For me, one of the best ways to explore different cultures is through its food! A country’s cuisine is flavored with its history, heritage and traditions. France is no exception to this. French cuisine is revered throughout culinary world due to its use of elegant, yet nutritious ingredients and disciplined cooking methods and techniques.
Digging into French culinary history is as complex as its components. Some credit Catherine de Medici of Italy of revolutionizing the cuisine in the mid 1500s. Other claims go back to the Middle Ages and generations of trade that introduced new ingredients to the European palette.
Perhaps one day, I will dive deeper into this, but one unique experience from my trip to Paris was the French Onion Soup. This soup is traditionally made with beef broth and hence not vegetarian friendly. Luckily, Mrs. Cykochef found an amazing restaurant, Le Potager du Marais, that served vegan versions of French classics such as this soup.
French Onion Soup is hangover food for the French. After late nights of drinking fine wines and sipping on cognac, French Onion Soup will make sure you’re ready do the same next day. It’s even served at weddings, way after dessert, towards the end of the night, or in the early hours of the morning, depending how much everyone has partied.
One legend has it that Louis XV (15th) was out hunting and returned to his lodge, only to find rations of onions, butter and champagne in the pantry. His cooks put it all in a pot and gave birth to the soup. However, similar recipes showed up much earlier in French history as soup of the peasant folk. Onions, broth and bread.
Over time and with the addition of the cheese, this soup has transcended class distinctions, and gave life to all that enjoyed it.
For this recipe, I added some fresh and dried fenugreek to complement the sweetness from the onions. I also used bourbon instead of cognac as bourbon also has a natural sweetness and gives the soup a warming flavor. Finally instead of gruyere, I opted to go with Swiss and brie. The Swiss cheese didn’t fully melt, but created a nice crunchy texture to balance the soft soaked bread.
2 Medium White Onions
1 Large Red Onion
1 Medium Shallot
1 tbsp Butter
2 tbsp Ghee
½ tsp Sugar
1 clove Garlic, minced
½ cup Fenugreek Leaves, chopped
½ cup Dry White Wine
¼ cup Bourbon
5 cups Low Sodium Vegetable Broth (Homemade, if available)
½ tsp Kasturi Methi
1 tsp cracked Black Pepper
Salt to Taste
¼ tsp corn starch
For spice satchel:
5-6 small Bay Leaves
½ tsp dry Rosemary
½ tsp dry thyme
4-6 whole Coriander seeds
Sliced French Bread
Swiss and Brie Cheese
Peel and cut the onions and shallot in half
Place each half flat side down and cut into thin strips
Heat the butter and ghee on a medium-low heat until the butter is completely melted
Add the onions and shallots, season with ½ tsp of salt and stir well to fully coat
Turn the heat to low and cover to cook for 10 minutes
Add Sugar, turn the heat up to medium and stir the onions every 8-10 minutes for 1 hour (no need for cover)
The caramelization will happen around 45-50 minutes, so please be patient
Stir in White Wine and Bourbon and turn heat to medium high (this will burn off the alcohol)
Gently scrape the bottom of pan to incorporate the flavor
Add the minced garlic, spice satchel, chopped fenugreek leaves, cracked pepper and salt (according to taste)
Stir and cook for about 5 minutes
Add in Vegetable Broth, reduce heat to low-medium and simmer for 30 minutes
Sprinkle in Kasturi Methi and taste/adjust salt
In a separate bowl, mix cornstarch with lukewarm water, making sure there are no lumps
Add this slurry to the soup and let simmer for another 20 minutes
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Spoon the soup into oven safe bowls, top with sliced bread and generous amounts of Brie and Swiss Cheese
Bake for 15 minutes until cheese is fully melted and gently bubbling
Broil on high for 2-3 minutes
Carefully serve as bowl is extremely hot