I'm not French and neither is my Onion Soup and Twice Baked Potato

You know how sometimes when you're a kid, you base the foods you like around what you're parents like? For example, I used to hate ...

You know how sometimes when you're a kid, you base the foods you like around what you're parents like? For example, I used to hate coconut, because my mom always hated it. I used to love steamed clams because my mom loves steamed clams. I used to eat my eggs over-easy the way my mom did, too. One time when I was about nine or ten, my parents took me to New York City for the day, and we stopped a place that's actually still there in SoHo, called Manhattan Bistro. I sat next to my dad and he ordered French Onion Soup, which I'd never had, so he let me try some of it. It was so good, I remember the first bite so well. I probably liked it so much because my dad liked it so much. There are lots of foods that have these kinds of strong memories attached to them. Some might think it's sad that I can't revisit these memories by eating those foods, because of my strict diet. But actually, since this soup could easily be vegetarian, it was pretty easy to veganize. I miss out on no foods that I love to eat. I just eat them vegan.

For the non-onion-soup-eating crowd, French Onion Soup is a caramelized onion based soup, traditionally with beef broth, cubed sourdough bread topped with gruyere cheese and broiled. The first step to veganizing this was switching the broth. A homemade vegetable broth is deeper in flavor than packaged broths, and will pay the best tribute to the traditional beef stock everyone is used to. I keep homemade broth on hand always, and you can too easily. All you need to to do is keep the ends and pieces of onions, garlic, and other vegetables you cook with throughout the week, month, or however often you chop up veggies for aromatic cooking purposes, and put them in a plastic storage bag and keep in your freezer. When your bag is full, empty it into a stock pot and fill with water, add a bunch of corse sea salt and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, and simmer for about 3 hours. Strain through a mesh sieve or cheesecloth and store in mason jars in your fridge or freezer. Voila. That's French, right?
So swapping beef for better, I mean homemade vegetable stock, is the easy part. Sourdough bread is the best bread to use for this soup. You can buy it anywhere, or if you're as enthusiastic, I mean weird as me, you can make your own and use that. Whichever you decide to do, let it go stale before you use this. The reason you want to use stale bread, is because the drier the bread, the more moisture it can soak up, and since the moisture its going to soak up is a delicious onion soup, you want that bread pretty damn stale. It's not strange; it's smart!
Replacing the gruyere is the sticky, I mean tricky part. Now the options are not as limited as one might at first think. Vegan cheese is not from the deepest darkest depths of hell. There are many varieties and brands and forms, sliced, shredded, blocked, cubed, whipped, tubed... If you're going to use vegan cheese I suggest daiya. It melts the best and tastes the most convincing. However, for me, when I'm creating a recipe, fake cheese is kind of...cheating. It isn't creative enough, it's kind of lazy, it's expensive, and most importantly, it's trying to replicate a food that already exists. The bar has already been set. So if it doesn't measure up, you have a pot of vegan French Onion soup that's just a little worse than the "real thing". That's why you've got to transform that soup into something new, inspired by the classic, but not claiming to be a replica. You will have the best results this way. 
Blended cashews to the rescue. I soak mine for 2 hours at least, but if I know I'm going to need them, I soak them overnight in the fridge. I add flavors to the blended mixture and I have a creamy cheese-like sauce that I can pour over the bread cubes to make it seem like cheese. Now we gettin' somewhere...
Twice baked potatoes are not a tough sell. A perfect go-along with any main event, I roasted the potatoes, whipped the flesh, I mean potato insides up with some of the cashew cream and piped it back into their skins, I mean potato shells. I also did this with sweet potatoes for my plate, because I have a burning love for them, but Alex won't eat them (freak of nature). So I made 2 kinds. Basically, we got a stew goin'. 

For the Soup:
6 vidalia onions, sliced in rings
2 teaspoons sugar
2 heads of garlic
4 cups homemade vegetable broth
1 loaf stale sourdough bread, cut into cubes
3/4 cup cashews, soaked for 2 hours, or overnight
2 teaspoons garlic powder 
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup chopped parsely

For the potatoes
2 russet potatoes or 2 sweet potatoes
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Poke potatoes about 25 times each with a fork. Arrange with the 2 whole heads of garlic on a large baking tray lined with parchment or silpat. Bake about 1 hour. Pull the garlic out after about 40 minutes to test for softness. Remove if soft. Test the potatoes for doneness, and continue baking until soft. Let cool.
Meanwhile, in a large soup pot, put all of the onions with the sugar and 1 teaspoon of the salt. It will look like a whole lot of onions, but they will cook down to about 1/3 of their original volume. Cover, and cook over low heat for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Onions will begin to turn darker in color and release water. Soon the bottom of the pan will start to fill with the juice all the onions have released.  Once all the onions are soft and have turned amber in color, add the broth, 1 teaspoon of the garlic powder, the remaining teaspoon of salt and the pepper. Take one of the garlic bulbs, once cooled and gently peel the excess paper away, and squeeze the garlic into the soup pot, until there is only the garlic's papery shell left (this leftover papery shell is perfect for your broth bag!). Stir soup occasionally, keep covered and simmer about 20-30 minutes more, until ready to spoon into bowls.
Meanwhile, Puree the cashews in a blender with 1/2 cup of water for about 3 minutes or until smooth. Squeeze the contents of the other roasted garlic bulb into the blender. Add the other teaspoon of the garlic powder and add a pinch of salt and pepper, to taste. Puree again. If sauce is too thick, add a teaspoon or so of water or unsweetened almond milk.
When potatoes are cool enough to handle, split each open lengthwise and scoop the flesh into a large mixing bowl, or into a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Reserve the shells of the potatoes, we're going to pipe the mixture back in later. Start to slowly mash or whip the potatoes into a smooth puree. Add 1/3 cup of the cashew garlic cream, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Mash or whip until smooth. Any large lumps will interfere with your piping presentation (Hence no picture of the sweet potato). Scoop mixture into a large piping bag fitted with a huge star tip. Carefully pipe mixture into reserved shells. Put back onto baking tray to bake again with the soup.
Portion out how many bowls of soup you will need, and ladle soup into oven-proof bowls, leaving room for bread. Push a handful of bread cubes into the bowls. Don't submerge all of the cubes in the soup. Let some stay un-drenched. Now pour the cashew cream over the top of each bowl so that it covers the bread cubes. Bake on high heat for about 20 minutes or until the tops of the soup and potatoes are nicely browned. Sprinkle parsley over the top of each bowl of soup and each potato. Serve!

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  1. That looks easy. Even I could do that! I just wouldn't bother with the pastry bag unless I was having company. I'm a pretty lazy cook!

  2. You should do it! tell me how it goes!