This variation on French onion soup gets a little twist with the additions of apple cider and maple syrup – just a touch.
I love onions, and I really love French onion soup. However, what I want the most is to taste the vegetable first and foremost, so I thought I’d experiment with a vegetarian version, adding a few Vermont twists. Perhaps this should be called Montagnes Vertes Soupe à L’oignon?
Onions are not only the star of the soup itself but the stock as well. The onion stock should be made ahead of time, perhaps after you have caramelized some onions. Yes, you can use a favorite vegetable stock if you like, but try to use one that is mild in flavor and does not taste too much flavor of carrots or celery.
When making the soup, you don’t bring the onions as far as you do when making caramelized onions, or they lose their texture but you still want them to caramelize a bit. This translates into low and slow, so it is probably not a soup you would start after work. However, you can always make the stock the day, or even days, before, to save time on cook night. And there is actually very little work to this once everything is sliced.
You can even put all the onions for the soup in the slow cooker and have the churn away while you are working, add some stock, and hands-on time in the evening is really quick.
Enter, apple cider
A little apple cider added to the soup lent a bit of a tart element, and just a drizzle of maple syrup reinforced the sweetness of the onions, but you won’t taste maple with this small amount.
The slicing of the onions takes the most time (and tears), the rest is just waiting time! The rest of the prep is really all about patience. If you remember to put your onions in the refrigerator beforehand to chill, you will have far less tears. I usually forget. I’ve used yellow onions here. Resist the urge to use a Vidalia or other super sweet onion or your soup will turn out too sweet.
A different way to top with the baguette
Most French Onion Soup has a beautiful slice of toasted baguette or sour dough bread floating on the soup and covered with the cheese. I opt to toast the bread, rub it with a little garlic, and then cut it into bite-sized cubes. The soup is much easier to eat! I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to use a knife to eat soup!
The apple cider I used in this broth is quite tart, a good foil for the sweetness of everything else. If you can’t find a tart cider, add a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar instead. It will add the right zip.
The spirit of things
Use a nice aromatic cognac, or substitute brandy. You can also add a half teaspoon or so additional just before adding the croutons.
Gruyère is the usual cheese to top this hefty soup, but I substituted Boggy Meadow Farms Baby Swiss from a neighboring farm, one of my favorite cheeses for melting. It has a beautifully nutty flavor, smooth texture, and it is local which is always best! But use what is local to you for the best flavor.
Vermont Onion Soup
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
4 large yellow onions, about 3 lbs.
1 tbsp. maple syrup
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. fresh thyme
1/4 cup cognac, optional
1/2 cup apple cider
6 cups vegetable broth
4 cups onion stock or vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of thyme
Clove of garlic
8 ounces Swiss cheese, shredded
Heat a sauté pan over medium high and add the oil and butter. Once the butter is melted, add the onions along with the maple syrup and a large pinch of salt and some pepper. Toss well to coat the onions with the fats. Turn the heat down, and keep the onions moving around for a few minutes. Cook over low heat for between 50 and 60 minutes, or until the onions just start to caramelize, but still retain texture.
Add the garlic and cook for a half minute or so, until the garlic is fragrant.
Add the cognac and cider and mix well, bringing up any brown glaze on the bottom of the pan.
Then add the stock, bay leaves, and thyme, bing to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes or so, don’t let the onions get too soft. Add three or four ounces of the cheese, then check for salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, toast slabs of the baguette. Cool and rub with the garlic clove. Cut the bread into crouton-sized cubes
Ladle the soup into oven-proof bowls, adding a half teaspoon or so more cognac to each. This will cut the sweetness of the onions. You can also add apple cider vinegar here.
Add a topping of the croutons. Sprinkle a liberal amount of grated cheese over each one and pop under the broiler until the cheese melts and starts to brown,
Serve piping hot!
Serves 6 to 10 depending on the size of the bowl! This is rich, so I prefer little bowls, but for a main course, you might want a slightly bigger bowl.
Vegan alternative: You can substitute a vegan Swiss for the cheese, or just omit it. It will still be delicious!
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