Saturday, February 28, 2015

Memoire a l'oignon

My college roommate's dad loved to cook. Sometimes she'd bring a group of friends home for the weekend just so he could show off his culinary skills for us. I've been thinking of that lately because one year at the end a of a brutally cold February, she took us home and he introduced us to French onion soup. I'm not normally sold on onions, but I will always remember the deeply caramelized onions, the rich, steamy broth, the topper of a big, golden crouton capped with browned, melty cheese. We each were presented with our own little bowl, and the care he put into the project made the rough month melt away.

So of course, the corner of my mind obsessed with terrible old recipes (It's probably more than a corner, but humor me!) wanted to know how that glorious repast would translate into '70s diet food. The possible answers come from Success Publications' Low Calorie Diet Cookbook (1978, eighth edition).

Onions are pretty low in calories on their own, but the fat needed to caramelize them slowly is not. Broth is low-cal, but giant croutons, not so much... Stripping it down to the bare minimum could look something like this:

Simmer onions in beef broth for a half hour! Then top with a tiny bit of cheese that will immediately disappear into the onions. (I like that the super-basic directions still manage to be self-contradictory. It's hard to place all (three!) ingredients in a pot and simmer them, then add the Parmesan later. If you follow the first sentence, it's already in the pot.)

This sounds as if the flavor will be as complex and nuanced as dishwater.

I like that the picture below the recipe has nothing to do with it, either. Fish, bananas, tomatoes, cheese, strawberries, peppers... I'm kind of glad this picture doesn't really relate to any single recipe, but a perverse little part of me secretly wishes it did.

Okay, so this recipe is too plain to bother with. Maybe changing our expectations for onion soup will lead to a more suitable recipe. If we can't have a crouton but milk products are okay, what about a creamy version?

Boil the onions with some celery and then make the mixture creamy with a cup of nonfat dry milk. I wasn't sure that anything could sound blander than the previous recipe, but I stand corrected. At least it had enough beef broth to give it a little flavor! This would just be sad white glop.

I'm glad my roommate's dad's soup is the one burned into my memory and these are only in my imagination.


  1. "Honey, I'm home! What's for dinner?"
    "Your favorite, darling! Sad white glop"

    Hi-larious as aways, Poppy :)

    1. But which sad white glop is the question! If this was an acceptable recipe for the household, I imagine there are plenty of sad white glop recipes.... They probably all taste the same, though, so I guess it doesn't matter.