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mujadara-inspired French onion lentil soup

Ingredients

for the french onion lentil soup:

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 3 pounds onions, thinly sliced (about 5 to 6 medium onions)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed through a press or finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons flour (optional)
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine (feel free to substitute more broth if you can’t have wine)
  • 8 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or za’atar (or an equal amount fresh thyme)
  • 3/4 pound green or brown lentils, sorted and rinsed

for the fried onions:

  • 1 cup neutral-flavored oil (canola oil or refined olive oil—not extra virgin—works great)
  • The set-aside golden-brown caramelized onions (from above)

for the croûte:

  • 1 French boule (or another loaf of crusty bread), cut into thick bowl-width slices (about 400-450g)
  • Butter
  • 8 ounces sliced or grated melting cheese (swiss, mozzarella, gruyere, etc.) (or 12 oz. if you want stretchy gobs)
  • 1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  • (optional) thyme for garnish

Instructions

  1. Make the soup: Place the butter in a large dutch oven and set over medium-high heat. Once the butter has melted, swirl to coat and add the onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt. In the first couple minutes, you’ll want to keep them moving to help them wilt. After about 5-10 minutes, you’ll notice the bottom of the pot gathering a brown film. Scrape it up with your wooden spoon (preferably flat-edged) and let the onions absorb the brown bits. Let the onions sit for a couple minutes, until the brown film shows up again—scrape it up again and give the onions a stir.
  2. Continue to caramelize the onions this way, scraping the brown bits from the bottom whenever they accumulate. Control the heat so the bottom doesn’t burn. Toward the end, you may need to reduce the heat to medium to keep the onions from burning. *
  3. Once the onions are very soft and golden brown (after about 25 minutes), remove 1/3 of them to a plate, and continue cooking the rest for about 10 more minutes, until they’re deeply brown. You’ll need to stir more frequently in these last 10 minutes, and you might need to occasionally deglaze the bottom with a couple teaspoons of water if it’s too hard to scrape up.
  4. During the last minute or two of caramelizing, add the garlic and stir for just 1-2 minutes.
  5. Lower the heat to medium-low, add the flour, and cook stirring constantly for about 2 minutes.
  6. Add the wine and scrape any bits still stuck to the bottom of the pan. Stir in the broth a little at a time while whisking, until the mixture smooths out a bit, then add the rest of the broth, black pepper, sage, thyme, and lentils and increase the heat to medium-high. Tate and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
  7. Once it comes to a boil, cover, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about 15 to 25 minutes. Once the lentils are done (no longer mealy, but not yet mushy), remove from heat (it’ll stay warm if covered for about 30 minutes). Taste and season a little more if necessary.
  8. Fry the set-aside onions: Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until an onion sizzles when dropped in (about 5 minutes). Carefully add a scoop or two of the reserved caramelized onions and use tongs to spread them out into a single mostly submerged layer.
  9. Cook, stirring every minute or so, for about 3 to 5 minutes until crispy-chewy and deeply golden brown (control the heat to make sure they don’t burn). Before they burn or become too brittle, remove them with a slotted spoon to a paper-towel-lined plate, and then add a couple more scoops of the onions to the pan, working in batches until they’re all done. Discard the remaining oil after it cools.
  10. Make the croûtes: Preheat the broiler. While you wait, lightly butter both sides of the bread slices and place them on a sheet pan (parchment-lined for easy cleanup). Broil until toasted on one side (about 1 to 5 minutes, depending on your broiler–check very frequently!), then remove from the oven and flip them over.
  11. Place the cheese slices on the un-toasted sides, then sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Place back under the broiler until the cheese is melted and browned in spots (another 1 to 5 minutes).
  12. Serve by ladling some soup into a bowl, topping with a croûte, and sprinkling with fried onions and a little thyme.

Notes

Notes on multitasking: While the onions finish caramelizing, start frying the ones you set aside. While the soup simmers, assemble the croûtes.

* If you want a method that requires less babysitting (but more time), try the method I use in my mujadara recipe