How to Feed an Army…

… of gamers, that is.

So, my D&D group meets on Thursdays, but occasionally we also get together for a nice evening of board games every now and then, hosted by Chien and I. There are six of us, so I’ve had to get somewhat creative about how to feed everyone without breaking the bank (because really, you can only eat so much pizza). Normally, I make a big bowl of pasta, but there’s a little snag: Chien is on a low-carbohydrate diet. Serving a big bowl of pasta would be incredibly insulting to a dear friend of mine. So, I thought to myself, what can I make easily and cheaply, and in large quantities?

Of course! Soup!

Once again, I run into the problem of cooking for vegetarians. Not that I consider that a problem, really; it just takes a little extra thought. I’m quite fond of the onion and mushroom soup over at Epicurious, but two of our veggie-lovers are not big fans of mushrooms. I’ve been wanting to try a vegetarian version of French onion soup for a while, so I settled on that. Plus, it would serve as proof to myself that I can cut onions without running screaming from the room, dammit!

Read on for the recipe, plus my modifications to make it suitable for vegetarians…

I’m a big fan of Alton Brown, host of Food Network’s “Good Eats”. It’s a great cooking show, full of lots of good recipes and interesting factoids. He really makes an effort to explain the science behind what’s happening in your saucepan. I used his recipe, which turned out super-delicious, and was exactly enough for six people. Alton’s recipe calls for beef consommé and chicken broth, so I used vegetable broth instead, with a hearty amount of soy sauce to provide that umami flavour you’d get from the meat.

As always, we’ll need to start by gathering up our ingredients

For this recipe (with my modifications), you will need:

5 sweet onions (like Vidalias) or a combination of sweet and red onions (about 4 pounds)
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
20 ounces vegetable broth
10 ounces apple cider (unfiltered is best, but use what you can afford)
Bouquet garni; thyme sprigs, bay leaf and parsley tied together with kitchen string
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper
Soy sauce, to taste

First step is to prepare the onions. Take a nice, sturdy knife (a chef’s knife if you have one) and cut the sides off of each end.

This’ll make it really easy to peel the skin off. Just get a fingernail under one of the cut ends, and strip it off. It should come off in a few big pieces. After you’re done peeling, slice the onions in half against the “grain” (the vertical lines running along the circumference).

Leave the onions cut side down (this will reduce the water-works, and make it easier to cut) and slice them into half-moons.

With this recipe, the thinner you can slide the onions the better, but don’t sweat it too much. What’s most important is you try to get your slices even in thickness. The onions will cook more evenly if you do.

Speaking of cooking… we’re ready to get our groove on. Place a large soup pot over medium heat, and add the butter.

(yes, I know it looks like a lot. But remember, we have a lot of onions to took. Plus, it’s a French recipe.)

Once the butter has melted, add a layer of onions, then a layer of salt. Continue doing this until all the onions are in the pot.

Don’t try stirring them until they’ve had a chance to cook down for 15 or 20 minutes– doing so will just create a huge mess. Once they’ve started to cook down a little, stir occasionally until the onions have turned a nice dark brown colour and have reduced to about two cups. This should take about 45 minutes to an hour.

When AB says “don’t worry about burning”, he’s not lying. Seriously. Don’t worry about them burning. Let ’em. They’ll just add even more flavour to the soup. It’s like the zen of soup. Relax. Let it go. Let the onions burn. Ooooohm…

Anyway. Once the onions are done reducing, deglaze the pan with a generous splash of soy sauce (“deglaze” is just a fancy term for “add liquid and use a spoon to scrape up all the tasty bits on the bottom of the pan”), then add the vegetable broth, apple juice, and bouquet garni. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

Lastly, season the soup with salt and pepper to taste (you may have to add more soy sauce to get a properly savoury soup, depending on whether or not you used low-sodium broth), and you’re ready to eat! Of course, for a more traditional serving, follow AB’s instructions for serving the soup in bowls topped with bread and melty cheese. Unless you have friends who are avoiding carbs, like me. Then just ladle it into bowls and offer your friends croutons and grated cheese so they can fix their own, and enjoy!

Board games and liquid nitrogen ice cream optional.


2 responses to “How to Feed an Army…

  1. Haha, OMG Ryn, this made me smile! 🙂 [<– see? smile]. I will refer to this if I ever need a veggie version of soup (yay, soup!)

    Love the humour and the proper English spelling 😛

  2. Those are very steamy steaming cups!

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