If you’re an American and reading this post, I’ll assume you survived Halloween with nothing worse than a candy hangover. Cameron and I celebrated our first Halloween in the new house last night by dressing up our dog and piling candy in neighborhood kids’ trick or treat bags.
My favorite costumed kid was the toddler in a Yoda costume. Truly wise beyond her years.
Last night’s festivities reminded me how little excitement holidays bring to my life these days. I used to get stoked for costume contests, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my birthday. Sadly most of the magic around the holidays ended for me after living abroad in cultures that don’t celebrate these holidays. By the time I moved back to the States permanently, I’d fallen into the holiday observer role rather than active participant. Maybe once Cameron and I have children, some of that excitement and fun will return. Still, it was sweet to see neighborhood kids decked out in their finest costume duds, completely immersed in the magic of Halloween night.
Holiday celebrations aren’t the only things that have fallen out of favor in my life. Some of my favorite special dinners from childhood became nonstarters when I went vegetarian in college. Case in point: french onion soup.
Part of what makes this soup spectacular is the umami-rich beef broth mixed with caramelized onions. Remove beef from your life, and suddenly french onion soup becomes a mushy bowl of onions. Fortunately, I’ve been cooking vegetarian long enough now that I’ve sought out ways to pack the flavor into even the most unassuming recipes. In the case of french onion soup, all is not lost if you’ve sworn off cow carcass.
Replace beef broth with dark mushroom broth, and you’re on your way to a richly flavored soup complemented by crusty bread and cheese. If you don’t have time to make your own broth, most large grocery stores carry pint containers of mushroom broth. Whatever you do, don’t substitute vegetable broth for mushroom broth. Veggie broth is much lighter in color and lacks the depth of a mushroom broth.
Cameron and I enjoyed the soup alongside a big side salad and a couple of glasses of the leftover red wine.
French Onion Soup (adapted from a Newlywed Cookbook recipe)
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 TBS unsalted butter
- 4 large yellow or Vidalia onions, thinly sliced
- A few sprigs of thyme (we used a tsp of dried thyme)
- 1 garlic clove, smashed
- 1 bay leaf
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 cup dry white wine
- 8 cups mushroom broth
- 6 thick slices country bread or baguette
- 1/3 cup red wine
- Pinch of sugar
- 12 oz grated Gruyère or Comté cheese (We used Gruyère)
1. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onion and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are deep brown and caramelized, about 40 minutes. Add the garlic and bay leaf and continue to cook another 8 minutes, seasoning with the salt (up to 1 TBS) and pepper as you go.
2. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the white wine. Bring the wine to a boil and cook until about half evaporates, about 3 minutes. Add the broth and decrease the heat to medium. Simmer the soup until it is fragrant and just a touch thickened, about 40 minutes.
3. Toast your bread slices. Pull the thyme sprig (if using) and bay leaf from the pot, and stir in the red wine and pinch of sugar.
4. During the last 10 minutes of cooking the soup, preheat the broiler or preheat oven to the highest temperature your dishes can bear. Our dishes are not broiler-safe, so we had to do the final oven step at a lower temperature. If you want a great crusty top to your soup, make sure you have some broiler-safe bowls on hand.
4. Arrange six ovenproof bowls on one or two rimmed baking sheets/trays. Divide the soup among the bowls. Top each bowl of soup with a slice of toasted bread, and sprinkle with the Gruyère over the top. Place the baking sheet/tray with the bowls on the top oven rack about 6 inches from the broiler. If you’re not broiling, then placing the tray on the middle rack will be just fine.
5. Broil/bake until the cheese is melted and starting to turn golden brown, about 3/8 minutes. Carefully transfer the bowls onto plates and serve bubbling hot.