This Vegetarian French Onion Soup is a celebration of the onion. Instead of beef broth, which masks the onion, the slowly caramelized onions make their own sweet, deeply flavorful broth as they cook. For a faster cook-time-- caramelize your onions ahead of time and freeze them!

Vegetarian French Onion Soup

This Vegetarian French Onion Soup is a celebration of the onion. Instead of beef broth, which masks the onion, the slowly caramelized onions make their own sweet, deeply flavorful broth as they cook. For a faster cook-time-- caramelize your onions ahead of time and freeze them!

Vegetarian French Onion Soup

This Vegetarian French Onion Soup is a celebration of the onion.  Instead of beef broth, which masks the onion, the slowly caramelized onions make their own sweet, deeply flavorful broth as they cook.  For a faster cook-time– caramelize your onions ahead of time and freeze them!

Do you ever have ‘ah ha!’ moments?  Moments where suddenly, everything makes sense, and your world will never be the same again?  I had one of those moments recently– about onions.  (Don’t stop reading, guys!  It’s good– I swear!)  Specifically, my ‘the skies opened and everything was clear’ moment was about French Onion Soup.  You’ve eaten French Onion Soup, right?  Have you tried to make it?  Have you heard the warnings about using high-quality broth so as not to not ruin the hours and hours you’ve spent caramelizing onions into perfect, amber goodness?  The warnings are true, to an extent, because bad broth WILL RUIN your soup.  However, and this is a big however, you don’t need to add broth at all, because the onions make their OWN BROTH.  (If you’re staring in horror at your screen– stay with me!)  The broth you’ll get from simply using well-caramelized onions, hot water, and a little wine, is INCREDIBLE.  It’s so incredibly delicious, that when I tasted it– I immediately threw away all my other Vegetarian French Onion Soup recipes, because it was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

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This Vegetarian French Onion Soup is a celebration of the onion. Instead of beef broth, which masks the onion, the slowly caramelized onions make their own sweet, deeply flavorful broth as they cook. For a faster cook-time-- caramelize your onions ahead of time and freeze them!

Vegetarian French Onion Soup

If you’re staring at your screen, skeptical and full of doubt, I felt the same way– before I tried it!  (If you think I’m being over-dramatic now, keep reading.)  The first time I heard of this wild, crazy idea to leave out the extra broth, I was reading straight through a cookbook (as one does– wait, people do that, right?).  Specifically, I was reading Michael Ruhlman’s book, Ruhlman’s Twenty, where he argued that French Onion Soup was originally a peasants’ dish, and peasants wouldn’t have always had access to pricey bone broth.  I wasn’t convinced yet, but in theory, I loved it.  Once I made it this way, however, I was SOLD.  I mean, let’s think this through.  Caramelizing onions is a labor of love– it takes time for the onions to release all their juices, and slowly caramelize into the little strands of goopy food gold.  As soon as we finish painstakingly extracting every ounce of flavor that onion has– what do we do?  Cover it up with flavor from the broth!  Well, no more!  Stop the madness– let the onion shine!  (Maybe I can get a job as an onion advocate– is that a thing?)  Have I convinced you yet?  Are you going to give it a try?

Caramelizing Onions – A Labor of Love

First things first– let’s talk onions.  To make an onion soup featuring the deeply complex flavors of caramelized onions– you’re going to have to caramelize them very well.  You don’t need special, hard to find, extra expensive onions– yellow onions will work just fine.  Grab about eight (yes that’s right– eight) onions.  Peel them, slice them, and get started.  Budget anywhere from 2-5 hours to caramelize them.

Next, get out a soup pot– It needs to be big.  7 quarts is ideal for 8 onions– if your pot is smaller, like mine is,  try breaking the onions up into two pots.  The wider the base of your pot, and the higher your heat, the faster they’ll caramelize.  Avoid turning the heat higher than medium-low, and remember that the lower the heat, the sweeter the results.  (Normally, I cook mine on low for about an hour and a half, and then get impatient and crank the heat to medium-low for another half-hour.)

What kind of pot should you use?  Ideally, use an enameled cast iron pot.  (I use a dutch oven from Lodge.)  Why does the pot matter?  For one thing, the heavier your pot is, the more evenly it’s going to distribute the heat to your food.  For caramelizing onions, this matters.  Stainless steel is lighter, and the onions will tend to cook a little faster (yay!) but that means they won’t be quite as sweet (boooo!).

Another reason to pick an enameled cast iron pot for this soup is because we’re going to ‘deglaze.’  (In other words– when the onions finish cooking, they’re going to leave caramelized bits stuck to the bottom of the pot.  We’re going to crank the heat up, and pour wine in the pot to pull all that yumminess off the pot and back into the onions.).  Stainless steel works well for deglazing, but in my opinion– enamel works even better, because the caramelized bits are less likely to burn.  (If you want to use a regular cast iron pot– be careful– deglazing with wine can pull the seasoning off the pan.)  If you don’t have an enamel cast iron pot, don’t cry!  (Unless you’re crying because of the onions– if that’s the problem, see the tips below!)  Stainless steel will work well– you just have to watch the onions a little bit more closely than with enameled cast iron.  

If you’re reading this thinking, “That’s insane– when do I have 2, 3, 4 hours to make dinner?!” It’s true.  Caramelizing onions is time consuming, and there’s no cheating, because they won’t be as sweet if you rush it.  HOWEVER– you can make these onions in large batches on a day when you DO have time, freeze them, and then you’re golden!  Use them anytime– including days when dinner needs to be FAST!

Making Vegetarian French Onion Soup

This Vegetarian French Onion Soup is a celebration of the onion. Instead of beef broth, which masks the onion, the slowly caramelized onions make their own sweet, deeply flavorful broth as they cook. For a faster cook-time-- caramelize your onions ahead of time and freeze them!

Vegetarian French Onion Soup

Once your onions have caramelized, it’s time to deglaze.  Crank the heat up to medium-high, and pour in some wine.  Let the wine boil down, and then add hot water and rosemary.  Bring the soup to a boil, and then lower the heat to a simmer.  Taste your soup, add more water if the onions are too strong, and then turn on your oven’s broiler.

If you’ve got oven-safe bowls, set them on a baking sheet, and ladle soup into your bowls.  Add some slices of crusty bread to the soup, and top it all off by shredding as much cheese as your little heart desires.  Set the baking tray carefully in the oven, and cook until the cheese is golden and bubbly.  If you don’t have oven-safe bowls, just brown the cheesy bread separately on a baking sheet, and then plop it into your soup.  I like to top my soup off with some diced green onions, but I’m just a little crazy like that.  Onion soup, topped with onion?  Why not!  Before you know it, you’ll be an onion-caramelizing maniac, shouting about your love of onions from the rooftops and devouring bowl after bowl of cheesy, wonderful, onion-tastic soup.

Note: Traditionally, French Onion Soup is topped with Gruyère, but I also love it with sharp white cheddar cheese.  Use whatever cheese you love best.

Onion Cutting Tips

If you haven’t figured it out, you’ll be cutting up a lot of onions to make this soup.  If cutting up onions makes your eyes water badly, try these few tricks:

  • Don’t wear glasses if you don’t have to!! Obviously I’m not advocating blindly cutting your onions, but if you are able to wear contacts, I’ve found this helps tremendously.  The fumes get caught between the glasses and your eyes.
  • The husband swears using a serrated knife makes the onion fumes worse.  Make sure you’re using a sharp, smooth-bladed knife. 
  • For more tips on how to keep the onion fumes from burning your eyes, check out this article at The Kitchn.
This Vegetarian French Onion Soup is a celebration of the onion. Instead of beef broth, which masks the onion, the slowly caramelized onions make their own sweet, deeply flavorful broth as they cook. For a faster cook-time-- caramelize your onions ahead of time and freeze them!
5 from 4 votes
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Vegetarian French Onion Soup

Course Main Course
Cuisine French
Servings 4 people
Author Champagne Tastes

Ingredients

  • 2 TB butter (or sub olive oil)
  • 8 yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup white wine (or sub red- use dry or sweet according to preference)
  • 2 sprigs rosemary (destemmed)
  • crusty bread, sliced (enough slices to fit in each bowl-- amount will depend on the size of your bread. I use 2-3 slices per person)
  • 1/2 cup Gruyère or sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded (more or less as desired)
  • diced green onion to garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. In a large heavy bottom pot, melt butter over medium heat.  Add onions, salt, and bay leaves.  Cover pot, and cook over medium-high for 4-5 minutes, until they begin to look translucent and start releasing water.
  2. Remove lid, and cook onions over low (or medium-low) until they caramelize.  This will take 2-5 hours, depending on the size of your pot and the temperature used.  The onions can be left alone and checked on about once an hour, except at the beginning and end of the caramelizing process.  (*Tip-- this can be done ahead of time, and the onions frozen until you're ready to use them).
  3. When onions have reduced and are an amber color, you're ready.  Increase the heat to medium-high and add the wine.  Allow the wine to boil down for 3-4 minutes.
  4. Add 5 cups of hot water and the rosemary, and bring to a boil.  Then, reduce to a simmer.  Taste soup-- if you prefer a milder flavor, add another cup of hot water.  If desired, add another splash of wine.  Remove the bay leaves.

  5. Turn on oven broiler.

If using oven-safe bowls:

  1. Ladle soup into bowls, then set bread into soup.  Pile desired amount of cheese over bread.  Set bowls onto a baking tray, and set under broiler 1-2 minutes until cheese has melted and is golden. 
    Garnish soup with fresh herbs (optional), and serve immediately.


If NOT using oven-safe bowls:

  1. Lay bread slices on baking sheet and top with cheese.  Set in oven under broiler for 1-2 minutes, until cheese has melted and is golden. 

    Ladle soup into bowls, and set cheese bread on soup.  Garnish soup with fresh herbs (optional), and serve immediately.

30 thoughts on “Vegetarian French Onion Soup

    • champagne-tastes says:

      Yup! It really does seem to make a difference! But really.. The glasses. I just can’t cut onions with glasses on lol

  1. WillCookForFriends says:

    French onion soup is one of my all time favorites, and I actually JUST finished making a batch, like, moments ago. I have found a lot of tips for cutting onions are helpful (using a really good sharp knife is the biggest one), but when it comes to the marathon of onion cutting required for French onion soup, I wear a pear of swim goggles. Not the most attractive thing, but ZERO tears. Otherwise I am a hot mess by the end of it!

  2. Kathryn says:

    I love this version of the soup – and love the idea of using cheddar for the cheese – my favorite, too! Can’t wait to cozy up to a big bowl of this 🙂

    • champagne-tastes says:

      Definitely!! We’ve got a big snow storm headed this way in a couple days.. I’m sure I’ll be making lots of soup!

  3. Dawn - Girl Heart Food says:

    French onion soup is one of my faves. Love the rich broth, but, then again, not sure if I love the bread and ooey gooey cheese on top more. I always think of French onion soup as a fall/winter dish and this would be delicious today, especially since it’s super cold and we have a little snow. Your recipe sounds fabulous 🙂

  4. Meg | Meg is Well says:

    I’m so excited about this! My sister’s boyfriend is a vegetarian and there are lots of hearty soups that use beef broth. I always feel bad when they come over and the only thing stopping him from eating the meal is the beef broth. Can’t wait to try it!

    • champagne-tastes says:

      Let me know how it goes! And yes! I bet you could use caramelized onion broth in other soups to switch out for beef broth!

    • champagne-tastes says:

      Thanks! It’s good to have some frozen– you never know when you’ll have an emergency craving for some caramelized onions 😉 ya know?

  5. Jenn says:

    This sounds divine right about now. I’m fighting off a cold that came out of nowhere yesterday and soup sounds fantastic. I love the idea of this French Onion Soup with no beef broth since I don’t eat meat and vegetable broth just doesn’t do it justice. I am so trying this!!

    • champagne-tastes says:

      Oh I hope you give it a shot!!! All those onions have to be good for fighting off a cold! (Although I might lay low on the cheese if you’re congested!) And thanks! This broth technique is my absolute favorite ever- by far!!!

  6. Julie | Bunsen Burner Bakery says:

    I love how surprised you were at the thought of not putting in beef broth – this is how I’ve always made french onion soup! The butter and herbs and onions together are all you need in life. SO GOOD! (Also, keep your onions in the fridge to help with tearing up.)

    • champagne-tastes says:

      For real!?! I’ve only ever seen recipes with beef or veggie broth! And the fridge is a good tip on the onions- they don’t bother me but they do the hubs!

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