic or vegan aspects of it, I just think it tasted nicer than the original one. I used to use a lot of Knorr stock pots but I don't use them much any more; they're quite pricey and I keep finding that the packet is empty again. They're good though, and would certainly be nice in this.

You need a heavy-based saucepan with a proper lid. But then, you always need a heavy-based saucepan - if you've got any with floppy thin bases throw them away and buy some proper ones otherwise you'll always be burning things. They don't have to be too expensive - ours are stainless steel Stellar ones which were pretty cheap at the time. We've had them for nearly 20 years and they're fine. They aren't so cheap any more though - Ikea do good ones which aren't madly expensive if you can't run to Stellar.

The proper way of serving French onion soup is with a slice of toasted baguette floating in it, with melted Gruyere or Emmental on top. We didn't have any baguette or Gruyere, so normal croutons and cheddar had to suffice, along with a bread roll. Edam or maybe Gouda would probably be better if you happen to have it though.

Method

Put enough olive oil in the pan to cover the bottom, and add the knob of butter. Peel, halve lengthwise and thinly slice the onions. Peel and chop or crush the garlic. Heat the pan until the butter has melted, add the onions and garlic and sprinkle the sugar on top. Stir, and when they start sizzling, turn the heat down and put the lid on. You want the mixture to be obviously cooking but not too much.

Give it a stir every five or ten minutes and put the lid straight back on. If it's sticking to the bottom of the pan turn it down; you want the onions to caramelise, not burn. Eventually, once the water has cooked out, the onions will start to go dark and sticky. Stir it a bit more to stop them sticking, until they are all nice and caramel-y.

Sprinkle the flour on top and stir it for a little bit until it's combined with the onions. Add the wine, turn the heat up a bit and stir. Let it bubble a bit while you make the stock, according to the instructions on the packet. Add the stock to the mixture and bring to the boil. A little splash of soy sauce will deepen the flavour - add that now if you want but don't overdo it. Literally a splash will do - certainly no more than a teaspoon. You want this to taste of onions, not like a stir fry. Pop the lid on and turn down to a simmer or slightly more, and leave for a while.

Cut the crusts off the bread and cut into cubes for the croutons. I fry them in the deep fryer at 190 degrees, just until they are golden brown; you can shallow fry them or drizzle them with olive oil and bake them in the oven instead if you like. If you're going to cook them in the oven do it now, otherwise wait until the soup is nearly ready.

Once the soup has been simmering for a bit, taste it. Once it tastes sweet and rounded, not sharp and wine-y, season to taste with sea salt and black pepper. More of the latter than the former. If you're frying the croutons, now is a good time.

Serve in warmed bowls, with the croutons and grated cheese on top. Lush.

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