This red lentil soup is comfort food.
It takes the edge off a cold, winter day and satiates my panza (belly).
It’s a souped-up tomato soup – made hearty with red lentils and flavorful with my favorite warming spices: ginger, cumin and chile. Several Ethiopian red lentil dishes are similar; this one is more simple.
Last month, I made a jumbo batch for a New Year’s snowshoe group outing. It was a crowd pleaser. After trekking steep hills in gusty winds at 11,000 ft., we huddled near a fire pit warming cold fingers and toes. And, we grubbed! Hot chocolate, hot ginger tea, home-made sweets, grilled spicy sausage on sticks and, yes, red lentil soup. It was a wonderful way to start the New Year – outdoors, warm and belly full.
Red lentils cook faster than other lentils because they are hulled. Although they are referred to as red, they are actually a salmon pink hue. When cooked, the discs turn golden and are delicate, which makes them well-suited for purées or soups.
This lentil soup is a filling main course especially when served with crusty bread. It’s also a nutritious side dish with a sandwich (or sausage on a stick).
Tidbits on Lentils:
- Lentils’ botanical name Lens culinaris means cooking lens, a reference to its convex shape.
- Up until the later part of the last century, lentils and other beans were generally stigmatized as peasant food – they were staples to those who could not afford meat. However, in places like Egypt, there were aficionados who were particularly fond of red lentils. In India, where vegetarianism was prominent, lentils were also integral to diet.
Source: Beans: A History by Ken Albala
Comforting Red Lentil Soup
Although the list of ingredients is plenty, this soup comes together without much effort.
The chile paste and lemon juice are optional and the soup is perfectly tasty without either. However, adding chile gives it a nice kick and the lemon juice makes for a tangier version. I change it up each time I make it.
1 1/2 cups red lentils, sorted and rinsed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 large carrots, peeled and diced 1”
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 (15 oz) can tomatoes, pureed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon harissa paste or chile paste, optional
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Fresh parsley or cilantro, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, optional
- Sort and rinse lentils; set aside.
- In a large, heavy pot, heat oil on high heat until hot but not smoking, sauté onion for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring frequently until onions are translucent. Add garlic, carrots, cumin, ginger, paprika, salt and pepper; sauté 1- 2 minutes. Add pureed tomatoes and tomato paste, chile paste, stock and lentils. Bring to brink of a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer covered, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Remove 2 cups lentils (leave carrots in pot); puree mixture in a blender (or use an immulsifier) until smooth, then add it back to soup. Mix well.
- Serve hot topped with fresh parsley or cilantro.