This delicious Red Lentil Soup is primarily made of pantry basics and can be made vegetarian or vegan!
A hearty, nutritious dish that comes together in under 45 minutes, red lentil soup is the perfect pantry meal. This version has lots of warm, earthy spices and is chock-full of plant-based protein to keep everyone satisfied. Serve with bread and a green salad for a complete vegetarian meal.
Too often when we think of comfort food, we think of heavy, indulgent favorites like chicken pot pie or macaroni and cheese. But healthy, plant-based dishes can be comforting too. Take, for example, red lentil soup. This soup is naturally gluten-free, vegetarian, and extremely nutritious. But it is also thick, hearty, and extremely comforting with gentle, warming spices and just a hint of sweetness.
Lentils For A More Plant-Based Diet
If you are intrigued by the idea of moving to a more plant-based diet – or you need to cook vegetarian meals on a regular basis – then lentils should be a big part of your repertoire. Lentils are a good source of plant-based protein and are easy and convenient to prepare with no soaking required. Plus, lentils are extremely versatile meaning you won’t get tired of them quickly.
Indeed, you may have noticed the many different varieties of lentils on store shelves, from red lentils to tiny black lentils to the more common green or brown lentils.
Cooking Red Lentils
Red lentils are known for breaking down easily. This makes them perfect for soups and other dishes with a porridge-like consistency. After only about 20 minutes of cooking, red lentils become tender and begin to break down, creating a creamy texture. You can leave the red lentils chunky or, for a smoother texture, you can puree them once cooked using an immersion blender.
Red lentils appear in many cuisines, from Middle Eastern to South Asian, because they are so nutritious and easy to prepare. This soup draws its inspiration from Mediterranean cuisine. It has warm, earthy spices like cumin, coriander, and ginger, a hint of sweetness from honey, and a big dose of umami from tomato paste.
Tip: If you wish to make this soup vegan, simply replace the honey with a vegan sweetener such as maple syrup or agave nectar. It’s that easy!
Making Red Lentil Soup With Pantry Ingredients
One of the best parts of this recipe is that it relies almost exclusively on pantry ingredients. As long as you have dried lentils, some common spices, onion and garlic, and a few carrots, you can throw this soup together in under an hour. The most perishable ingredient in the whole recipe is the lemon – but don’t omit it because the acidity from the lemon juice adds much-needed brightness to this hearty soup. (In a pinch, you can substitute bottled lemon juice or a splash of red wine vinegar.)
As for the liquid, you can easily make this soup using just water and it will still be very flavorful and satisfying. If you happen to have vegetable broth in your pantry – or chicken broth if you do not need to make this soup vegetarian – feel free to use it for extra flavor. But I promise you, this soup comes out perfectly with just water as the base.
I like to finish my red lentil soup with a splash of cream and some chopped fresh cilantro. But, if you are dairy-free or vegan, you can omit the cream or use a plant-based alternative. That’s truly the beauty of a flexible recipe like this one – it’s so easy to adapt to different diets and lifestyles while making sure everyone at your table gets a healthy, comforting meal.
More Amazing Lentil Recipes
- 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 3 carrots, peeled and diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 Tbsp. honey (or vegan alternative such as maple syrup or agave nectar)
- 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
- 1 tsp. ground ginger
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
- 2 cups red lentils, rinsed
- 6 cups water, vegetable or chicken broth
- 1 bay leaf
- Juice of one lemon
- Heat the oil over medium heat in a large Dutch oven or stockpot. Once the oil is shimmering, add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes.
- Add the carrots and sauté for an additional 5 minutes until softened. Add the garlic, honey or other sweetener, tomato paste, salt, and spices and sauté an additional minute until fragrant.
- Add the lentils and water or broth and stir to combine. Raise the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer until the lentils are tender, approximately 20 minutes. Remove the lid and add the lemon juice. Stir to combine, which will help to break down the lentils. Taste and adjust seasoning. (If you used water instead of broth, you may need to add salt.)
- For a smoother texture, purée the soup using an immersion blender, or leave it as is if you prefer a chunkier texture.
- Ladle the soup into bowls and, if desired, garnish each bowl with a splash of cream and some chopped fresh cilantro. Serve piping hot.
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