When life gives you onions …

You know that supposedly inspirational phrase,

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Well, what do you do when life gives you onions?

Last year's onions sprouting in the basement

Last  year was a banner year in our garden for onions.  Now, I use a lot of onions in spite of my mother-in-law who can’t abide even the smallest piece of onion, cooked or raw, in any dish that passes her lips.  Jeanne and I (and Nathan), on the other hand use onions in our cooking with abandon.  That works pretty well for keeping my mother-in-law away at meal times.  Actually, she’s great and we love her dearly but Thanksgiving and Christmas would be a little easier if I didn’t have to make parallel versions of some dishes without onions.

At any rate, back to what to do with onions this time of year.  Remember, when you grow onions (garlic too) they’re all harvested at the same time, last September, and stored in our basement to use throughout the year.  By this time of year, most years, I am out of onions and have to resort to buying some from the grocery to get me through until the spring onions or scallions are ready in the garden.  But, this year I have quite a few onions still in the basement and somehow they miraculously know that it’s spring and they have started to sprout.

Once onions sprout they get soft and aren’t very good for raw preparations like salads and such, so cooking them is the only way to use them.  And I do.  But when you have a lot of onions sprouting and going soft, you want to use them up quickly which means using a lot of them at one time.

As an aside, I do use the sprouts, though.  They are tender and mild flavored and are great in salad, stir-fry or soups.  In fact, I think they’d make a pretty nice green onion soup (watch for another post on that).

So, when life gives you onions, you make onion soup.

I used the recipe from Julia Child’s great book,  The Way to Cook.  It’s a pretty straight forward recipe that, like many dishes with peasant origins, just take lots of time – time to cut up all the onions and remove any parts that are too gone, and more time to slowly cook them to a nice walnut brown color, and yet more time to simmer the soup to bring all the flavors together.

Curt's Enriched French Onion Soup

Of course, I can’t leave well enough alone.  While Julia has you use a good homemade beef stock (Yikes! Talk about taking yet more time).  I used Swanson’s canned Beef Broth and one bottle/jug, whatever you call those aseptic paper box-like packages, of Swanson’s Beef Stock.  I also had some leftover steak from a great recipe for Stout Brasied Maple & Rosemary Skirt Steak, so I decided to chop that finely along with the accompanying mushrooms and braise liquid and add that to the onion soup.  And, no, the maple, rosemary and stout do not take over the dish.  The amount of each is fairly small but flavorful and what I ended up with was an enriched onion soup – plenty of onions, plus some body from the beef and mushrooms, plus some added depth from the braising liquid.  It turned out pretty good.

Enriched French Onion Soup
(adapted from Julia Child’s The Way to Cook)
serves 6


3 Tbs butter
1 Tbs olive oil
2-1/2 # thinly sliced onions
1/2 tsp, each, salt and sugar
2 Tbs flour
1-3/4 quarts beef stock (I used a mix of Swanson’s Beef Broth and Swanson’s Beef Stock)
1/4 C. Cognac, Armagnac or brandy (I used Knob Creek Kentucky Bourbon)
1 C. dry white vermouth (Julia specifies French, but I used Gallo)

2 oz. leftover beef (braised, roast, steak or what have you), finely chopped
1/2 C mushrooms (leftover from the beef preparation or fresh ones browned separately if you don’t have leftovers), finely chopped
1 C. leftover braising liquid or additional beef stock


Heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onions, stir, cover and sweat for 15 minutes until onions are softened.

Add salt and sugar, stir well and raise heat a bit.  Cook onions, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan to make sure the onions don’t burn, until they are a rich walnut brown color (Julia doesn’t specify whether they’re Carpathian or Black walnuts).

Adding stock

Browned onions

Once the onions are browned, add the flour off heat, mix well, and stir in 2 C of heated beef stock.  Return to heat, add remaining broth, stock or braising liquid, Cognac (actually, I used Knob Creek Bourbon) and vermouth.  Reduce heat and simmer for 1-1/2 hours, partially covered.  In the last half-hour, adjust the soup’s consistency, if needed.  You can remove the cover towards the end to let some of the liquid evaporate if the soup seems thin or add a little water if it seems too thick.

Serve with good crusty bread and shredded Swiss or Parmesan cheese to add at the table.  If you want, you can do the gratin thing and float a piece of bread on the individual soup bowls and top with cheese and run them under the broiler until lightly browned and bubbly. That always looks great, but I find that juggling a blisteringly hot bowl of soup from the broiler to the table to be a little dicey, and eating it can be a mess too, so I don’t gratin.


5 thoughts on “When life gives you onions …

  1. Yummmmm. I’m an onion lover, usually ordering it out as Dave is not. But this recipe may persuade him.

    …a birding question: a beautiful specimen appeared in the tree next to our porch yesterday…..red head and body, red orange breast, tannish wing. Not quite like the Pine Grosbeak in my bird book What sayist thou?

  2. I envy you your onions, Curt…I only planted a few bunching onions last year, and no garlic (both onions and garlic are fairly inexpensive here). I’m trying leeks for the first time this year.

    That soup sounds good!


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