Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Mind the Gap!

We have been fortunate enough to visit London on two occasions in the last ten years. Both times in the winter when fares and temperatures were low but appetites high. We have friends there. David met one of them in an Internet chat room about fourteen years ago. Being of suspicious mind, I immediately thought "pervert!", got ready to pack my bags and waited for Brad Pitt to call. Turns out it was a discussion group on pre-Raphaelite paintings. The joys of living with an egghead. Brad did not call. They have turned out to be lovely and lively friends who know no limits when it comes to kindness.

Each trip has dispelled all stereotypes of nasty, bland, British food. Rajesh and Jeremy know many fine places to eat and we found many on our own. London seemed to be a happening food town. I will remember fondly always a meal at a Lebanese restaurant that we would have never found on our own. We were greeted by the proprietor and a host of patrons in suits and ties who exuded an air of refined elegance. We ate a series of mezza and the meal lasted upwards of four hours. I have a fondness for Lebanese food and I thought "I want to live like this!". We did have a pretty mediocre roast beast with Yorkshire pudding in Brighton but what the hell, we were in a cozy and warm very British pub on the coast.

I have since been reading up on British specialties old and new like Spotted Dick,Sally Lunns, Parched Peas and Bangers and Mash. Lately I have been interested in Marmite. Lack of B vitamins can be a serious concern for vegetarians and Marmite is full of them. Marmite was developed in 1902 as a way to utilize the yeast byproducts of brewing beer. I did a quick poll of my British friends and it seems to be a love it or hate it proposition. Three love it and three think it vile. There is a wealth of information on Marmite or Vegemite, it's Down Under cousin on the Internet.

The preferred way to eat it seems to be on buttered toast or on a cheese sandwich.It is intensely salty and reminds me of a very strong soy sauce. I thought I would try it on toast the next morning but just couldn't muster it. I tried Debbie's oatmeal recipe the day before but who the hell wants to eat marmite or oatmeal at five in the morning? Black coffee for me thank you. I did think it would give an interesting and "meaty" taste to soup or stock and did an Internet search post haste. Results follow appearing as tonight's dinner. On off vegan nights, use butter to saute and real cheese. I found vegetarian cheese substitutes that actually had skim milk in them at Kroger and vegan cheese at Whole Foods. The vegan cheese is vile.

Vegetarian Onion Soup

10 onions
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups dry white wine
4 cups vegetable stock
10 oz apple cider
1/2 teaspoon Marmite
thyme, bay and parsley
a shot of brandy
sliced country bread
vegan melting cheese

Slice the onions, add to a large heavy, covered bottomed pot with the oil with a generous amount of salt. Sweat on low for 30 minutes, turn up the heat, burn off some of the liquid and caramelize the onion until nicely browned. Stir often. Turn up the heat to high and add wine and reduce until syrupy. Add vegetable stock, apple cider and Marmite. Return to simmer, lower the heat and add herbs tied in cheesecloth.Simmer for 15 or 20 minutes.

In the meantime, slice bread and toast under broiler. Season soup with salt, pepper and brandy or Cognac, toss the herbs out, ladle the soup into ovenproof bowls, add a broiled crouton and top with cheese.Broil until the cheese is bubbly. Enjoy!

The Marmite does not give it a beef taste which is the underlying flavor of a good French onion soup but it does give it some heft.

Bobs your uncle!


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