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Vegetarian French Onion Soup

I was just wondering if there's a recipe out there for a delicious vegetarian french onion soup... I know the beef broth is one of the draws but I'm looking for a recipe for my dad, and I want something with a bit less saturated fat (I'm also a sort-of veg. :-)... don't ask), perhaps someone has something a little healthier?

If someone's ever tried it I'd love to know some tips or a good recipe link!


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  1. Mushroom stock is much richer than veggie stock and makes a great onion soup.

    Buy about a pound of mushrooms -- white button mushrooms work just fine. Wash them, cover with a gallon of water and S&P, and simmer for 60 to 90 minutes. Strain.

    Use the stock in place of beef stock in your soup recipe. Yummy.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mudster

      I might also add a bunch of potato skins and onion to that stock to give it a bit more ass. ;)

    2. Have you ever tried Marmite? It's totally vegan, but it has a rich, savory, yes, kind of meaty flavor. I discovered it when I first moved to England, where it's mostly eaten as a spread on bread or toast. Vegs I know use it in cooking too. You can find it in some shops in the US.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Kagey

        I would second that as a stock base. Can be bought in Publix in South Florida or British shops online.

      2. I started with this recipe from Vegetarian Times: http://www.vegetariantimes.com/recipe... . Then I changed it -- I've used my own homemade veg stock or mushroom stock. Also, per another thread here about crock pots, I tried doing the onions in the crock pot and it worked perfectly. I ended up doing the whole soup in the crock pot.

        1 Reply
        1. re: LNG212

          A friend of mine started making that one several years ago, and it is wonderful. I was going to suggest it, but I'm glad to have been beaten to the punch, since I couldn't remember the exact name of the magazine.

        2. You might also consider doing a leek and potato soup -- I know it's not the same as french onion, but it lends itself much more readiliy to a tasty vegetarian preparation. In addition to the beef stock, one of the things that makes french onion soup so good is the copious amounts of cheese baked on top, which would be impossible to substitute for to make the final preparation low in saturated fat.

          Otherwise, the suggestion to use mushroom stock is a good one. I would stay away from making it with straight vegetable stock, unless you make it yourself and have a good recipe. I've found that many canned veggie stocks have an unpleasantly strong cabbage flavor. I know that Hain or one of the vegetarian soup manufacturers makes "un-chicken" broth, which is an excellent substitute in soups that call for chicken stock. Perhaps somebody makes an "un-beef" broth?

          1. The New York Times Magazine had a fabulous 100-year old onion soup recipe a few months ago. I have made it twice for my family and everyone loved it. I has no broth at all, and is almost like a casserole, with buttered slices of toasted baguette, sauteed onions, tomato paste, Emmenthal cheese and water. Except for slicing all the onions (use a food processor), it is very easy. Here is the link: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage...

            6 Replies
            1. re: wolive

              I made this, too, and it was rich and delicious!

              1. re: Missyme

                Is this a complete meal? What else did you serve with it?

                1. re: abud

                  Yes, it's a complete meal with a crispy refreshing salad dressed with a simple vinaigrette since the soup is quite rich. I hesitated about serving bread with the salad, since there is so much bread in the soup, but I figured a slice or two of baguette couldn't hurt.

                  Most nights, our dinner is just soup and salad with some nice bread, so for me, this was not so unusual.

              2. re: wolive

                I have been saving that recipe for months waiting to try it.... so glad to hear it is wonderful. I was a little suspicious of the tomato purée as an ingredient. Was it noticeable?

                1. re: Tehama

                  The tomato puree added richness and body to the soup. It didn't taste like a tomato-ey onion soup, if that's what you're worried about.

                2. re: wolive

                  That NY Times article says the recipe is from Ali Bab's 1907 Gastronomique Pratique, but unless something was lost in the translation, it's not exact. I have the 1971 English translation of the book, and that "original recipe" is different. It calls for "tomato pulp" instead of tomato puree. For me, "tomato pulp" would be uncooked, as in tomato concasse, while "tomato puree" could not only be cooked but maybe even canned. Not the same taste. He also calls for cooling the sliced and toasted baguette, then layering it with butter and cheese to the total thickness of one half inch, one third of that being butter, the remaining two thirds the grated Gruyere. Considerably more butter than called for by the NY Times!

                  But that's the second recipe in the book for Soup a l'Oignon Gratinee. The first one uses no tomatoes, but calls for browning the thinly sliced onion in pork or uncured bacon fat over a low fire for twenty minutes, then adding a bit of powdered sugar to enhance the carmelization process without burning the onions. When the onions are a nice deep but unburnt color remove as much fat as possible and add 1 1/2 quarts of water and bring to a boil for 20 minutes. Butter thick slices of French bread (2 slices per serving) and layer some in the bottom of a fire proof casserole or soup tureen. Cover each with a thin slice of Gruyere that is the same size as the bread. Continue with the bread/cheese/bread/cheese layering until all the bread is used up. Season the onion broth to taste with salt and pepper, then pour it gently around the bread. The broth, says Mr Bab, may be strained or unstrained. The bread (topped with cheese) will float. Top all surface bread with a "tiny piece of butter" and bake in a "slow oven" for twenty minutes, then serve. I will quickly add that I'm not entirely convinced that a "low flame" or "slow oven" of Ali Bab's 1907 French kitchen is what we would call a low flame or slow oven today.

                  This recipe without the tomatoes sounds considerably lower in fat than the first one above, even in the lower butter NY Times version. But it doesn't exactly sound fat free, but if you get all the fat you possibly can out of the sauteed onions, then really skimp on buttering the bread, it does come out meat free and a lot lower in fat than any other recipe I recall ever seeing. I've had French Onion Soup made in this manner, meaning the color and flavor of the soup come exclusively from the rich flavored, darkly browned oinion, and it had great flavor. I just don't think I could recommend a low fat or even fat free Swiss cheese. Both taste like cardboard. You could reduce the overall fat with micro-thin slices of Gruyere topped with a grating of fresh Pecorino Romano (or that other Regiano stuff) but there goes your salt level!

                3. We made an onion soup without beef broth at the restaurant at which I trained, and it's better than any beef broth one I've had. Rich, deep, but not cloying.

                  Thinly slice a *whole bunch* of onions -- the volume of onions with which you start will be about the total soup with which you end .

                  Saute the onions in a very big pot with a little touch of toasted sesame oil and corn oil -- you don't want to taste the oil, just alter the taste of the onions. Add some kosher or sea salt. Turn the heat way, way down and periodically stir the onions, making sure to scrape the onions off the bottom, until they are a tiny percentage of the initial volume and are a deep golden brown (and delicious!) It takes a long time, but your patience will be rewarded. (A little too much AB, I think...) Add water and a touch of soy back to the original volume. Again, you don't want a soy soup -- just enough to alter the flavor profile of the onions. (The mushroom broth sounds delicious.) S&P to taste.

                  Using a pressure cooker will be faster, but low and slow -- once the cover is off -- and reducing way down to onion sludge is key.

                  It's that simple. Actually, those of you that must have beef stock can use that for rehydration -- just watch the salt.

                  1. I have made my own onion base if you will. I have taken a mix garlic, salt and pepper and then red, white and yellow onions. Rough cut then sautee them with added olive oil and a little butter and wine. I cooked them past the point where I normally cook the onions I'm using for the "French onion" soup. Necessity the mother of invention, I was out of beef stock, didn't want to use anything in a jar, or package, and made this. After cooking them to a rich brown, they will be very soft and mushy, put them in a blender and make a thick thick paste. At this point you can freeze it for future, or use it. It will flavor the soup beautifully. It's a little more work, but what the heck!

                    1. I haven't made this yet but it looked really good. It was on Ming Tsai's Simply Ming series where he makes a master recipe and then uses it a few different ways. Here is the vegetarian broth recipe and in the left margin, you'll see a link for Three Onion Soup. Jacques Pepin was the guest on this episode and he said the soup tasted like french onion soup should.


                      1 Reply
                      1. re: sweetTooth

                        Oh my gosh! that sounds amazing! I'm definitely going to have to try that!

                      2. Just curious, but surely the saturated fat in the original French Onion Soup recipes (Julia Child, Madame Benoit even Joy...) comes less from the beef broth-there's not a lot left-but from the gratin tops?

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: LJS

                          Oh, I'd agree, but my dad isn't really too crazy about the cheese anyway, I don't plan on using as much as is usually called for. I'm trying to rework the whole thing, but want at least a bit of similar flavoring.

                        2. Thanks for all the suggestions! they all look so good, i'm probably going to do some mixing and matching but they've given me an excellent starting point!

                          1. Marmite, dried mushrooms, and miso.

                            Do the mushroom for stock, add the marmite and/or miso.

                            1. I always make a veg version since we are kosher. I usually use the Knorr Vegetarian soup stock cubes, but you could probably use the lower-salt not-concentrated veg-stock-in-a-box of your choice. If you do that, be careful: some of them are way too tomato-ey.

                              here is what I do: I have tried the CI versions (there are several) and some other versions. CI uses red onions, which make a nice, rich broth; but I find you can get a good effect with plain yellow onions. Skip the sweet onions unless you are mixing with other varieties; not enough depth of flavor. I slice about 1/4 in thick and saute in a mix of butter and olive oil on med-low heat. Like another user said, use enough onions to fill the pot to your final desired soup volume. Now you basically want to carmelize the onions - so cook 'em low and slow. If you want you can do a mid-way pot deglaze with water, stock or a little sherry, and the let them carmelize again. You can actually do this multiple times, and the flavor gets richer each time. Sometimes I add a little garlic, but often not. When your onions are reduced to the beautiful carmelized stage, deglaze with a little balsamic. I forget exactly how much I've used, but maybe two tablespoons for about 2.5 lbs onions? It adds the same thing the soy mentioned by the other responder adds: Umami - that "fifth flavor sensation." Then add your stock, enough to cover the onions, and some thyme, plus or minus a little sherry if you haven't added it before, and let all the flavors meld for a bit. Bring to a boil them reduce to a simmer. cook a bit longer, then adjust salt & pepp, and if a little something is still missing, add balsamic by the tsp - stir well - taste - and the flavor will brighten right up. Now ladle into individual crocks.

                              I go a non-traditional route: I make my own croutons with ciabatta (from Costco - go figure - it's really yummy). I cube the ciabatta & bake it on lightly oiled foil on a baking sheet at about 250 until the croutons are lightly browned. As they come out of the oven, toss some coarse salt on top of them, crinkle the foil around them, and shake. They end up being lightly salted. keep for weeks on end. I put a few of these on top of the soup and due to spousal preference, we use slice or grated provolone. Bake the crocks at 450 and presto - yummy, meat-free onion soup that tastes a whole lot like the real deal.