French Onion Soup….5 years in the making

I love French onion soup.  I love it, I love it, I love it.  It’s so delicious and comforting and it brings back some great memories of dinners with friends growing up.  But in restaurants, I almost always have to pass up this delicious favorite.  Why?  Because it’s made with beef broth.  Ugh.

These are the major parts of French onion soup.  And life in general.

 But the thing is, I’ve had great vegetarian French onion soup.  I know it exists.  My friend’s mom has made (what I remember as) the most amazing, vegetarian French onion soup.  Granted, I haven’t had it since 8th or 9th grade, but oh, it was so good.

So it’s been a goal of mine to create the most amazing vegetarian French onion soup ever.  I’ve tried and failed in the past, and it was very sad.  Then I forced the thought from my mind and tackled other recipes rather than get frustrated by this one.  And then, completely randomly, I saw this simple recipe posted at Smitten Kitchen back in April.  There was a suggestion I had never seen before – use mushroom stock for a vegetarian version.  Well, vegetable stock hadn’t worked out well for me in the past, so I figured I might as well give mushroom stock a try.  I immediately made some adjustments and saved it.  I mean, I love soup, but I feel like it’s really just not as good when you eat it during warm weather.  My experiment would just have to wait.

Well, it snowed in DC on Saturday, so I think it’s now officially cold enough for me to start making soup regularly (I eat soup in the winter time like it’s my job).  Also, I recently found a kosher bakery where I bought a lovely baguette that was just begging to be used, and I had a bottle of dry white wine ready to go.  Clearly the stars were aligning and this weekend was my time to finally make a great, vegetarian French onion soup.

So I did.  And it was better than great.  It was amazing.  Mission accomplished.

French Onion Soup

Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen
Serves 4


5-6 cups thinly sliced yellow onions (3-4 small ones)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (I used whole wheat, mostly because it was there)
1/2 cup + dry white wine (I used a chardonnay)
8 cups mushroom stock (low sodium, if you can find it)
2 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste

1 to 2 cups (to taste) grated Swiss*
8 to 12 1-inch thick rounds French bread, toasted until hard

*The world of kosher cheese is sadly limited.  And the selection of kosher cheeses available to me in DC is even more limited.  So my options, while adequate, are not necessarily the best.  For cheese, I used Miller’s Swiss cheese slices.  Each bowl got one long slice of cheese, either ripped up in pieces and sprinkled on top or cut in half and layered on.  If you have shredded Swiss cheese available, then use the measurements above and heap it on.

1.  Heat the oil in the bottom of a stock pot over medium to low heat.

2.  Add the onions, toss to coat them in oil and cover the pot. Reduce the heat some more, cover, and walk away.  No, seriously, go away.  The onions don’t need you right now.  What they need is a 15 minute break.  It’s not you, it’s them.

Wait for it…

3.  After 15 minutes, uncover the pot, raise the heat to medium-low, and stir in the sugar (it helps draw out the water and helps the caramelization process).  Let the onions caramelize for the next 30 or 40 minutes, but make sure to stir them often.  If they start crisping, lower the heat.  You want them to be dark golden brown, but they have to stay soft.  Also, I will tell you from personal experience, if you don’t let the onions caramelize properly, your soup will not be French onion.  It will just be oniony soup, which is very much not the same thing.  It’s sad when this happens, trust me.  If it looks like they need some more liquid, add some wine, a little at a time.

Wait for it….
4.  After the onions are fully caramelized, sprinkle the flour over them and cook for about three minutes, stirring the whole time.  Next, add the wine.  If you used wine in the last step, I still want you to use the full 1/2 cup.  There is no such thing as too much wine with your caramelized onions.  Also, use the wine to deglaze the bottom of the pot (read: scrape up all the brown bits of flavor from the bottom of the pot).

Now those are some caramelized onions

5.  Add the stock and the water slowly, stirring as you go.  Once all of it is in, bring the soup to a simmer and let it do it’s thing for another 30-40 minutes, partially covered.  Feel free to salt and pepper to taste during this time (Note – if you’re adding cheese to the top, go easy on the salt since the cheese will add some to the dish as well).

Your soup is now done.  In fact, it’s delicious.  It’s also vegan, so if you don’t eat cheese, please enjoy this amazing soup right now.  It’s amazing.  For those of you who do eat cheese (and who still have the patience to continue smelling this amazing soup but not yet being able to eat it), please continue reading to get the full effect…

6.  Toast your French baguette rounds until they’re hard (but not browned, so set them in your toaster on a very low setting and keep an eye on them).  Take a stick of butter/margarine and lightly coat both sides of each round.

7.  Preheat the oven to 325F.  Line a cookie sheet with tin foil and place your oven-proof bowls on it.  Ladle some boiling soup into them.

8.  Top each bowl with as many slices of bread as you will fit, and cover those with cheese( see cheese note above).  Place in the oven for 20 minutes, then put it on broil for an additional three, or until the cheese is bubbling and starting to brown.

9.  Remove the bowls from the oven (carefully, they’re very hot) and serve immediately.  If you want, feel free to sprinkle on some dried oregano or herbs de Provence.


50 Responses to French Onion Soup….5 years in the making

  1. Gina says:

    This recipe is awesome! I have a few changes that I have found to make it as rich as the beef based broth french onion soup I used to eat. First is the use of Better than Bouillon Vegetarian Base. The flavor is perfect for this soup. I just found a No Beef Base as well that I am going to try for the first time- but the flavor of the broth alone is impeccable. Also I use an extra onion or two- so the caramelization process takes longer than thought… Usually just over an hour! This soup is now always in my freezer! Thanks for the awesome recipe!

  2. Anonymous says:

    I made it with Edward&Sons vegan No-Beef Boullian cubes (with a little extra water because cubes run a bit too salty for my liking) and it was delicious! Thanks for the easy recipe and the pictures included made it super easy for a new cook like myself!

  3. Do NOT use Pacific mushroom broth. I wish I would have read these comments beforehand. I even ordered it online cause no stores in my area had mushroom broth. I will try making my own next time. Awesome recipe though!

  4. Dry vermouth would also work. Or you could probably omit entirely. If your onions are crisping up, add in a splash of the stock for some moisture.

  5. Anonymous says:

    What do you use in place of the wine?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Thanks! I like to add a scoop of miso paste. I followed your recipe and added about 2 tablespoons light miso paste and had it simmer another 5 minutes. Crediting the source for the miso idea The Temporary Vegetarian: John Schenk’s French Onion Soup with Miso article By ELAINE LOUIE:

  7. Anonymous says:

    I just made this soup & it didn’t turn out well. I also used Pacific organic mushroom broth. It was very watery tasting. I added rosemary and cauliflower then emersion blended for a creamy vegetable soup. I definitely caramelized the onions. Based on the previous comment I would AVOID Pacific mushroom broth.

  8. Anonymous says:

    So disappointed… Not sure what I did but it tastes so boring! Very watery. Maybe it’s the mushroom broth I used. I used Pacific. I was so looking forward to this…. cooked it and cooked it…

  9. Anonymous says:

    I just made this for the second time and wanted to say thank you. Sooooo good!!!

  10. Anonymous says:

    I have made this several times. It is phenomenal! If you are (or live with) a vegetarian as I do and don’t want to give up French onion soup, give this a try. Obviously it’s not vegan, but that’s not an issue for us.

  11. Anonymous says:

    This was a great recipe, and very well explained. I used a homemade mushroom stock with a couple of bags of portabella stems that I had been collecting in the freezer, plus the usual veg stock ingredients. The portabella stems make a very “meaty” stock that works well in this recipe.

  12. Cookie W says:

    Anyone know which mushrooms are best to use for homemade mushroom stock?

  13. Anonymous says:

    Just made this last night! So good I could not believe it. Thanks for this awesome recipe!

  14. Anonymous says:

    This was fantastic! Thank you for the great recipe!

  15. Anonymous says:

    This was delicious! I made my own mushroom stock.
    I had made my own vegetable stock and froze it, I pulled it out for this recipe and realized I needed the mushrooms. So I went to an Italian deli and found dried wild forest mushrooms. A handful thrown into the now liquid veggie broth, warmed it for a few hours on the stove till the mushrooms rehydrated and viola! Beautiful mushroom stock! (I used the mushrooms for another dish later. )

  16. Corra says:

    This soup was fantastic! And I’m making it in Switzerland, so the Swiss cheese was the real thing 🙂
    It’s hard to get mushroom stock here, so just in case anyone else has that problem as an alternative I soaked some dried (shitake) mushrooms (about 100g) in about 5 cups of very hot water for about 30 mins, took out the mushrooms and added a bit of veg stock and that came out great as well (and made a tasty Thai mushroom soup the next day with the soaked shrooms). I can’t wait to make it for French friends (I live right next to the border) I think they will love it!

  17. Ah, so glad to have found this site! I love, love French onion soup, but I wanted a vegetarian version for Fridays. The vegetable stock hasn’t work so well for me, but a light bulb went off when I saw MUSHROOM! Of course! Thanks, thanks, thanks! I can’t wait to try it.

  18. Quinn says:

    Yummy recipe, very true to the flavor of french onion soup. I used red wine instead of white (its all I had) and it still tastes accurate and delicious.

  19. Erin says:

    Great recipe, thanks!
    I changed a few things, made my own stock from vegetable trimmings, added some nutmeg and fresh parsley, and used a cheddar/gruyere blend cheese- it was delicious!

    Also, just curious, but what do the three tablespoons of flour do for the soup?

    • Mmmm, sounds delicious! I never would have thought to add nutmeg, but I bet it’s super tasty!

      When you make a roux with the flour, it helps thicken the soup. Adding cornstarch to the soup later would also do the same trick, as would cooking it down for a bit.

  20. Thanks for this simple, great recipe. I’ve never known how to make a good vegan french onion soup and now I do. I’m in the middle of a long (60+ day) juice/soup fast/diet, and tonight I was craving french onion, so your recipe came right in time. Thank you for sharing it. Btw, I used Grade A Maple Syrup instead of sugar and a nice Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand for the wine.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Tried this recipe today, absolutely love it! Sinc my roommate and I are not the biggest swiss fan we used a combo of provolone and gouda. I would highly suggest trying it, made it fantastic!

  22. Anonymous says:

    I am so happy to find this site. I have a 15 year old vegetarian daughter and my husband is also a vegetarian. I also have a 12 year old daughter who craves bacon all day long. She refers to the other two family members as the “Vege Heads” I am constantly looking for ways to please everyone without compromising nutrition or flavor for anyone. I am excited about this recipe. Tonight it is Edamame to start, Vege head French onion soup and fresh market salads. I will throw in some frozen chicken nuggets for the meat maniac and everyone will be happy. Thank you for the recipe. It looks lovely.

    • Sounds like a great dinner! I can totally appreciate you trying to keep everyone in the family happy and healthy with such different eating habits. I’m always happy to help out, so please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about vegetarian food. I’m not the expert, but I was certainly the minority in my family growing up, so I’m always eager to help other vegetarians in a family of meat eaters.

  23. raready says:

    Some friends and I made this last night and it was absolutely delicious! Thank you. We agree, the mushroom broth was the key ingredient, of course besides the onions. I cried cutting the onions but it was worth the time and effort.

  24. Baker Street says:

    this is comfort food in a bowl!

  25. Kimber says:

    French Onion is my FAVORITE! And this recipe looks amazing, I am adding this to my list of things I need to make this winter! Thanks!

  26. This looks INCREDIBLE. For some reason I always thought it was vegetarian!

  27. momdecuisine says:

    What a great idea to use mushroom stock! My sister doesn’t eat meat, but also loves French Onion Soup. She was very disappointed to learn that one of the main ingredients was beef stock. I’m saving this for if my sister ever comes to visit! Thanks for sharing!!!

  28. Amalia says:

    Wow! This looks amazing! I love all your pictures, they’re fabulously taken and very helpful. And OMG that cheese melted on the bread looks to die for! Thanks for sharing this awesome recipe and have a great day!

  29. Happy to help all the French-onion-soup-craving vegetarians out there 🙂

  30. THANK YOU. I always want to try french onion soup, but never can because of that pesky beef broth! This looks like a delicious vegetarian alternative.

  31. I haven’t had French onion soup in years for the same reason! I’m so glad you posted this because now I know that I can have it and I know where to get the recipe!!!

  32. OMG I <3 French Onion Soup and your photos are absolutely mouthwatering.

    Will definitely be giving this a try with this chilly weather we’ve been having 😀


  33. I love love LOVE french onion soup! This looks so delicious! I’m glad you were able to give a vegetarian twist!

  34. Ruth says:

    I so have to try this!! I always wanted to but it wasn’t an option when dining out! (no vegetarian option)

  35. icancookthat says:

    I love your bowls. (weird comment of the day)

    The soup looks awesome too!

  36. This looks so comforting and satisfying! I love french onion soup.

  37. This sounds wonderful! And, it is so nice to see a vegetarian version. 🙂

  38. Big, fat Yum! I love that you used an earthy broth like mushroom for this. It looks fantastic!

  39. NYCAnna says:

    Ahhh, the cheese, the baguette! What’s not to love! Can’t wait to try this 🙂

  40. Maggie says:

    YES!!! A vegetarian french onion soup! Thank you thank you thank you! Love this, saving this and making it very soon! Nice job.

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