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Spicy onion soup recipe

Posted by on Wednesday 31 August 2011 in cooking, recipes | 10 comments

One of my fellow drama tutors, Kat, lives off cup-a-soups — she’s 19 and working about five different jobs so she can afford to desert us in a couple of weeks and go to drama school in that London. She’s always rushing from this job to that rehearsal and that’s where the cup-a-soups come in handy. Most of the time I have no reaction to them but the smell of the French onion soup one makes me CRAVE onion soup.

Thankfully onion soup is a fun soup to make — not quick but still easy and frugal. I used to make a (veggie but otherwise) strict version of Delia’s but as with many things I cook, it’s evolved over the years. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my onion soup is now a little spicy. I do like my spice. Feel free to skip the chilli if you don’t like it hot – but the garam masala adds more flavour that heat, so do still use that.

I definitely recommend using a variety of onions if you can – include red onions for sweetness and colour. I used all boring white onions for the version pictured below because I got a big sack of them on a Ramadan special offer last week – I compensated by adding a little more sugar.

It takes a least an hour to make – half an hour for browning the onions then another half hour or so at the soup stage – but the slower the better really. A restaurant in Leeds used to make a 24 hour onion soup – talk about commitment! If I’m cooking other things at the same time, I’ll try for an hour for the browning then another hour at the soup stage but if I’m making it for lunch, it’s closer to an hour. Either way, the house smells GREAT. :)

Spicy onion soup

Makes about four portions
Costs about £1.20-1.50 in total, so between 30-40p a portion

500g onions
25g of butter
Two cloves of garlic, minced
1 chilli, finely chopped, or 2 if you want it properly hot
1-2 tsp of light brown sugar
1tbsp plain flour (optional)
1.5 litres of hot veg stock
1/2 tsp of garam masala
2-3 bay leaves
1tsp of worchestershire sauce


1. Slice the onions as finely as you’re comfortable with – for me, that’s usually about 2mm thick, getting slightly thicker when my vision starts blurring in teary protest at the onion stench.

2. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan/stock pan and stir in the minced garlic/garlic puree, then add the finely sliced onions. Stir together and cover with a lid. Sweat the onions over a low heat for as long as you dare – minimum about 15mins, ideally more like 30 but could be as long as an hour. Stir occasionally whatever: sticking to the bottom is fine, but burning is bad. The aim is for soft, light brown onions:

3. When the onions are browned, add the finely chopped chilli and the sugar – as I said in the blurb above, if I’m using sweet red onions (which look ace in this soup), I use a bit less sugar, just a tsp, but when I’m just using basic white onions, I’ll use the full 2tsp. Stir in the sugar then raise the heat under the pan to encourage some caramelisation. Stir frequently (particularly the sticky stuff on the bottom of the pan) to make sure it caramelises but doesn’t burn. (Delia suggests doing the caramelising before the sweating stage but I prefer to do it this way around because I feel like I have more control over it – when I used to caramelise first, I worried more about them burning in the sweating stage. Feel free to trust Delia on that if you prefer, I just don’t like the extra worry :) )

(These onions are just about done – note the caramelised blobs on the right and near the bottom. However, I could keep cooking them until they were nearly all caramelised.)

4. If you want a soup with a little more body, stir in the tbsp of plain flour. If you prefer a clear broth, leave it out. (If we’re having it with croutons or the like in the soup, I leave it clear, else I add the flour so it doesn’t feel quite so wet on the soup, if that makes sense. The picture above is with flour.)

5. Add the veg stock to the pan (and use that to deglaze any stickiness on the bottom of the pan). Then add the garam masala, the worchestershire sauce and the bay leaves. Simmer with a lid on for at least half an hour then serve.

For a lunch, we have it with bread & a strong cheddar cheese.

If you try this recipe, I’d love to hear what you think of it :)


Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Karen M

    Good variation on the theme! Try adding just a pinch of baking soda to the onions while they are frying. It sppeds the process up and doesn’t change the taste. Check out blog.khymos.org to see the science behind this.

  2. Vicky Squires

    Thanks for this recipe! We’re drowning in superb onions from the allotment at the moment, and I’ve been wondering about onion soup. This is an inspiration. I like the slight thickening with the flour. Hubby can’t handle the usual cheesy croutons due to his lactose intolerance, so that will work well for us.

  3. louisa

    Karen M: ooh, that’s for that tip, I haven’t heard it before but will definitely try it next time.

    Vicky: hope you both like it :)

  4. martine

    Hi, just wanted to pop back and thank you for this, I did overdo the sugar slightly but the spiciness was just right. I think I would use more onions, even though it seemed a lot when I started they did cook down a long way to just a few tablespoons of onion. Will definitely try it again.
    best wishes

  5. Su

    I bought a sack of onions too, not on a Ramadan special, but they did come from the Asian supermarket. I have had onion soup on my mind for weeks now, but the stumbling block has been that traditionally it’s made with beef stock & I don’t eat meat, so I WILL be making this soup, this week!

    Thanks for the recipe.

  6. Su

    I meant to say that I make a red onion & goats cheese tart every Christmas, to soften the large quantity of onions it needs I do it in the slow cooker, takes a while, but you can wander off & do other things whilst they are cooking.

    • Vicky Squires

      That slow cooker sounds like a plan!
      I’ve just, this minute, finished another batch of onion marmalade, and I can vouch for the fact that you CANNOT turn your back on caramelising onions for more than a minute! I’ve been at the stove for nearly two hours.

  7. louisa

    martine: Really, they reduce that much? ours is still very oniony! let us know what tweaks you make in case they can help anyone else :)

    Su: hurrah for Asian supermarkets, eh? :) I did think about the slow cooker for the onions too – wasn’t sure it would work but thanks for confirming it will :)

    Vicky: tell me about it! I made lots of onion marmalade last year and it felt like I was there all day :) I usually make this soup while I’m cooking something else – when I made it for these pictures, I ended up sat on the “naughty stool” checking Twitter on my phone. The cat was rather surprised to find me sat in the middle of the kitchen :)

  8. iangnu

    that will be yummy .I like it!

  9. Matthew

    I wanted to avoid using meat to make onion soup, and this recipe is excellent! Just as tasty as any as I have had in a restaurant. I took as long as I could, and it’s really worth it. Many thanks for sharing! :-)

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