When it comes to making classic French Onion Soup I can’t think of anyone who has ever done it better than Julia Child. A national treasure in her own right, Julia’s French Onion Soup is legendary.
So it was Julia’s masterpiece of a book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, that I turned to when I decided to try and make a classic French Onion Soup recipe that was as clean as possible while still preserving the rich, authentic and savory goodness of the real deal.
My last Julia Child recipe makeover for Coq au Vin was a tremendous hit with my family and I had high hopes everyone would be just as enthused about the French Onion Soup. I was wrong.
But my initial soup fail was not Julia’s fault. It was definitely my fault for trying to make the recipe way too squeaky clean on round one….
A #NoRegrets Classic French Onion Soup Recipe
A Classic French Onion Soup recipe calls for liberal amounts of butter and even more cheese. But chances are if you are into clean eating, you have probably crossed both of those items off your list of acceptable foods to eat.
However, if you have our Clean Cuisine book then you know that while butter is not exactly a staple of our anti-inflammatory diet, we do allow for a small bits of grass-fed cheese. This is not because we think cheese is good for you (you can read more about why we don’t believe dairy is a health food here), but rather because a wee bitty bit of cheese can go a very long way to making so many foods taste out of this world. French Onion Soup is one of them.
All I can say after working on this recipe quite a bit is that when it comes to trying to make a Classic French Onion Soup you simply cannot totally eliminate the butter or the cheese. And yet, you would be surprised that it really only takes scant amounts of both to make a huge impact on the overall flavor and richness of the soup.
Each bowl of soup has less than 1 ounce of cheese (which is less than a serving size!) and less than 1/4 teaspoon of butter. The total amount of butter and cheese called for in my cleaned up onion soup is minuscule. But don’t try to cut it out or trust me, you won’t be happy with your squeaky clean results 😉
A Cleaner Classic French Onion Soup Calls for Whole Grain Bread
It should go without saying that I didn’t choose Wonder Bread for the bread component of my French Onion Soup. Since we are not gluten free in our house, I like to use Food for Life’s brand of sprouted whole grain bread for our recipe, but if you are gluten free then I recommend Canyon Bakehouse brand 7-Grain Whole Grain Gluten Free bread instead.
Add Some Nut Cheese
One of the biggest secrets I discovered to making my cleaned up French Onion Soup taste like the real deal was to spread the toasted bread with a really good nut cheese spread. I know the idea of incorporating nut cheese into a French Onion Soup recipe does not sounds conventional, but I assure you it works as long as you use a superior quality nut cheese. As far as I am aware though, there are only two really good nut cheese brands that exist: Kite Hill and Dr. Cow.
Both Kite Hill and Dr. Cow plant-based nut cheeses are fermented, just the way traditional real cheese is made. The difference between cow’s milk cheese and nut cheese is simply that cow’s cheese is made with milk and nut cheese is made with nut milk.
Kite Hill cheese is nationally distributed and available in natural foods stores nationwide as well as at Whole Foods Market. Dr. Cow is available at a number of specialty shops or you can just order online direct from the company.
Use a LOT of Onions…
Using LOTS of onions, about twice the amount called for in the traditional recipe, is another secret to making a healthier and cleaner French Onion Soup. This was one tweak that I also believe greatly enhanced the flavor of the recipe too. In fact, one of my pet peeves with conventional French Onion Soups is that they never have nearly enough onions!
I admit chopping all those extra onions can be a chore (onion glasses keep the tears away, by the way) but adding them gives the soup a major nutritional boost. The health benefits of onions are far greater than most people realize.
Onions are incredibly rich in a special type of phytonutrient called polyphenols. In the French diet, only six vegetables (artichoke heart, parsley, Brussels sprouts, shallot, broccoli, and celery) have a higher polyphenol content than onions. Since the French diet has been of special interest to researchers in terms of disease prevention, onion’s strong polyphenol content has been spotlighted in a number of health publications.
Within the polyphenol category, onions are also surprisingly high in flavonoids. On an ounce-for-ounce basis, onions rank in the top 10 of commonly eaten vegetables in their quercetin content. Quercetin has a number of far-reaching health benefits, but supporting cardiovascular health and a healthy blood pressure rank right on top. And the good news is when it comes to making French Onion Soup, the quercetin does not get degraded by the simmering process. Instead, it simply gets transferred into the water part of the soup.
Anyway, when it comes to making a healthy and delicious French Onion Soup, you definitely want more onions not less. Just put your onion glasses on first 😉
P.S. Love Julia Child? Be sure to check out how to make a cleaner version of Julia’s classic Coq Au Vin recipe!
- 2 tablespoons organic, unrefined red palm oil OR extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon organic, grass fed butter (such as Kerrygold)
- 16 cups sliced onions (note: this should be approximately 4 onions)
- 1½ teaspoons coconut palm sugar
- ¼ teaspoon unrefined sea salt
- 3 tablespoons spelt flour OR whole wheat flour (note: for gluten free use brown rice flour)
- 1 teaspoon ground sage (look for ground sage in the spice section of your supermarket)
- 1 cup red wine
- 8 cups beef broth
- 2 bay leafs
- 6 slices whole grain bread
- 6 tablespoons nut based cream cheese style spread (such as Kite Hillbrand OR Dr. Cow brand )
- ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons crumbled or shredded organic, grass fed cheese (I like Kerrygold Dubliner Irish Cheese)
- Heat a large, heavy stock pot over medium-low heat and add the oil once the pot is hot. Melt the butter into the hot oil. Stir the sliced onions into the oil/butter mix, ensuring they are evenly coated. Cover the stock pot and cook for around 20 minutes checking to make sure the onions aren’t burning. Onions should be clear and very tender once finished. Turn up the heat to medium-high, and add the sugar and salt. Continue cooking while stirring until onions are thoroughly browned (caramelized).
- Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in the flour and ground sage Cook 2-3 minutes until flour forms a thick paste (add more oil if needed). Add 1 cup of beef broth, and stir heavily for a couple seconds.
- Add the rest of the broth, wine, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees F. Drizzle both sides of bread slices with olive oil, and place on a baking sheet. Toast the bread in the oven for 5 minutes on each side. Remove toasted bread from oven and set aside. Turn oven temperature up to 400 degrees.
- Taste soup, and add salt and pepper as needed, then remove the bay leaf.
- Spread each slice of toasted bread with 1 tablespoon of nut-based cream cheese style spread.
- Ladle soup into 6 oven-proof soup bowls. Top each bowl with a slice of cream cheese coated bread. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of cheese over the top of each slice of bread. Arrange the soup bowls on 2 large baking sheets and transfer to the oven. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until cheese melts.
- Remove bowls from oven and let stand to cool for about 5 minutes. Serve at once.
LOOKING FOR MORE CLEAN EATING RECIPES?
If you liked the classic French Onion Soup recipe be sure to check out Clean Cuisine Dinners! The digital cookbook offers a full month of clean eating dinner recipes including weekly menu planner, shopping lists and more!