Saturday, November 28, 2009

Turkish Red Lentil Soup

If I needed to describe the lentil soup of my youth in one word, it would probably be brown. Brown lentils, a few aromatics and stewed tomatoes, and just a smattering of vegetables. I've learned to add a bit more interest to the Italian-style lentil soup, stirring in some kale or spinach, and a bit of vinegar at the end to lift the flavors. I still like that brown lentil soup, and make a pot every so often. But this soup, this Turkish-inspired red lentil soup -- I love it. It's made of the still-virtuous-but-less-earthy red lentils, and brightened with some warm spices and a splash of lemon juice. On the days after I have over-indulged (something that certainly happens this time of year), it's a great recovery meal. It's got fiber and vitamin-rich vegetables, and yet it's light and smooth enough to soothe ragged stomaches.

Traditional Turkish red lentil soup can take a variety of forms. Some are simple purees, while others feature sprinklings of mint or dried bulgar. My version contains rice and a handful of spices, with a heaping of carrots to lighten it and give a bit more vegetal taste. The recipe is flexible, and can be easily adapted to your tastes and pantry availability: I've stirred in a few handfuls of spinach or a sprinkling of cilantro at the end (neither terribly traditional, but both delicious), and added extra tomato paste when I didn't have a fresh tomato on hand. Once you try this, you'll want to keep some red lentils on hand to be able to make a pot whenever you like. Especially after Thanksgiving.

Turkish Red Lentil Soup

makes 1 pot

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp coriander
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
pinch cayenne (or more, if you like it spicy)
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 tomato, small dice
1 1/2 cups red lentils
1/4 cup white rice
2 carrots, cut in 1/2" dice
6-8 cups water
salt and white pepper to taste
juice of 1 lemon, plus additional lemon wedges for serving
yogurt for serving (optional)

Heat the oil in a soup pot over a medium flame. Add the onion and garlic, and saute until softened but not browned, ~5 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin, paprika and cayenne, and stir for a few minutes to toast the spices in the hot oil. Add the tomato paste and chopped tomato, and stir to combine. Allow to cook a couple more minutes, until the tomatoes soften around the edges. Add the red lentils, rice, chopped carrots, and water (start with the smaller amount). Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils have broken down into a rough puree, the rice has started to lose its shape, and the carrots are very soft, ~45 minutes. Add more water as it cooks, if needed.

When the soup has cooked down, season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir in the lemon juice. Serve hot, with lemon wedges and a dollop of yogurt if desired.


  1. Deena, I just took a cooking class in Istanbul and we made a similar soup, only it had bulgar instead of rice. Yours looks and sounds great!

  2. A cooking class in Istanbul sounds dreamy! Unfortunately this soup is the closest I've come to visiting Turkey -- hopefully that'll change someday.