Lentil soup is comforting, simple, and easy to throw together. It’s my go-to meal when I want something hearty but healthy, when I feel like my body needs a reset from a spate of indulgent eating, or when I’m tasked with feeding vegetarian or vegan friends on a chilly day. This pared-down red lentil version is the one I make most often, and it never fails to please.
Red lentils are perfect for weeknights, or whenever you’re in a hurry to get a meal on the table. Due to how they’re processed, de-husked, and split before packaging, they cook up quicker than any other variety of legumes, although they are slightly lower in fiber than the larger whole varieties. Also note that while they’re a lovely salmon pink in the package, their color changes as they cook, fading to a golden-yellow hue as they melt into a soup, stew, or curry.
But their speediness is so appreciated. A half-hour is all it takes to go from stovetop to table, and much of that time is unattended.
While the soup is simmering, you’ve got some time to figure out what to serve alongside it. I often pair lentil soup with crusty bread, toasting it with a drizzle of olive oil and some shredded Parmesan cheese if I’m feeling indulgent. Slice your bread thick enough to tear off nice big hunks — perfect for dunking and swiping up the last few drops of soup.
As a finishing touch, consider topping your bowls with a swirl of peppery olive oil, a dollop of tangy yogurt, or, my personal favorite, gremolata. This simple combination of chopped garlic, parsley, and lemon zest gives the soup a punch of freshness and brightens up the bowl.
Red Lentil Soup
Yield: Serves 4
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large carrot, diced
- 2 large stalks celery, diced
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
- 1 cup dried red lentils
- 4 cups water or low-sodium broth
- 1 whole bay leaf
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1/2 large lemon)
- For serving: Olive oil, yogurt, or other topping (optional)
Heat the olive oil. In a medium (2- to 3-quart) saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add the carrot, celery, onion, and salt and stir to combine. Cover and let the vegetables sweat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the lentils, water or broth, and bay leaf and bring up to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and let simmer, covered, until the lentils begin to fall apart, about 20 minutes.
Turn off the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Taste and season with salt as needed. Ladle into bowls and serve with toppings if desired.
Storage: Leftovers will keep refrigerated for 5 days.
More topping options: To perk up the soup just before serving, top it with a drizzle of peppery olive oil, a dollop of plain yogurt, a sprinkle of sumac, or a spoonful of gremolata.
Recipe variations: This recipe is pared down to just the basics — you can certainly add a teaspoon of garam masala, Italian herbs, or any other seasoning blend to spice things up a bit if you like. Just add the spices in along with the lentils and broth.
Coco Morante is a recipe developer for The Kitchn. For more recipes, visit her blog, Lefty Spoon.