By meticulously layering umami flavors, I’ve crafted a vegan French onion soup that’s loved by meat eaters and a convincing stand-in for the real thing. You’ll just have to try it to believe it!
Vegetarian French onion soup is one of those things that I assumed for a long time would be excluded from my life forever. As a dish that basically revolves around beef and gruyere cheese, there’s not much a vegan can do.
I’ve seen vegan French onion soup recipes online and I’ve just never been convinced that it would be worth making. For the most part they just sound like vegetable soup, often with gross looking vegan cheese on top. Y’all know I don’t settle when it comes to these matters. Things changed when I saw that America’s Test Kitchen had created a meatless onion soup recipe. There are a few recipe sources that I trust strongly, and ATK is one of them. They test everything a lot and have very high standards for their plant-based fare.
I’ve modeled my own vegan French onion soup off of the one from ATK, although I’ve made many changes, including to eliminate the mushrooms. To make a plant-based version of this classic French soup, here are the components you’ll need:
Homemade umami croutons, made with fresh sourdough bread and tossed with a smattering of savory seasonings before roasting to golden brown perfection. These croutons take the place of cheese-topped bread in our plant-based soup.
Perfectly caramelized onions, slow-cooked the proper way. I make my caramelized onions in the oven as of late, so I’ve included those instructions here, but use your preferred method. Just don’t rush the process. There is literally, from a scientific standpoint, no way to caramelize onions rapidly. Shortcuts provide an inferior product.
Vegan beef broth to simmer the onions in. I highly, highly recommend making my homemade vegan beef broth which requires sourcing a couple of odd ingredients but is so, so deep/rich/flavorful/amazing. However, if there is a store-bought beef-less broth that you like, you can use that instead.
A splash of dry sherry is a crucial counterpoint to the sweet flavor of the onions.
Fresh thyme and bay leaves are simmered in the soup to infuse a hint of freshness.
Is this vegan French onion soup easy to make? Hmm, depends on your definition. There are definitely several steps involved in this recipe and it certainly isn’t quick. There’s not really any way to speed it up with the Instant Pot or make it more hands-off with the slow cooker, so I would say that labor is required. It is pretty simple in terms of technique, though, so I believe that most home cooks should be able to prepare this. A lot of the time is spent just relaxing and waiting for onions to cook, so put on some music and enjoy!
Most importantly, this recipe is just the best. I’ve been disappointed by all of the vegan French onion soup that came before and after this one, but this is the real deal. Obviously, this is not 100% authentic French food, but I’m proud to say this recipe is incredibly flavorful and rich without any animal products or waxy fake cheese.
I’ve been keeping this recipe from you for literally a year. I was making it regularly during Pandemic Autumn #1 and even fed it to a bunch of meat eaters [in my quarantine bubble] for Christmas, but didn’t get around to publishing it until today. I hope that you enjoy it!
Vegan French Onion Soup
- Dutch oven (or casserole dish & soup pot)
- Baking sheet
For the soup:
Caramelize the onions:
- (Use your own preferred method for caramelized onions, if you prefer). Set the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. In a Dutch oven, combine the sliced onions, olive oil, and salt. Cover with the lid and bake for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and stir, especially making sure to scrape the sides.
- Return onions to the oven, with the lid slightly ajar to let steam escape. Cook for another 60 minutes, then stir again and return to the onion. Continue cooking for about 30 more minutes, or until onions are soft and golden brown.
- Continue making the soup using the caramelized onions in the same pot, or store them in the refrigerator (including oil) for up to 3 days.
Cook the soup:
- Move the pot with the caramelized onions to the stove over medium heat (medium-low if using a gas stove). If using stored onions from the refrigerator, add the additional 2 tsp of olive oil to help keep them from sticking. Add the black pepper.
- Cook the onions until nicely browned, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom and sides, about 10-12 minutes. Turn the heat to medium, stir in 1/2 cup water and scrape the bottom and sides well. Then, stir in the dry sherry and cook until the liquid is mostly evaporated, about 3-4 minutes.
- Add the broth, thyme, bay leaf, salt, brown sugar, and 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper if needed. Discard the thyme and bay leaf. Prepared soup keeps well in the fridge for up to 4-5 days.
Make the croutons:
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients except for the bread. Stir into an even mixture, then add the bread to the bowl and toss to combine. Use your hands to massage the seasoning into the bread.
- Transfer the seasoned bread cubes to a baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown and slightly crisp. After cooling, store any leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.