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Grab the Mints...It's Time for Deluxe French Onion Soup!

When I was little, I was always excited whenever a restaurant offered French Onion Soup on its menu. Crusty bread, melted cheese, sweet onions all in its own little crock—what’s not to love? But French Onion Soup seemed to fall out of fashion. I couldn’t order it anywhere. Then the pendulum swung about ten years ago—you know, when foodies started to rule the world—and suddenly, French Onion Soup was everywhere. By then, I had another problem: I was a vegetarian and every restaurant I went to (except one) made its soup with beef broth. It was almost cruel: I was in French Onion Soup Purgatory. So, I licked my wounds, got in the kitchen, and made my own. I’m so glad I did!

1 leek, halved, thinly sliced, and cleaned (See below for instructions)

1 large red onion, peeled, and thinly sliced

1 large yellow or white onion, peeled, and thinly sliced

1 shallot, peeled, and thinly sliced

1 TBS fresh chives, chopped

2 TBS unsalted butter

1 TBS neutral-flavored oil like grapeseed, canola, or vegetable (I used grapeseed)

¼ cup white wine

1 tsp salt

1 tsp brown sugar

½ tsp dried thyme

Pinch of red pepper flakes

6 cups low-sodium or homemade vegetable stock

1 small bay leaf

Salt & pepper to taste

8 slices of baguette or other small crusty bread, cut on the diagonal

2 TBS unsalted butter

1 TBS fresh chives, chopped

Pinch of salt

1 cup of grated cheese like Gruyere, Swiss, fontina, provolone or Muenster (I used a vegetarian, kosher Muenster that melted beautifully)

A buffet of onions: this is why the soup is called "Deluxe"!

As leeks grow upwards, their layers fill with dirt. You can see the dirt on the tough outer leaf (which I discarded) and the inner leaves.

Clean the leeks: You want to use the white and light green parts only (although you can use the dark green leaves for stock). Trim the ends and cut the leek in half lengthwise. Cut the leeks into thin slices. Fill a bowl or clean kitchen sink with cold water. Add a teaspoon or two of baking soda and swirl it into the water until dissolved. Add the leeks to the water. Swirl gently for a few seconds. Allow the leeks to stand for 10 minutes. The dirt will fall to the bottom of the bowl or sink. Without agitating the water, pull the leeks up from the water and place into a colander or sieve. Rinse the leeks and drain well. Pat dry with a lint-free kitchen towel or paper towel.

Heat a large pot on medium low. Add the butter and oil. Add the leeks, onions, shallots, and chives. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The goal is to caramelize the onions slowly without charring them. They become almost creamy but still maintain their texture.

Add the wine and stir. Add the 1 teaspoon of salt, brown sugar, thyme, red pepper flakes, and a pinch of pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the vegetable stock and the bay leaf. Loosely cover with a lid and bring up to a simmer. Once the soup is simmering, remove the lid. Cook the soup on low for an hour, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat. Carefully remove the bay leaf and discard. Check for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Divide the soup equally into 4 oven-proof crocks, bowls, or small casserole dishes.

Preheat the oven to broil.

Meanwhile, toast the baguette. Spread the 2 TBS butter equally between all 8 slices. Sprinkle the 1 TBS of chives equally between all 8 slices of baguette and sprinkle with salt. Place two pieces of baguette into each bowl (I actually like to cut each piece of baguette in half to make it easier to eat). Cover the soup and bread with ¼ cup of the cheese. Place the crocks onto a sheet pan and broil for 2-4 minutes until the cheese is golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the soup to rest for 2 minutes. Carefully remove the crocks from the pan and place on a plate to serve. The crocks will be hot so warn your guests!

Don’t Freak Out!

1) When I was telling one of my friends about this soup, her first question was “No garlic?” Like me, she loves garlic. For this soup, however, I prefer that the sweetness from the different onions takes center stage. But, if you want garlic, go for it. Mince 1 or 2 cloves of garlic. Add the garlic to the onions one minute before you add the vegetable stock.

2) Make it meaty. Of course, you don’t have to use vegetable stock in this. Substitute 6 cups of beef broth or stock. Or, you could a combination of beef broth/stock and chicken broth/stock (use 3 cups of each).

Allergy alert: All of the beef broth and stock, whether in cans or boxes, that is sold in my local supermarket contains yeast extract; so if you’re allergic to yeast, make your own beef broth/stock or use chicken or mushroom broth/stock instead.

Also, if you want to use a meat broth/stock but keep it kosher, follow the Make it Vegan substitutions below.

3) Make it halal. Omit the white wine. Substitute 2 TBS balsamic vinegar.

4) Make it gluten-free. Omit the white wine. Substitute 2 TBS balsamic vinegar or ¼ cup gluten-free wine (white or red). Gluten-free stout or ale (especially those with caramel undertones) could be interesting in this (use ¼ cup). Use toasted gluten-free baguette, white sandwich bread, or even a bagel for the baguette.

5) Substitute ¼ cup stout or ale for the wine. I don’t recommend anything too hoppy or fruity for this.

6) Make it vegan. Substitute the butter used in cooking the onions with 2 TBS of neutral-tasting oil like grapeseed, canola, or vegetable oil (I don't recommend using coconut oil here as its flavor will overpower the other ingredients). For the butter on the baguette: toast the baguette and drizzle with either a neutral-tasting oil or for a bit of extra flavor that complements the onions, extra-virgin olive oil. Add the chives and salt to the baguette. For the cheese, there is plenty of vegan or soy cheese that would work, including provolone, mozzarella or Monterey jack styles.

7) Speaking of cheese, if you’re a cheese lover, by all means, add more than the ¼ cup the recipe uses. Or combine cheeses: Swiss & Muenster would be good together as would provolone & fontina. Also, if you use beer instead of wine while cooking the onions, you could top your soup with cheddar cheese instead.

8) Don’t have cute little oven-proof crocks or bowls? Pour the soup into a large but relatively shallow casserole dish, top with the baguette and cheese, broil, and serve family-style.

9) This soup is even better the next day. After simmering, cool completely, and store in the refrigerator. Reheat the soup, and follow the recipe as written.

10) Don’t feel like broiling? Toast the baguette lightly. Place the baguette onto a sheet pan, top with the butter, chives, salt, and cheese, and brown in a toaster oven or the oven at 350 degrees, and place in the soup. Don’t have a toaster oven or even want to heat up the oven at all? Make a few grilled cheese sandwiches, cut into bite-size pieces, and add to the soup.

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