Comfort Food: Vegan French Onion and Shitake Soup

OK, so maybe it’s not French Onion Soup if it’s got shitake mushrooms in it, but I’m not sure what makes it “French” anyway (I used Chilean wine in it, after all). Either way, this is a favorite comfort food of mine and I haven’t found a way to make it since going veg that really tasted like it used to with beef broth. My homemade stock was never “meaty” enough and I haven’t tried some of the new mushroom broths out there.

Kroger has been stocking its organic and veg section (usually by the produce department) with some amazing stuff lately, and I was excited to find this not-beef, gluten free vegan “beef” bullion recently. Instantly, I thought of French onion soup. I just so happen to have a pot of thyme growing like crazy on my front porch too — even better.

I dug into the recipe box and found the one I used to make back in the day. I have no idea where it came from and didn’t follow it exactly, so I’ll just tell you what I did since I really liked the end result!

Onions (1-2 lg. yellow or a bag of the smaller ones)
6 c. broth (i.e. 3 cubes of that not-beef bullion)
fresh thyme leaves (about 2-3 tsps or more if you don’t have a bay leaf like me)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. vegan margarine or similar
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 c. red wine
salt and pepper to taste
vegan cheese
crusty bread or baguette

1. Add oil and butter substitute to a hot pot. I finally snagged some of the Earth Balance Organic Buttery Spread I’ve heard so much about, and it really is good! I tried some on the multigrain baguette I bought and it really tastes like butter.

2. Add 6+ cups of thinly sliced onions to the pot — feel free to guess/approximate the amount and add them as you slice. I’ve yet to find a good way to prevent crying while cutting onions. If you have any tips, please share!

3. I cooked the onions over medium heat, covered for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, then dropped in the garlic cloves and cooked for another 15 minutes or so. Once the onions started to brown a bit, I added salt and pepper and a giant handful of thyme. I didn’t measure and I didn’t take it off the stems. I figured the leaves would mostly fall off on their own and I could fish the stems out, along with the garlic, when I served it. Most recipes say to include a bay leaf (which also should be fished out later), but I’m out so I didn’t worry about it.

4. At this point, I also chopped up a package of washed, sliced shitake mushrooms. I guess I thought it would make it a little richer and it just sounded good. After all this cooked down for about 10 minutes or so, I added 1/2 c. of red wine. Most recipes ask for sherry (which is just a fortified wine that has salt and is a little sweet). I had a bit of cooking wine left (again with the salt, which helps shelf life, and is OK in a pinch. I can’t seem to keep actual wine around for too long, so it’s nice to have this on hand). SO, the 1/2 c. was a little cooking wine and the rest from my bottle of Chilean syrah I had.

5. I let this cook down for a bit, turning everything slightly burgundy, until there was no standing liquid (or alcohol I’m sure) left. Add your stock and let simmer for a while — if you have willpower stronger than mine and can wait that long.

6. Since I don’t have the crocks most people put in the oven to get their cheese all melty on top of the soup, I toasted a couple of slices of my baguette and cut them into bite size chunks, then topped with my new favorite vegan cheese, Daiya, which I finally picked up at Whole Foods last weekend. The picture doesn’t do it justice, but it’s melty and delicious (especially on pizza!)

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