This is hands down one of the easiest, cheapest and healthiest recipes you can make: spiced lentil soup. Lentils are incredibly good for you, full of protein, fibre and vitamins, and incredibly inexpensive to prepare. Make a large pot and the beginning of the week, then portion in tupperware containers for lunches, or freeze for a day when you don’t feel like cooking. It’s also completely vegan, barring any meat, dairy or egg related garnishes…
Lentils, chickpeas and beans are a huge part of the Middle Eastern diet, and the flavors of that region influence the cooking of this soup. Anywhere from Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Israel or Palestine will likely have a variation on a lentil soup, all of them delicious. Some might be completely vegan and be cooked only with olive oil, whereas others might favor butter or ghee.
Obviously the star of the show is the soup, but the finishing garnishes are where it can be elevated to another level. I’ve listed a bunch below, so play around with different combinations.
I love getting lentil soup at Middle Eastern restaurants, as it often serves as a litmus test of how good the other food is going to be. Some personal favorites are Paramount Fine Foods on Robson and Sofra in Kerrisdale. There are also great Middle Eastern grocery stores around the city where you can buy large bags of lentils and other ingredients. If you’re around Main Street, check out Jasmine Mediterranean Foods – they also have a great butcher in the back.
- Red lentils
- Onion, chopped
- Spices (any combo of cumin, coriander, black pepper, turmeric, fenugreek would work great. Cumin is a must. Or, buy a pre-made spice mixture like a good, fresh curry powder or Ras Al Hanout or Shawarma Spice Blend)
- Olive Oil
- Lemon / Lime Wedges
- Olive Oil
- Garlicky lemon dressing (smashed garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, olive oil)
- Chopped parsley / mint
- Bread crumbs toasted in olive oil or butter
- Fried ground lamb / beef with pine nuts
- Fried sausage
- Fried haloumi cheese
- Chopped hard boiled egg
- Pickled chilis
- Dried red chili flakes
- Thick yogurt
As always, the amounts are up to you. 1 cup of red lentils would likely yield enough for 3-4 people, depending how thick or thin you cook the soup. Lentils soak up a lot of water so again, you might need to adjust.
Add your chopped onions to a pot with a lot of olive oil – more than you think – and fry until quite brown but not burned. Add 3-4 cloves of chopped garlic and fry for another few minutes.
Sprinkle in your spices, enough so that all the onions would be coated in whatever spices you add. With turmeric it’s best to add less (a small pinch is usually good) as it can be very strong and start to overpower the other flavors. Same with fenugreek; use conservatively. Stir the spices around to coat the onions, then add the red lentils and continue stirring to coat the lentils in the oil, frying them slightly.
Add enough water to completely cover the lentils by a centimeter or two, then bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 30 mins or so until the lentils begin to fall apart. It can go for as long as 2 hours if you want it to really break down. Adjust the consistency of the soup with more water if you like it a little thinner.
At this point you can use a hand blender to puree the soup, or blitz in a blender, but usually the lentils have cooked down enough that it’s not necessary.
Garnish as you see fit, and enjoy!