Recipe Book: Vegetarian French Onion Soup

Since it’s a wet, rainy day here on the eastern shore, I’m curled up with a few good movies, a pot of tea (a new favorite, Celestial Seasoning’s Gen Mai Cha) and some leftover french onion soup.  What a treat!  Being a vegetarian in today’s society means missing out on a lot of delicious smelling foods because animal products are cheap and therefore in everything.  Including most soups, in the form of beef or chicken stock.  That means that a trip to Panera isn’t actually all that exciting for me.  I have, however, tried their french onion soup (after a certain someone told me it was vegetarian and I stupidly slurped it into my mouth before doublechecking the menu) and once I got passed the initial tidal wave of regret and nausea, I must admit that it was pretty darn tasty.  So I vowed to make up for breaking veggie law by finding the best vegetarian french onion soup possible and sharing it.

And so… I present to you the Best Vegetarian French Onion Soup Ever.

-3 large onions (I used 1 white, 1 yellow, and 1 red for variety)
-4 tbsp butter
-5 cups vegetable stock
-1/3 cup red wine
-1/3 cup coffee
-3 large garlic cloves, minced
-fresh thyme
-salt & pepper
-agave nectar or maple syrup

-Gruyere cheese (be sure to get cheese that melts, as the smoked Gruyere I used only browned)

-Slice the onions into thin strips.  Melt butter in a large stock pot over medium-low heat.  Add onions and stir until evenly coated with butter.  You want to caramelize the onions, not brown them, so this step requires patience.  Cook them for about an hour, stirring every 5-10 minutes, until they’re a nice golden brown all the way through.  This was the first time I’d tried caramelizing onions, and I took the “slow and steady” advice a little too seriously… Needless to say, using too little heat isn’t good either, as they will take forever and you will end up eating dinner at 9 at night.  So start with medium-low and just adjust as needed to keep them from browning (or wallowing in their butter not-so-hot springs).
-Once onions are caramelized, add broth, red wine, minced garlic, and seasonings to taste.  Remember, since it’s lacking the beef broth, this soup is going to rely on seasonings to give it the rich, bold flavor french onion soup needs.  So be generous with the spices.  I used a few sprigs worth of fresh thyme, a good amount of season salt, a dash of pepper, a dash of cumin, and maybe a tbsp of maple syrup.  The onions will have a sweet taste, so you don’t need to add much more sweetness, but the smoky tastes of agave and maple syrup go so well with the caramelized onions that I couldn’t resist adding some.
CIMG2945-Add coffee a little at a time, tasting each time.  You don’t want the soup to taste like coffee, just add to the flavor.
-Simmer for about an hour.
-Heat broiler.  Slice the baguette into thick slices.  Fill individual ramekins or one large casserole bowl with soup and top with a layer of baguette slices.  Cover with a layer of shredded or sliced Gruyere cheese.  Broil for about 10 minutes until cheese is melted.  Serve.  Drool.  Enjoy.  Live a meatless & soupful life.