Onion soup is one of the supposed betes noires of vegetarianism. They will tell you that it can’t be done without meat stock, and more specifically without beef stock — homemade from roasted beef bones, of course. They will tell you to give it up, because a vegetarian-friendly onion soup by definition will be bland, feeble, and worse than nothing.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
It’s just a matter of expanding your definitions a bit and being a little more creative. While this version is not identical to the beef-based original, it is no less deep, dark, and wonderful. Even better, it’s fast and easy enough for even your most harried mid-week dinner, especially if the weather is as miserably damp and grey as it has been around here lately. The only downside is that slicing this many onions will make you weep quantities of tears Ron Howard would sell his last remaining hairs to evoke and quite likely will stink up your house. It’s a small price to pay for this level of heartstring-plucking warmth (which, again, Opie would kill for).
You could go whole hog and gratin the tops of individual portions with shredded Gruyere, or serve alongside a grown-up grilled cheese made with artisan bread and the fancy cheese of your choice. It would also meet with my full approval were you to be moved to whip up a batch of these:
Vegetarian Onion Soup
Serves 2-3 as a main course, 4 as a first course
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 cups thinly sliced onions (see note below)
1 cup apple cider
4 cups vegetable stock
2 teaspoons dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the butter and oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat until the butter is barely starting to brown. Add the onions, tossing to coat with the fat, and cook, stirring intermittently, until the onions are seriously browned and caramelized, around 15 minutes.
Deglaze the pan with the cider, scraping the bottom thoroughly to pick up all the yummy solids. Add the stock, thyme, salt and pepper, partially cover the pot, and simmer until the onions are meltingly soft, 20-30 more minutes.
I favor a combination of yellow onions, red onions and shallots. I think this gives the soup a little more nuance, but if plain old yellow is all you have, go right ahead and use those. I would not use very sweet varieties like Walla Walla or Vidalia, since as lovely as they are for other things, they tend to make an insipid soup, and you’re already getting sweetness from the cider.
I use the “chicken” flavor bouillon concentrate, but if you have good homemade veggie broth, by all means use that.