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Vegetarian French onion soup?

Does anyone have a terrific recipe for vegetarian (not vegan!) French onion soup? I love great onion soup with lots of stringy cheese...but I must be able to prepare a vegetarian version for my other half. Can anyone help?

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  1. Not exactly a recipe, but I'd probably just take my favorite FO soup recipe and substitute homemade vegetable stock for the beef stock. The trick will be to get the vegetable stock as dark and savory as possible. I'd brown the vegetables and include some mushrooms in the mirepoix. A splash of soy sauce might help as well.

    Roughly, I would make stock using:
    1 medium onion
    2 carrots
    1 celery stalk
    A couple cloves of garlic
    Tablespoon or three of tomato paste

    6 ounces button mushrooms

    2 medium tomatoes
    Herbs - parsley, thyme, bay leaf, whatever you want
    6 cups water

    Soy sauce to taste - maybe about a tablespoon

    Chop the first set of ingredients and then brown thoroughly spread out on a sheet pan in a 375 deg oven, the tomato paste spread over the mirepoix. Brown the mushrooms on the stovetop in a little oil. Add the other ingredients up to and including the water. Simmer for 45 to 60 minutes. Add soy sauce to taste.

    After that, just cook FO soup however you normally would.

    5 Replies
    1. re: cowboyardee

      I made a vegan version once that started with a stock made from dried mushrooms. I used the reconstituted mushrooms later for something else. I then added every kind of onion I could get my hands on, including garlic, then seasoned with miso paste for the umami factor. It was excellent. I don't see why you couldn't do the same (use a small amount of dark barley miso and taste until you like the flavour -- I used quite a bit, but it was to replace the saltiness from the cheeses), but melt Emmenthal and Gruyere over a crouton in crocks of the veg-based onion soup.

      1. re: 1sweetpea

        Miso is a good idea - wish I'd thought of that. As are dried mushrooms. That said, I wouldn't make a straight mushroom stock because I don't think that would mimic the flavor of beef stock as well as a more general brown veg stock with mushrooms added.

        1. re: cowboyardee

          I went with the mushroom base because it went well with the miso paste. In my experience, vegetable stocks can be a bit cloying, and with all those already sweet onions, I was afraid that the whole thing would be sweet, rather than savory. Vegetable stock would certainly work, though it would affect my choice of alcohol to add.

          1. re: cowboyardee

            I make a veggie stock with portobello mushrooms, tamari soy sauce, and just a little bit of tomato paste as the umami factors. It comes out great--not too "mushroomy" and it works great for French onion soup. Definitely roast all the ingredients first and add a little white wine--it helps bring out more flavor, like the wine in a pasta sauce.

        2. re: cowboyardee

          I'm with cowboy. I'd just take my favorite onion soup recipe and use vegetable stock, though it might be nice to add some thinly sliced mushrooms which were browned first--that would add some "meatiness."

        3. add a little marmite instead of using beef stock.

          1. I cheated and used the meatless beef flavored Better Than Bouillon (no MSG and not super salty, great umami). I added some sherry, a Guinness and rosemary (besides the usual suspects). It was awesome.

            My house stunk like onions for days: I suggest chopping them outside if possible.

            5 Replies
            1. re: invinotheresverde

              Sorry to break it to you, but the autolyzed yeast extract in better than bouillon essentially contains large amounts of msg (or at least sodium and glutamate).

              Hydrolyzed soy protein is also a concentrated source of msg, and it's in some of their bases.

              I don't have anything against msg, btw. Just pointing out that BTB is absolutely loaded with the stuff.

              1. re: cowboyardee

                I forgot to add "added". My bizzle.

                "Better than Bouillon Vegetarian Bases are Vegan certified. No MSG added, contain 1/3 less sodium than other bouillons, are Fat Free, Non-irradiated, GMO Free, Dairy Free-lactose / Whey / caseinate free"

                1. re: invinotheresverde

                  Their claim is misleading. Adding autolyzed yeast extract and then claiming "no added msg" is a lot like claiming "no added salt" while adding a bunch of soy sauce. The glutamate is the main reason yeast extract is added. It's as close to an outright lie as the company can legally get away with.

                  1. re: cowboyardee

                    Those shizers! No wonder it tastes so good! ;)

              2. re: invinotheresverde

                I can attest to her house stinking like onions. My clothes (even bra and underwear!) smelled like onions after leaving.

                But the soup was delicious and totally worth the incredible stink.

              3. Here's a kosher version that might work for you:


                1. The miso idea is used in this NYT recipe that you might try next time:


                  1. Glutamates aren't necessarily bad- they're responsible for umami flavor, and high levels of them occur naturally in many favorite foods- tomatoes, mushrooms, grapes. Soy sauce & miso of course, and Bragg's Aminos. Most strongly flavored cheeses.abound in glutamates

                    Breast milk has ten times the glutamate content of cow's milk, and it's nature's perfect baby food.

                    I find that vegetarian onion soup benefits from the addition of some apple cider and a few drops of Maggi.

                    1. You've got to start with good stock. I use a variation of a Roasted Vegetable Stock recipe I found on Food.com by Chef Kate. It's a very satisfying stock which I have used for African Peanut Soup, and which my wife used for French Onion Soup (at least twice), among others. A mug in the microwave makes a filling after-work snack in the winter. It's great! My amended version:

                      8 large garlic cloves, peeled
                      1 large onion, peeled and quartered
                      3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
                      3 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch chunks
                      1 small parsnip, cut into 1-inch chunks
                      1 turnip, quartered
                      2 portobello stems, sliced down the middle
                      Olive oil
                      4 fresh bay leaves
                      12-20 peppercorns
                      4 allspice berries
                      10 stems of Parsley

                      Heat oven to 450°F.
                      Toss the vegetables with olive oil, until gently coated.
                      Place the vegetables (except for the garlic) in a roasting pan and roast for 30 minutes or so, turning them occasionally (They should be nicely browned and very aromatic). Add the garlic cloves during the last 5-10 minutes of cooking, being careful not to burn the veggies.
                      Place all the vegetables in a large pot, scraping all the good brown stuff from the roasting pan into the pot.
                      Fill with water and place on the stovetop on medium high heat. Add the parsley stems.
                      Bring to a boil, lower the temperature, and boil gently for 2-3 hours (watch the water level--if it boils down too much, add more water).
                      Pick out the parsley stems and discard.
                      Strain, pressing down on solids to extract as much liquid as possible; save the veggies for Bubble and Squeak!
                      Place the remaining liquid in a sauce pan. Add bay leaves, peppercorns, and allspice berries.
                      Simmer until reduced by three quarters; this could take about an hour. Add a splash or two of olive oil if desired.
                      Allow to cool; pour through strainer into large jar.
                      You should end up with about one and a half to two quarts of stock.

                      My wife's go to recipe for French Onion Soup is a very simple recipe from one of Yulia Vysotskaya's cookbooks. My wife was kind enough to write out her procedure for the soup (sorry for the lack of exact measurements, she cooks "by eye"):

                      4 yellow onions, sliced
                      2 bay leaves
                      fresh thyme
                      gruyere cheese
                      stale baguette slices

                      Melt butter; add onions and thyme leaves. Caramelize the onions over a very low flame until golden brown (this will take a while). Add pre-heated, simmering stock (diluted with water as necessary) and bay leaves. Boil for 5 - 7 minutes.
                      Toast bread slices in oven.
                      Remove bay leaves. Pour soup into small oven proof bowls. Layer cheese, a toasted baguette slice and more cheese on top.
                      Place into oven until the cheese is browned on top.

                      1. Before adding a vegetable stock, be sure to carmelize the onions a great deal. You can carmelize them, then add water to the pan to deglaze, pour off the resulting brown, flavored water into a bowl and save. Carmelize the onions some more until they brown up the bottom of the kettle again, add some water to deglaze and pour off the water again and save for the soup. You can do this multiple times until the onions are very dark. remove the onions and do it again with fresh onions. The result will be a brown, onion flavored stock that is very flavorful.

                        1. I haven't tried this yet, but Ottolenghi says that adding dried prunes to vegetable broth makes it taste meaty.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: GEC

                            That reminds me...

                            Heston Blumenthal claims that via some quirk of chemistry, combining onions and star anise in the same dish create an intense meaty flavor. Here is a link about it:


                            He claims to usually use it in a dish that already contains meat, so I couldn't say exactly what the effect would be in a meatless dish. And also, he cautions not to use too much of it, lest the star anise overpower the dish and become a really noticeable flavor on its own. Still, pretty interesting stuff. Blumenthal rarely steers me wrong.

                          2. funny, reading the post title just now, dark miso was my first instinct as well as that of several other posters. (is there anything miso can't do?)