Yid.Dish: Kosher French Onion Soup (Really)

french onion soup

The wind was blowing, leaves were falling, and all I could think was “Man, I have got to get me some french onion soup.” This time of year always makes me crave comfort, and for me french onion soup is comfort incarnate. I love the sweetness of the onions, the smooth melted cheese, and the delicious beef broth that warms me from head to toe instantly, even on the chilliest afternoons.

It has always been a staple recipe in our house, but this year is different. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur have just ended, and a new year is upon the Jewish community. I was not raised kosher. I never intended to live that way. But as I have gotten older and wiser, I find myself wanting to adopt a more kosher lifestyle, and have been taking small steps to bring myself in line. This year, one of my New Year resolutions is to take bigger steps. I will buy kosher meat whenever I can find it. Neither pork nor seafood can enter my oven. I will not cook milk with meat. And I will do all of this consistently and with conscious diligence.

But that onion soup beckoned….

My mouth watered at the thought of it as I walked home past the leaves just turning, the last rays of sun peeking through the late afternoon sky. To my mind, french onion soup evens looks like autumn; the yellow of the onions, deep reddish brown of the broth. Mmmm, so yummy, so cold outside, so…wake up dummy!!! No milk with meat. There had to be a way to reconcile my resolution with my appetite. I thought about soy cheese, but am generally opposed to faking real ingredients. I don’t make Passover cookies with matzo meal cake flour; I’d rather have meringues. What was an earnest girl to do?

Coincidentally, I recently ordered a used copy of an out of print cookbook by one of my favorite authors, Rozanne Gold. Every once in a while she still pops up in Bon Appetit, but seems largely (and sadly) out of the mainstream these days. I have several of her other books, but wanted to treat myself for the new year and purchased Recipes 1-2-3. Her premise is simple; no more than 3 ingredients in any given recipe (exceptions: water, salt, pepper). Not that her recipes are easy; rather they are adventures in the spare, yielding luscious results with what seems like very little.

As I glanced through my book on that first cold day, I found the answer; Red Wine French Onion Soup. This ingenious technique replaces beef broth with a wine based, white pepper infused, buttery broth that is rich, delicious and completely dairy.

Here’s the original recipe. I have modified it slightly, but kept to its spirit. Enjoy, and please send me any tips you have as I move forward with my kosher efforts.

Red Wine Onion Soup

2 lbs sweet onions
3 medium leeks
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 tsp sugar
1 cup red wine*
6 cups of water
2 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
6 oz Gruyere cheese, shredded **
French bread, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds

  1. Peel and halve the onions. Slice thinly, about 1/8 of an inch (this works best if you use a mandoline or the slicing disk attachment on your food processor).
  2. Rinse leeks. Select the white part and chop finely. Discard greens.
  3. Melt butter on medium heat using a large cast iron or stainless steel pot with a lid. Add onions. After 15 minutes, add the sugar and the leeks. Continue stirring for another 20 – 25 minutes. Scrape brown pieces with a wooden spoon. The onions are ready when they are a deep yellow/brown color.
  4. Add wine and cook until most of the liquid is evaporated, about 10 minutes. Continue stirring throughout.
  5. Add water, salt, and pepper. Bring to boil, cover, lower heat, and simmer for 20 minutes.
  6. Remove 2 cups of soup and blend. Return liquid to pot. OR, use your immersion blender directly in the pot – pulse 10 times. Cook for 10 more minutes.
  7. Turn on the broiler. Place ceramic crocks on a foil lined, rimmed baking sheet. Fill each ceramic crock with soup. Add 2 – 3 croutons and 1 oz of cheese to each bowl. Broil on a top rack for 2 – 5 minutes, until the cheese is golden brown. Serve.

* She recommends cabernet sauvignon, or other like full bodied wine.  Click to view the Jew and the Carrot’s kosher, sustainable wine list.

** If you are not Reform or Conservative and require a kosher cheese, please review the Jew and the Carrot’s kosher, sustainable cheese list as well as kosher.com‘s cheese list.  Your best bet is to substitute swiss cheese for the gruyere.

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9 Responses to “Yid.Dish: Kosher French Onion Soup (Really)”

  1. Avi Says:

    If you’re unaffiliated and require kosher cheese, please see the kosher cheese list. If you’re Conservative and require kosher cheese, please see the kosher cheese list. If you’re Orthodox and don’t require kosher cheese, please use your favorite cheese.

    Julie, why bring denominations in when they tell you nothing? And then you botched the denominations while doing it. You seemed to go to great lengths to avoid saying, “If you’re Orthodox.”

    But beyond just using bad groups you’re wrong on Conservative halakha also. The lenient CJLS position on cheese is that domestic cheese uses microbial rennet which is a davar chadash and therefore doesn’t need hashgacha. Since Gruyere is now an AOC protected name, Gruyere cheese can only come from Gruyere Switzerland. Therefore the CJLS teshuva can’t even be used to justify not buying hekshered Gruyere.

    Incidentally, the cheese teshuva like a lot of CJLS kashrut teshuvas from the ’50s doesn’t really hold up to the growth in modern local, organic, artisanal food. There is no way you can make an assumption about the rennet used by a small batch local cheese maker. In fact the more classical/traditional style the cheese maker uses, the more likely the rennet used is animal derived and problematic, making the cheese not kosher.

  2. tali Says:

    kosher or not, this recipe is very similar to one that i got many years a go form the bistro chef of the french bistro in the French consulate in Tel-Aviv. and it is delicious.

    it suppose to be 100 degrees here in israel this weekend, so i think i will wait till next week (hopefully it will cool down a bit) to make it again.

    thanks for the remind.

    tali

  3. Julie Steinberg Says:

    Avi,

    I am sorry the footnote was so controversial for you.

    At one point, Ermitage made a kosher Gruyere cheese from Switzerland (http://1800cheeseclub.com/grerk.html). It used to sell on amazon.com

    I have also seen imported kosher gruyere cheese in various specialty stores – you have to look around, but it does exist.

    There are also domestic gruyere cheeses available, generally made in Wisconsin.Trader Joe’s sells their own brand. Perhaps the labeling does not conform to the standards you mention, but none-the-less, it is the real thing.

    I think both of these options conform to conservative standards.

    Finally, as I said, the best substitute is swiss cheese, which has several kosher varieties.

    Julie

  4. Avi Says:

    You can not have a Wisconsin gruyere the same way you can’t have a Wisconsin Parmigiano Reggiano or a California Champagne. Trader Joes may sell a gruyere style cheese but it is not gruyere.

    And regardless of naming convention, your footnote would have still be much clearer and less awkward if you had just said “if you require kosher certified cheese.” There was no need to bring denominations into the discussion.

  5. Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster Says:

    The kosher brand “The Good Life Cheese” has a gruyere. It tastes more like swiss cheese than gruyere (and it is softer than traditional gruyere) but it is available and is not a specialty brand. I get it at my grocery store–but then, I do live in a very Jewish area.

  6. Hannah Lee Says:

    My introduction to Roz Gold’s creativity occurred this summer when our extended family attended the world-famous Aspen Music Festival (in Aspen, Colorado). The owners of the large house(it sleeps 20!)spend six months of the year there, so the place is well-equipped with personally selected books. I found Roz Gold’s 1996 book, Recipes 1-2-3,amongst the family collection and made her Curried Lentil Soup for Shabbat dinner (just French green lentils, chopped shallots, and curry powder). It was so good that I may not return to the multi-ingredient recipe that I’ve used in the past. I think her original recipe for Onion Soup with just butter, Spanish onions, and red wine deserves tasting. BTW, when we returned home, I also searched for the book on amazon and ordered my own copy.

  7. Gershon Says:

    Avi, I agree with you 100%.

  8. suzy Says:

    i just found another great onion soup
    http://kosherstreet.com/2010/0.....nion-soup/

  9. de ciclismo Says:

    It’s enormous that you are getting thoughts from this article as well as from our discussion made at this time.

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