Gluten-Free, Vegan French Onion Soup

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The French onion soup is typically served with toasted baguette slices and grated cheese. Whenever I had this soup at a restaurant, two things struck me: its taste was extremely good, and it was extremely heavy. To me it was a meal in itself, with little hope of fitting much else (one time after wandering around the Louvre, I did appreciate the extra calories, however). I was wondering if it was possible to make the soup lighter, without sacrificing its wonderful, hearty taste.

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The secret to the onion soup is, as it turns out, onion. Onion and alcohol. With those two ingredients intact, the taste is retained. It otherwise makes little difference whether the onions are cooked in melted butter or oil (although butter will arguably let the onions brown more). I used gluten free, vegan stock and I simmered the onions in wine just before adding them to the stock to extract more flavor. I thickened the soup with corn starch instead of flour. And I've omitted the cheese and bread entirely. When I told my mom I was making a vegan onion soup, she said "that's great, just remember to add lots of brandy!" As a result, in this recipe there is just as much, perhaps even more, alcohol content.

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The soup is not at all difficult to make. As with many French recipes, however, it simply takes time. The onions are slow cooked and then fried for a total of forty-five minutes (some prefer to cook them even longer). The onions are then added to an already-made (or bought) stock, in which they simmer for half an hour to forty-five minutes more. A splash of brandy is added right before the soup is ready to be served.

The soup turned out to be delicious, slightly lighter, but just as hearty and flavorful. It is salty and sweet, with a caramel-like taste of the browned onions and a bit of acidity from the wine. The taste of the soup itself (naked, as it were) is so complex that I did not miss the cheese or toasted bread. So if you happen to have more onions on hand than you know what to do with, this is a great, lighter alternative to the traditional onion soup recipe.

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Adapted from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

French Onion Soup (Gluten-Free and Vegan)
(Serves 4)

You will need:
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups yellow onions (about 4-5 medium), thinly sliced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp brown sugar
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tbsp corn starch
4 cups vegetable stock (vegan and gluten-free)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 tbsp brandy (such as cognac)
4 tbsp finely chopped green onion stalks, for garnish (optional)

Directions
1. Heat oil in a large pan on medium heat. Stir in onions, mixing well to coat in the oil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes, until onions are softened and fragrant. While the onions cook, heat the stock to a simmer in a medium sized pot.
2. Add 1/2 tsp salt and brown sugar to the onions, and increase the heat to medium. Cook onions, uncovered, stirring frequently, for 30 minutes. As they cook, the onions will turn translucent to pale gold to gold to slightly browned; they will also reduce substantially in volume.
3. Increase the heat to medium-high and add white wine to the onions. Stir well, scraping any onions stuck to the bottom. Wait until the wine begins to simmer, then add corn starch. Mix rapidly, until the wine is reduced slightly and the onion mixture begins to thicken, about one minute.
4. Add the onions to the simmering stock, stirring well. Bring to a boil, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in brandy. Serve immediately, sprinkled with chopped green onions for garnish.

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