Here are two highly recommended lentil soups — one for brown lentils, the other for red — both from Melissa Clark.
Once I fell in love with a lentil soup [the red lentil soup recipe below], and it was all I could think about when pulses came to mind. Lemony and tangy, it was the antidote to the bleakest winter days, and the color of sunshine (from red lentils) to match its bright disposition.
Eventually, though, the obsession waned, and I remembered how deeply satisfying brown lentils could be. They can also be easier to find than red lentils.
Earthy and hearty, brown lentils keep their shape when gently simmered, which makes for a richly textured soup. And when puréed, they turn soft, plush and wonderfully smooth.
In this recipe, I’ve kept things minimal and straightforward. You’ll only need to chop one onion, sautéing it until well browned at the edges to maximize its sweetness. You’ll also have to grate (or press) some garlic, to be stirred in at the end for a pungent pop. But that’s it for the prep work.
Because the soup itself is so simple, using a good, intensely flavored broth is important. But even a bouillon cube will do in a pinch. Just don’t use water, which won’t provide any flavor to stand up to the lentils.
[For more on building soup from scratch, go to our How to Make Soup guide.]
You could serve the soup on its own, letting its inherent simplicity shine. But it works even better as the savory base for an array of garnishes — just a little something sliced, crumbled or dolloped for color and verve.
I love a combination of parsley and sliced radicchio or cabbage for crisp freshness — almost like serving your soup and salad together in the same bowl. But use whatever you have in the cupboard or refrigerator, as long as it adds a contrasting element — either in flavor or texture or both — to the softness of the soup.
Crumbled bacon, cheeses, sliced olives or avocado add richness. Tomatoes, pickled peppers or vegetables, citrus or yogurt lend a bit of zip. Spices give the soup depth, and heat if you go with chiles. And for crunch, try sesame seeds, nori seaweed or even flaky sea salt sprinkled on at the very last second, before it has a chance to submerge and melt.
Any of these garnishes will also work on a red lentil soup. Just choose the soup you love best, or at least the one you’ll love best for dinner tonight.
Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
- 1 quart chicken, beef or vegetable stock, preferably homemade
- 1 cup brown or green lentils, rinsed
- 2 thyme or rosemary sprigs
- 1 to 2 garlic cloves, finely grated or pushed through a garlic press
- 1 teaspoon white-wine, sherry or cider vinegar, or lemon or lime juice, plus more to taste
- ½ cup thinly sliced radicchio, or red or green cabbage (optional)
- ½ cup parsley leaves, chopped
- Toppings (See note)
- Heat 1/4 cup oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Stir in onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook until onions start to brown at the edges, stirring frequently, 6 to 9 minutes.
- Stir in stock, lentils, thyme and remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until lentils are tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Discard thyme sprigs.
- Stir in garlic, and remaining 2 tablespoons oil, and use an immersion blender to purée the soup to the desired consistency, keeping it chunky or making it smooth. (Alternatively, ladle it into a blender and blend in batches.) Stir in vinegar, then taste and add more salt and vinegar if needed.
- In a small bowl, toss radicchio, if using, and parsley with a drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of salt. To serve, ladle soup into bowls and top with a small mound of radicchio and parsley, and/or any other garnishes you like.
- Dairy (yogurt or sour cream, crumbled feta or goat cheese, or grated Parmesan); spices (toasted cumin seeds, chile flakes, or garam masala); savory vegetables and tart fruit (cubed avocado, browned leeks or onions, grated citrus zest, diced tomatoes, diced orange or grapefruit segments, diced roasted red peppers or pickled jalapeños); or salty finishes (croutons, chopped cooked bacon, sliced olives, crumbled nori or dried seaweed snacks, sesame seeds and sesame oil) are all worthy toppings.
Jospeph De Leo for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Monica Pierini.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, more for drizzling
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Pinch of ground chile powder or cayenne, more to taste
- 1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup red lentils
- 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
- Juice of 1/2 lemon, more to taste
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons oil over high heat until hot and shimmering. Add onion and garlic, and sauté until golden, about 4 minutes.
- Stir in tomato paste, cumin, salt, black pepper and chili powder or cayenne, and sauté for 2 minutes longer.
- Add broth, 2 cups water, lentils and carrot. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover pot and turn heat to medium-low. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary.
- Using an immersion or regular blender or a food processor, purée half the soup then add it back to pot. Soup should be somewhat chunky.
- Reheat soup if necessary, then stir in lemon juice and cilantro. Serve soup drizzled with good olive oil and dusted lightly with chili powder if desired.