North African Red Lentil Soup


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Published by HarperStudio

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

Editor's Note: If you're looking for a twist on the typical vegetable soup recipe, this North African Red Lentil Soup is an ethnic dish that packs a flavorful punch. It's vegan, vegetarian, and did we mention it's delicious? Cumin and garlic lend their flavor to the onions and carrots to make a hot, savory broth. Lentils are a great source of protein and soup recipes are an easy solution to the problem of what to make for dinner - just throw the ingredients in a pot and you're good to go.
This is one of those remarkable dishes that manages to be both quick and complex-tasting at the same time—and with just a few ingredients. The key lies in cooking the lentils first, and then adding sautéed onion, carrot, and garlic toward the end of the cooking process, so you really taste their full flavor in every spoonful. Look for red lentils in the bulk section near the brown lentils. (They’re actually orange, not red, and turn a deep golden yellow when cooked. For some reason, they’re confusingly labeled.)

Makes6 to 8 servings



Total Timeunder 1 hour

OccasionCasual Dinner Party

Recipe CourseAppetizer, Main Course

Dietary ConsiderationEgg-free, Halal, Kosher, Lactose-free, Peanut Free, Soy Free, Tree Nut Free, Vegan, Vegetarian

MealDinner, Lunch

MoodBlue, Stressed, Tired

Taste and TextureSavory, Spiced

Type of DishHot Soup, Soup


  • 2 cups red lentils
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium red or yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 3 good-sized cloves)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Lime wedges, for garnish


  1. Combine the lentils and water in a soup pot of a Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, then turn the hear all the way down to the lowest possible setting. Partially cover, and simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the lentils are completely soft.

  2. Meanwhile, place a large (10- to 12-inch) skillet over medium heat. After about a minute, add the olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the onion, carrot, cumin, garlic, and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, or until the onion is golden and cery soft and the carrot is tender.

  3. Transfer the onion mixture to the cooked lentils, and add the remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat all the way down to the lowest possible setting. Partially cover, and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the flavors are well blended.

  4. Grind in a generous amount of black pepper (about 10 or more turns), and stir to blend. Serve hot, with a lime wedge on the side.


This soup is vegan.

Get Creative

Add a Greek Salad and a wedge or two of toasted pita, and you’ve got yourself a seriously rib-sticking dinner.
Drizzle some high-quality olive oil over each serving.
Sprinkle some lightly toasted whole cumin seeds (up to two tablespoons total; see below) onto each serving, or mix them into the soup just before serving.
Brown a spicy lamb or chicken sausage or two in a skillet while the soup simmers. Slice, and stir into the finished soup.
Garnish each serving with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, and a sprig of flat-leaf parsley or cilantro.

Toasting Seeds

Toasting mellow and deepens the flavor of cumin seeds, sesame seeds, and many other seeds and spices. It’s as easy as spreading the seeds in a shallow layer on the tray of a toaster oven (or on a baking tray, if you’re using a regular oven) and toasting them at 200°F for about 5 minutes (give or take) until they’re lightly browned and aromatic. You can also toast them on the stovetop in a dry cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. Either way, shake the tray or the pan frequently, and hover. If you turn away for too long, the seeds can suddenly go from toasty to scorched.


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My favorite way to cook red lentils is in a pressure cooker. I learned that many families in India use a pressure cooker to reduce cooking time for lentils.

Yes, and red lentils cook much faster. I've made this soup numerous times and it tastes better when chicken stock is used.

Why have you illustrated this recipe with brown lentils? Red lentils, as you note, are actually orange in color. They also are much smaller than brown lentils.


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