Sunshine in a bowl

March 5, 2010

Red Lentil Soup

I’m considering renaming this blog ‘for the love of lentils’ or ‘the sentimental lentil’. Have you caught on to my mild obsession with this legume?

The past few sunny days we’ve been enjoying suggest that Spring weather might actually make an appearance before May (details on the exact date and time are forthcoming; Mother Nature is all about the element of surprise this year). But, alas, Winter still reigns which means soup is still on the menu. You won’t hear me complaining, especially when it comes to this red lentil soup. Kyle and I used to enjoy something very similar at a tiny Middle Eastern restaurant in Chicago. It was always served before the main course in a small white bowl with a generous wedge of lemon. While all of the food was authentic and fantastic, the soup won me over every time. Before finishing school and moving back to Cleveland, we asked The Nile’s ever gracious owner about the secret to his soup. He claimed there was really no exact recipe (which I took to mean he wasn’t disclosing the family secret), just a sauté of aromatics blended with stock, red lentils, turmeric and lemon (if my memory serves me correct). While this version isn’t The Nile’s, it’s pretty close and takes me back to my favorite college days.

Unlike their brown, black and green siblings, red lentils become tender in about ten short minutes, making them a shoo-in for weekday dinners. This soup is thick and hearty and ready in under 30 minutes. A simple salad and some pita bread complete the meal.

I don’t know what I love more. How quickly this soup comes together or its gorgeous yellow color.

Red Lentil Soup

(Inspired by The Nile; Adapted liberally from Cooking Light)
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 very large onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
  • 4-5 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 cups dried red lentils, rinsed and picked over
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper
  • Juice of 1 lemon, plus wedges for garnish

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook for 30 seconds or until toasted and fragrant. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until onion is soft and translucent (about 10 minutes). Add the turmeric and cook for 30 seconds.

To the pot add 4 cups of stock, red lentils, sugar, salt, and cayenne. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes or until lentils are very tender.

Remove from heat and cool slightly. Puree using a blender or immersion blender. You may want to add a bit of water or more broth here (I usually add between 1/2 – 1 cup) if it becomes too thick. Heat through over low heat, if necessary. Stir in lemon juice and check for seasonings. To serve, drizzle over a little olive oil and garnish with additional lemon wedges, if desired.

Serves 4.

15 Comments
  1. Estela @ Weekly Bite

    March 5, 2010 at 7:23 am


    This looks delicious! Interesting how you puree it!

    Have a great weekend!!

  2. Ellen

    March 5, 2010 at 7:47 am


    Are wholefoods markets the best place to purchase lentils?

  3. Carolyn

    March 5, 2010 at 8:21 am


    Ellen: I purchase red, green and black lentils at Whole Foods (or specialty grocers). You can typically find brown lentils in most supermarkets (near the dry beans and peas).

  4. AllisonMN

    March 5, 2010 at 12:36 pm


    that truly does look like sunshine in a bowl. i love lentils and have never thought about pureeing them for a soup. great idea. :)

  5. Monika

    March 5, 2010 at 12:46 pm


    I do love lentils myself, so I understand your urge to change the name :)
    this soup looks so good, I will have to try it.

  6. Sara

    March 5, 2010 at 6:03 pm


    You are right, such a gorgeous color! and I like the name of your blog, for what its worth :)

  7. D

    March 6, 2010 at 4:23 pm


    I tried it today and will make it again in future. My only problem was that my stock was too salty.

  8. Carolyn

    March 6, 2010 at 5:12 pm


    D: I usually use homemade stock (which I do not typically salt) or reduced sodium broth in the majority of my recipes. So added salt may need to be adjusted to taste depending on your cooking liquid of choice. Glad you tried/liked!

  9. Cathy

    March 7, 2010 at 6:49 pm


    Yesterday I was at a Mediterranean restaurant in Ann Arbor (the best falafel wraps ever!). We sat at the counter right where they were cooking–so they gave us samples of everything…and one of the samples was red lentil soup!! It was delicious…and he ran thru the recipe and it was pretty much what you did..so today I went out and bought red lentils and I am anxious to try it. Thanks Carolyn…

  10. molly

    March 9, 2010 at 10:44 pm


    I totally vote for ‘the sentimental lentil’!! Love it (and the soup look pretty fine, also. I so love those lentils.)

  11. Cathy

    March 17, 2010 at 5:21 pm


    Do you think this would freeze well?

  12. Cathy

    March 17, 2010 at 5:38 pm


    One more thing–what happens to those cumin seeds?..do they soften up? Do they melt into the soup?
    I am dying to make this and bring it my daughter–a huge fan–so tomorrow is the day since I am doing the corned beef thing tonight…

  13. Carolyn

    March 17, 2010 at 7:06 pm


    Cathy: I’ve never tried freezing…though I have to believe it would. Let me know if you try. As for the cumin seeds, yes they seem to soften/disappear. At least, I don’t notice them.

  14. Emily

    May 23, 2012 at 7:36 pm


    Thanks for posting this. A Chicago grad relocated to NYC, every time I eat Mediterranean I try the lentil soup hoping that it will resemble the soup from The Nile in Hyde Park. Alas it never does. Looking forward to trying the recipe.

  15. amy

    December 10, 2013 at 8:35 pm


    I found this post late, but its so funny! I’m a Chicago grad too and I used to waitress at the Nile, so I’ve had more of that soup than is even funny. I didn’t get the recipe either but its worth asking the cook very nicely. I can tell you it is a very salty soup! I just made lentil soup tonight and the more salt I added the more it tasted like Nile soup. Not good if you’re watching your sodium intake! Oh god I can practically feel those bowls. Fun fact: if you wikipedia hummus, the picture is from this restaurant! Or it was last time I checked.

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