Archive for June 11th, 2009

soupe à l’oignon

The East coast seems to have been hit by a fair amount of rain over the past few days. I am accustomed to the summer thunderstorms that we often get in my hometown of DC — that crash-and-tumble excitement, the flashes of light thatbrighten the sky, a few torrential downpours that reveal a rainbow and hidden sun. Less so the Eeyore-inspired drizzle gray of Cantabrigia both new and old that has visited us here for the past few days. Combine that with a pulled muscle in my neck from dance class on Sunday and I need some comfort food.

Cookies? Nah…I want dinner. Mac and cheese? Maybe, but I had bucatini 2 nights ago and I don’t generally eat much pasta. My fridge is unusually bare after having made two big meals over the past few weeks, so I needed to scrounge around. I had just barely enough onions to throw together an onion soup, a meal in a bowl with the rich taste of caramelized onions, warm broth, toasted bread (or stale baguette, which I always seem to have around), and strings of melted cheese. When I was younger, this used to be my favorite dish to order in a restaurant, and the fancy presentation with cheese dripping off the side of a piping hot crock always impressed me. The childhood memory and thoughts of a steaming meal are a perfect recipe for uber-comfort on a weary dreary evening.

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Soupe à L’Oignon Gratinée (ou pas)

This is such an easy soup to make with ingredients that you probably have lying around your kitchen. Onions. Butter. Spices. Leftover dry white wine or Vermouth. Boxed or dried vegetable (or chicken or beef) stock. The homey richness comes from giving the onions enough time to caramelize. I do not use beef stock and still my soup comes out a deep dark brown with an earthy flavor.

Makes ~ 4-6 servings, depending on size of your bowls. I made 4 bowls that turned into 3 full meals (I was really ravenous that first night).

I’ve written this recipe the way that it came together — my apologies for not writing it in “standard recipe format” with a list of ingredients followed  by directions, but this was my thought process as I was throwing this easy soup together and I wanted to preserve the feeling. I’ve highlighted quantities to make your lives a little easier.

Melt 1/4 C butter in a medium or large soup pot.

Slice 3 yellow onions, 1 red onion, 1 shallot (or whatever mild onions you have around the house) into thin half moons. Light a candle nearby to reduce crying.

onions and shallot

every single onion and shallot I had in my kitchen

Caramelize onions in butter over medium heat with 3 generous pinches salt, stirring  every 5-10 minute. This took me about 30-45 minutes. If you burn the onions, it’s not too big of a deal. Just turn the heat down a bit and keep stirring. You want the onions to turn a really dark brown but not to turn to mush. The red onion retained a bit of its purplish color.

onions translucent, after 10 minutes

onions translucent, after 10 minutes

caramelized onions, 30+ minutes

caramelized onions, 30+ minutes

Deglaze with ~1/2 C dry white wine – I used an open Pinot Grigio  that I had in my fridge (this was probably not the driest, but it worked pretty well…and I took a few sips while cooking) – and increase heat until most of the liquid evaporates (can also use vermouth). Make sure to scrape up all the good onion bits stuck to the bottom of the pot.

Add herbs: 1/2 t savory, 1-2 T thyme crumbled through your fingers

Add 4 C broth: vegetable or fake (or real) chicken/beef broth. I am embarrassed to admit that I used some of that powdered parve broth substitute because that’s all I had around. Yup, this stuff is little more than salt and MSG. But the soup still turned out great.

Add 3 bay leaves.

Bring to  boil, then simmer ~30 minutes.

Remove bay leaves before serving.

This makes ~ 5 cups of soup which is great plain or you can serve it gratinée: sprinkle with cut bread crumbs from stale baguette and  shredded cheese.The traditional cheese to use is gruyère but I have never found a good kosher one. I used some Raclette which I had left over from my zucchini tart, and it was a pretty good substitute. I also tried some Ermitage Royal Camembert that I had in my fridge, and this worked surprisingly well.

ready to compose

the broth is really dark

ready for the oven

ready to pop into the oven

 Pop in oven at 350°F for 10 minutes to melt cheese or put under broiler for 2-3 minutes (watch to avoid burning too much).

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baked at 350

broiled, 2-3 minutes

broiled, 2-3 minutes

NOTE: if you want to make this for a meat meal, use margarine (I’ve done it before, it does work out) and obviously omit the cheese. You can make the soup completely parve with veggie stock, or use a meat or chicken stock. You could try melting soy cheese, but I’ve never tried it so can’t speak about how this will taste. I really do like this soup without cheese almost as much as I like it gratinée


As I was making the soup, I put on one of my favorite albums – a South African band called Mafikizolo‘s first recording called “Sibongile” that I bought when I was in Cape Town a few years ago. (Apparently, this CD has been discontinued and I can’t find mine; I have it loaded on my ancient 20 gig iPod that is on its last legs. I’ve backed it up, but if it dies, my music may be gone forever…sad Zahavah.) Sibongile means “Thank you, God” in Zulu, the album was released after two of its members survived a bad car accident. I love that they wear retro ’50s outfits and can pull off hats with panache to go with their swingy bluesy vibe, have a broad range of styles (some of their more recent music — not what I’ve uploaded here — is more clubby with a techno beat), and take pride in their roots (from what little I know) with references to townships in their recent album title and their music.

Here are some of my favorite songs from this album (the first three songs) that I play to chase away the clouds.

“Gugo’thandayo” – check out the stylin’ hats


“Marabi” – very toe-tapping, cheerful with a nice relaxed rhythm


“Ndihambe Nawe” – a little bit more of a percussive beat


Here is a newer song that I just dicovered:

“Emlanjeni,” meet you at the river

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