Watching Vancouver 2010, Part 1: (Vegetarian) French Onion Soup

Alright, I know it’s been awhile. And I know this is going a bit far back, but I don’t think I’d feel right forging ahead without discussing the pivotal role food played in my Olympics obsession this year. Truthfully, there is no real connection between food and me watching the Olympics this year. I just had some food experiences that I found interesting during that time period and was obsessed with watching the Olympics every day. This was a first for me, too; I’d never before paid that much attention to the Olympics. It was fun. I anticipate continuing the habit. And I can’t believe it’s actually been almost a full 6 months since I posted anything. :\

I am usually a fan of French onion soup. I found myself strongly compelled to make French onion soup on Ash Wednesday, February 17. The reason: I had just seen The Amateur Gourmet’s post about said soup. As a side note, for the opening ceremonies I made potato leek soup with bacon. ‘Twasn’t bad, but wasn’t quite up to par either. Interestingly, I think I would actually forgo the bacon next time. But I digress.

Coming home from an Ash Wednesday Mass and after having dropped my grandma off, I journeyed to the store to pick up supplies. I was a little incredulous of the recipe, a Les Halles recipe as posted on Chow, as it called for chicken stock in lieu of beef stock. Aren’t the two main components of French onion soup onions and beef stock? I was, however, rather intrigued by the use of port and balsamic vinegar. And bacon. I must confess though, I left out the bacon. Why? Well, it was Ash Wednesday after all and many years of Catholic school, and the recent Mass, that Catholic guilt was racking up. ;) In support of going meatless, I also opted for vegetable stock instead of the called for chicken stock.  In the spirit of full disclosure, that was one of the first times in awhile that I actually adhered to the no meat rule. In the spirit of innovation and my almost flawless record of not following recipes, leaving out the meat wasn’t my only “innovation.” Truth be told, I think I was mostly just intrigued by the idea of a vegetarian French onion soup. This will be discussed more below.

So, first things first. Carmelize the onions. This called for butter and sliced onions. I cried like a baby to get those sliced onions. I always do. I’ve tried the sharp knife (although to be fair, I probably should go get it professionally sharpened), near an open flame, and using refrigerated onions. Nothing seems to hold back the waterworks. I remember answering a phone call one time while cutting onions to have the person on the line ask, in a very concerned tone, what was wrong. Nothing, I replied, I’m just cutting onions. I feel like this fact makes me somewhat of a kitchen wuss. If it helps, I don’t stop…usually. I do often have to take breaks from the raw root vegetable though.

I don’t know if my onions ever got as brown as they were supposed to get in this first step, but after about 1 hour (recipe says this should only take about 20 minutes) I decided it was time to add the port and balsamic vinegar. (Any tips??)

Then it was time for the thyme. I know, I know…but I kind of just had to do it! Lastly, the requisite bread and cheese topper was assembled and placed on the bowl of soup all ready for the broiler. I used white cheddar, in lieu of the classic Gruyere, which I was a bit incredulous of, since no Gruyere was to be found in my fridge that evening. A little garlic powder and butter accompanied the bread as well. Since I didn’t add fresh garlic in the soup (I KNOW, right!?!?), you know I had to find some way to incorporate it. But don’t fret, there will be another batch, and you know garlic will make its way into that batch. :D

And there it is! I must add, it smelled divine. I thoroughly enjoyed that I was able to have a perfectly lovely and satisfying vegetarian French onion soup. To be honest, it always seemed so peculiar to me that French onion soup wasn’t vegetarian. I mean a vegetable is the star ingredient and the soup’s namesake. Doesn’t that somehow require the soup be vegetarian? Yes, I realize the contradiction that statement poses to my earlier comment about French onion soup requiring beef stock. It’s a complicated world we live in.

It was sweet (maybe slightly too much for my taste), savory, tart (I originally described it as vinegary – this was a good thing), and rich (almost had a creamy taste) – all the things a good French onion soup should be, in my humble opinion. The white cheddar went surprisingly well (at least to me) with the soup. It was so satisfying, each spoonful left me wanting another. So much so that I even ate the leftover soup for the next few days – in a row. That was huge for me, as I’m not the biggest leftovers person. I was actually sad when the soup was all gone – I saved a bite or two, literally, so I could compare it to the next batch I knew must be imminent. In fact, I was such a fan of this soup that I chased my friend Paloma around the house with a spoonful trying to convince her to at least try it; she says she’s not a fan of onions, but she eventually started to come around with garlic, so I’m holding out hope. ;) Just writing this is making my mouth water for that soup. I miss it. I really, really do.

As it turned out, I didn’t make French Onion Soup again for awhile, but when I did I used a combination of a Julia Child recipe and another that is slipping my mind. I was intrigued by the use of water instead of stock (apparently that suggestion was in one of the recipes). I thought that would provide a deeper, richer onion flavor. I found the soup to be lacking some depth, however, using that method. It was oniony, but, dare I say, somewhat bland – just lacking in some regard. I ended up adding balsamic vinegar and port to my bowl. Sometimes innovation doesn’t work out so well after all.

I hope to revisit you soon, French onion soup. For now, au revoir!

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  1. #1 by Paloma on June 5, 2010 - 11:54 pm

    Just to clarify, I still think garlic is gross. That is all.

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