david lebovitz’s french onion soup (from ‘my paris kitchen’)

david lebovitz onion soupSOME ONIONS WON’T LAST—you know, the ones whose tops didn’t brown down thoroughly before harvest, and may still look more like a scallion’s stalk, or store-bought ones sitting in that bowl on the counter a little too long. Solution: onion soup, specifically David Lebovitz’s onion soup from “My Paris Kitchen,” one of his popular books.

It’s a soup you can make and enjoy now, or freeze, depending on how many willing yellow onions you can get your hands on, and on whether you can resist eating it all right away. With my first bowlful, I didn’t even manage to wait long enough to melt the cheese on top of the recommended toast. It just smelled too inviting as-is (or was), and then, suddenly, gone.

copyright David LebovitzIf you haven’t met David Lebovitz, the story, in brief: In 1999, he left Chez Panisse and a career in the restaurant business. He moved from San Francisco to Paris—where he jokingly says Belgian endive is so inexpensive as to be the French version of “trash” lettuce, and reports there are more than 1,260 bakeries. Packing up little more than his best skillet, cookbooks and trusty laptop, David turned to writing, and his 2011 memoir, “The Sweet Life in Paris” (Amazon affiliate link), became a “New York Times” bestseller.

His website is likewise a giant hit (and has an e-newsletter I enjoy).

No wonder. Besides having a way with food, he is a delicious storyteller, too, always layering in the essential ingredients of humor, tenderness and accessibility—even when he’s “remastering the classics” as is the stated goal of “My Paris Kitchen.”

He leaves his mark on coq au vin and croque-monsieur, cassoulet and lamb tagine, and delicious frites (made in the oven, a nod to the fact that most of us don’t have a deep-fryer in the kitchen the way French households often do). And there is dessert, of course; David was for many years a pastry chef. To the chocolate-dulce de leche tart, the salted butter caramel chocolate mousse, and coffee crème brulee, I say, help me! But there are simpler choices such as madeleine, too.

And there is the French onion soup—but not with beef stock, as is the tradition. David uses chicken stock, specifically homemade. (Small example of David humor: On his website FAQ page, he answers the inquiry about, “Finding Canned Chicken Stock in France” with, “You can’t.”)

I’m a vegetarian, so I skipped the chicken stock that David suggests in his recipe notes below, using vegetable instead (or half water and half vegetable stock if the stock is insistent-flavored). And as I said, I skipped the cheese, at least the first time around, as you can see in my monastic photo at the top of the page, compared to the positively elastic, in-action one from David’s book just below. Now seeing his version, who can resist this recipe from “My Paris Kitchen“?

 copyright My French Kitchen french onion soup (soupe à l’oignon)

recipe below copyright by David Lebovitz, from “My Paris Kitchen;” photo above from the book, copyright Ed Anderson (used with permission).

Serves 6

By David Lebovitz

Beef stock is thought to be traditional in this soup, but it’s heavier, and I rarely have beef stock on hand, so I use chicken stock. For a heartier stock, you can roast the chicken bones in a 400ºF (200ºC) oven on a baking sheet for 30 to 45 minutes, until well browned, then use those bones to make the stock.

soup ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons (2 ounces/55g) unsalted butter
  • 2½ pounds (1.2kg) yellow or white onions, peeled and very thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt, plus more if needed
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more if needed
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup (180ml) white wine or sherry
  • 2 quarts (2l) chicken stock
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar or balsamic vinegar, plus more if needed

toast ingredients:

  • 6 thick slices hearty white bread, or about 18 thick-sliced pieces of baguette, well toasted
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole, for rubbing the bread
  • 3 cups (255g) grated Emmenthal, Comté, or Gruyère cheese


1. Melt the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and sugar and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent.

2. Add the garlic, salt, and pepper and continue to cook for 1½ hours, stirring less frequently and decreasing the heat to avoid burning as the onions continue to cook down. (You may wish to use a flame diffuser if your cooktop doesn’t allow low enough heat.)

As the onions cook, if they brown on the bottom of the pan in places, use a spatula to scrape those appetizing brown bits into the onions because they’ll add flavor. The onions are done when they have collapsed into a thick amber-brown paste.

3. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add the wine and use a flat utensil to loosen any and all brown bits from the bottom and sides of the pan, stirring them into the onions. Add the stock, bring to a boil, then decrease the heat and simmer slowly for 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the vinegar, tasting it to get the balance right, adding a touch more vinegar, and salt and pepper, if desired.

4. Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). Set six ovenproof bowls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

5. Divide the hot soup among the bowls. Rub both sides of the toasted bread slices with the garlic. Put the toasts on the soup, then sprinkle the tops with the grated cheese. Bake the soups on the upper rack of the oven until the cheese is deeply browned, about 20 minutes. Alternatively, if your bowls can withstand the heat, you can set the cheese-topped soups under a hot broiler, cooking them until the cheese is melted and starting to brown.

Serve immediately.

more from david lebovitz

enter to win ‘my french kitchen’

My-Paris-Kitchen2I BOUGHT AN EXTRA COPY of David Lebovitz’s “My French Kitchen” (Amazon affiliate link) to share with a lucky reader. To enter, all you have to do is answer this multi-part question in the comments box below the last comment on this page. (Note: the giveaway is over.)

Do you grow onions? Have you ever made onion soup? (If not, what’s your most onion-centric dish?)

No answer? That’s fine; just say “count me in” or the equivalent, and I will. But an answer is even better. I selected a random winner after entries closed at midnight Sunday, September 14, 2014, and another book for another round of the giveway that ended Tuesday November 19, 2019. Good luck to all.

(Photo of David Lebovitz from his website.)

  1. Chris Campbell says:

    I do love onion soup, but now that I’m thinking of other onion recipes, I would have to say the cipolla onion sauce from The Vegetarian Epicure is at the top of my all time favorites. Years ago I made this sauce with common red onions because I couldn’t find cipolla at the market and it was still outstanding! I will definitely add cipolla seeds/sets to the garden list this year.
    Thanks Margaret!

  2. elaine says:

    Yes, our organic garden includes onions, so we have plenty to make French Onion Soup. My husband has a recipe he’s used for years, but would love to try this one. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Linda White says:

    I’ve tried to grow onions, but have had little success. Probably I need to weed more. But I have never made French Onion soup although I love it! I’ve grown to love raw onions in salad!

  4. Linda morrison says:

    My favorite soup is onion soup! I think onion tart is one of my favorite ways to use onion, pie dough topped with onion slices and cheese. Simple and wonderful

  5. Bobbe says:

    Today I spied a twenty-five pound sack of glorious onions, on sale at the organic farm stand! Something about your message makes this a match made in heaven. Thank you for the inspiration.

  6. Molly Moody says:

    No, I haven’t tried growing onions yet, right now I’m working on an organic lawn. Maybe I should switch to the onions! Yes, I have made onion soup, but really only “easy/faux” types. My favorite onion recipe is Roasted Cipollini Onions. I’ve gotten My Paris Kitchen from the library & loved cooking from it. We do eat meat & his cassoulet is amazing!

  7. Deborah Pursch says:

    I love onions, but haven’t grown them recently, and have better luck growing garlic.
    I’d love to make this onion soup, and remember onion sauce as a staple of an English childhood.
    As a side note I’ve just come across David Lebovitz’ receipes for quince and made the tarte tatin today….delicious. Quinces grow well in northeast PA and this year was a bumper year.

  8. Jenny says:

    I have not done well planting onions, but always have chives. I have not made onion soup. My most onion centric dish is probably chili. I like lots in the chili, and put a ton of raw onion on top.

  9. Pam O says:

    I grow shallots, scallions, and several varieties of chives. My garden is too small to also grow enough onions to make it worthwhile. I’ve never actually had onion soup, but it looks really yummy in the photo – should try making it this winter.

  10. LORRIE says:

    Sooo, I’m at the laptop making this dish now. It’s not exactly meatless Monday, but close enough for counting!

    I do grow my own onions, but these are from the farmers market because I’m still not very good at planting enough to put away for the offseason.

    I love caramelized in everything all the time! I love the way the onions, oil, time, and a bit of balsamic makes magic.

  11. Joan Hayes says:

    I have only grown spring onions in Oregon, but now that I have moved to central CA, I hope to branch out. I love making onion soup and include leeks and shallots in my recipe. Thanks for your interesting emails!

  12. Leesa says:

    I so love David Lebovitz! I’ve never made onion soup before but I often caramelize lots of onions for other recipes. There is nothing comparable to the smell of cooking onions! Yum!

  13. Lana says:

    I live at 7200 feet …. I buy my onions at the local farmers market…. I love to caramelize them and add to quiche. COUNT ME IN ….

  14. Burndett Andres says:

    Have moved from Maine to NJ this year and am looking forward with great anticipation to having a vegetable garden with many onions, leeks and garlics next year. LOVE David Lebowitz almost as much as I love YOU! Thanks for this chance to win his book.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.