This vegan French onion soup gets its flavor from the tender caramelized onions, fresh thyme, and umami broth. The secret is caramelizing the onions for as long as possible, at least an hour. Don’t let that scare you off—pour a glass of wine and make an evening of it while the onions make your kitchen smell divine!
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I can’t remember if I’ve ever eaten French onion soup before I was vegan, but I had an amazing vegan version at Delice & Sarrasin, an all-vegan French restaurant in New York City, a few years ago. If you’re ever traveling to NYC, I highly recommend going there for a nice dinner or date night because the entire meal and experience was fantastic.
French onion soup has very few ingredients, so each of the components play somewhat of a leading role in each bite of the soup. That means making a substitution or leaving out an ingredient will drastically change the flavor of the soup, so make sure you can find all of the ingredients before making it.
Caramelizing the onions
Caramelized onions are the foundation of French onion soup. You can’t skip this step or speed it up. If you’ve never caramelized onions before or aren’t sure if you’ve been doing it correctly, check out my guide for perfectly caramelized onions, which includes photos of what the onions will look like after 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 60 minutes, etc.
Vegan beef broth
The broth in this soup also contributes a good portion of the flavor, so it’s worth it to track down vegan beef bouillon or broth. Mushroom broth has a similar flavor profile with lots of umami, so you could use that since it’s easy to find at most grocery stores, but it might lack that extra flavor that tastes “beefy”.
If you’d like to hold out for vegan beef broth, here are some kinds you can find in stores (usually Whole Foods has at least one) or online. You can use them for any kind of soup, and they’re also great to have on hand as a marinade base for vegan “beef” recipes”, and stir fry sauce.
- Better Than Bouillon No Beef Base
- Orrington Farms Vegan Beef Flavored Broth Base
- Edward & Sons Not Beef Bouillon Cubes
- Bulkfoods Vegan Beef Base
Broiling the soup
One of the things that makes French onion soup what it is and elevates it from a bowl of caramelized onions in broth to the soup we know and love is baking the bowls of soup with cheese and crusty bread. It’s a big piece of cheese toast in the soup—what could be better? If you switch on the broiler, the edges of the bread get browned and toasty, and the cheese will melt and turn golden.
Make sure to use oven-safe bowls like these ramekins. If you don’t want to bake or broil the soup, you can skip this step and just toast the cheesy bread in a toaster oven and add it to the soup.
What cheese is used in French onion soup?
Traditionally, Gruyère cheese is used, and although vegan cheese has come a long long way from nutritional yeast sauce, you can’t just go to the store and get a vegan version of any kind of specialty cheese. One way to get Gruyère is to make it yourself using a recipe like the one in the Artisan Vegan Cheese cookbook by Miyoko Schinner. If you’ve dipped your toes into cheesemaking (hopefully not literally), the Gruyère is one of the easier types of cheese to make and doesn’t require aging. I’ve tried a few recipes from the book, and posted reviews here if you’re interested in cheesemaking.
Don’t feel obligated to make or track down Gruyère—use any type of cheese you want! I used homemade mozzarella from the Artisan Vegan Cheese cookbook, which is very similar to the Miyoko’s Mozzarella available in stores. But use whichever cheese you like—Miyoko’s, Chao, Violife, Follow Your Heart, or even Daiya shreds if that’s what’s available in stores near you.
Vegan French Onion Soup
- 1/3 cup vegan butter
- 4 large onions sliced
- 2 bay leaves
- 2-3 sprigs thyme
- 1/2 cup dry white or red wine
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 5 cups vegan beef stock or mushroom stock see note
- 4 slices baguette or other crusty bread
- 4 pieces vegan cheese
- Heat a large stockpot or Dutch oven over low heat, then melt the vegan butter.
- Add the sliced onions, bay leaves, and thyme.
- Caramelize for at least 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- If the onions begin to brown too fast or stick to the pan, turn down the heat and add a splash of wine to deglaze the pan.
- Once the onions are a rich brown color, add the wine and cook until the wine disappears, stirring occasionally.
- Remove the bay leaves and thyme.
- Add garlic, salt, and pepper and cook for 30 seconds.
- Sprinkle the flour over the onions and immediately stir to coat the onions.
- Cook for 5-6 minutes, making a roux.
- Add the stock and turn up the heat to bring to a simmer.
- Reduce the heat to a low simmer ad cook for 15-20 minutes.
- Taste and add more salt and pepper if desired.
- Preheat oven to 450°F.
- Ladle the soup into 4 oven-safe bowls, then place a piece of baguette in the soup and top with a piece of vegan cheese.
- Bake until the cheese melts and the bread is toasted, 5-10 minutes, using the broiler if you have one.
- Serve immediately.
- If you can, use homemade or store bought European butter (such as Miyoko’s) for the best flavor.
- Caramelizing onions to perfection takes time, so don’t turn up the heat or rush this step. Here are some step-by-step instructions and tips for caramelized onions.
- The type of wine you use is up to your personal preferences, but traditionally, white wine is used. No need to spend more than $5-6 on cooking wine.
- The flavor of the stock plays a prominent role in this soup. You can make vegan beef stock by using bouillon (some brands that make vegan beef bouillon are Better Than Bouillon, Orrington Farms, Edwards and Sons, and BulkFoods), or by searching for a recipe online. You could also use mushroom stock, which is easy to find in supermarkets.
- Typically, Gruyere cheese is used for French onion soup, but it can be hard to find vegan Gruyere unless you’re making your own cheese. The best store bought cheeses are Miyoko’s, Violife, and Chao.
- If you don’t want to bake the bowls of soup, you can toast the bread and cheese separately in a toaster oven, then simply add to the soup.
How to round out your vegan French meal
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