Our friend Ekitzel Wood shares her favorite family recipe: French onion soup.This recipe is a combination of several that I used over the years. Whenever I go home or I’m with family for Christmas—which isn’t every year—my family expects a large pot of French onion soup on Christmas Eve.
We don’t really have many holiday traditions, and I don’t know if this qualifies as one. When I was in high school, my mom went back to working full-time, and I started shouldering the responsibility of preparing family dinners. Internet recipe sharing was in its infancy, but it gave me a lot of recipes to use and experiment with as a teenager. My parents weren’t gourmands in any way, and utility and economy were always the name of the game when it came to meal planning and execution. As I started preparing meals and really tasting what I was doing, tweaking things and trying flavors, I began to receive praise and positive attention that I hadn’t experienced before, which pushed me to want to excel more.
When I was in college I would come home for the holidays, and my gift to the family would be a nice meal because I’d been gone and not using a well-stocked pantry or kitchen. With some meager savings I accumulated for the purpose, I started making French onion soup on Christmas Eve. We had never had it in our house up to then and were always planning something slightly more extravagant for Christmas morning and day. None of the Christmas breakfast and dinner items really stuck from year to year, but the French onion soup did.
After I had returned from being abroad and missed two Christmases, my father specifically asked for French onion soup on Christmas Eve, and I didn’t realize how much my family had come to expect it. We never know how our actions can become comforting and important to our families. Traditions always start somewhere; I never would have guessed as a teenage college student that a simple soup that the French traditionally have at weddings or as a hangover cure would become an expectation and food tradition in a family with very few consistent traditions.
French Onion Soup
Makes 6–8 servings. Total prep/cook time: 2 hours
- 6–8 onions, peeled and sliced
- 8 cups beef stock
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup unsweetened grape juice with ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- Salt and pepper
- 1 baguette, sliced
- Gruyere or Swiss Cheese
- Caramelize onions in sufficient butter in a large stock or soup pot (20–40 mins)
- Once the onions are fragrant, translucent, and a bit sweet, add the beef stock and bay leaves. Bring to a strong simmer.
- Add juice and vinegar. If the soup tastes lacking in flavor, add a bit more juice and vinegar, simmer for 20 minutes.
- Toast baguette slices under the broiler in your oven, 5–7 minutes until dry and slightly golden.
- Grate cheese.
- After soup is done boiling, remove bay leaves and add salt and pepper to taste.
- Distribute in soup bowls that are oven safe.
- Top each soup bowl with a slice of toasted baguette and a handful of grated cheese.
- Place under the broiler in your oven until the cheese is melted and slightly browned.
- Serve immediately.
Ekitzel’s story is a wonderful example of how traditions can start at any time. This family recipe is on its first-generation run. How many generations has your family recipe traveled?