French onion soup is a tough soup to alter. Making it vegetarian is hard, and making it vegan is even tougher. The traditional soup uses lots of butter and beef stock, creating a depth that is hard to recreate for those diets. Luckily, the world has coffee! Using one of my favorite brands (Philz Coffee, located here in San Francisco), their Dark French blend (that was not planned by the way) brings a smoky and charcoal-like flavor to this meat-free version. Want to eat it vegan? Just leave off the cheese topping.
In a dutch oven, warm olive oil over a medium-low heat and add onions, tossing to coat. Increase heat to medium-high, stirring every 10 minutes. If they begin to burn instead of caramelizing, reduce heat. When done, they should be a deep golden brown and jam-like. You have probably been lied to in the past. Caramelizing onions takes about an hour, why many recipes say 20 minutes, I will never know. But those fuckers are lying!
I used coffee for this recipe, because, as you may have noticed, the soup itself is vegan, which is far from traditional French onion soup. I used one of my favorites, Philz Coffee's Dark French. The coffee has these wonderful smoky and charcoal tones that just play well with this classic peasant dish.
Add 8 cups of vegetable broth, 1 1/2 cups brewed coffee, 2 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon miso, 1 clove garlic, a sprig of thyme and marjoram, and bring the soup to a low simmer. Cook for 30 minutes.
While that is simmering, we are going to make our croûtes. Cut the baguette into 1-inch slices (I like mine thick), place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, brush them with olive oil, and bake them in a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees F for about 15 minutes, until toasty.
When the soup is done cooking, salt to taste and divide it into 8 oz ramekins. Top each one with one or two croûtes and some shredded Gruyere. Place them in a baking dish and broil them on low until the cheese is melted and bubbly.