Everyone needs a good red lentil soup recipe – hearty, comforting, warming, and just bursting with a myriad of flavors. While there are many lentil soup recipes, this Moroccan-spiced variation is my favorite. It’s one of those soups I make over and over again. It’s vegan (dairy-free, egg-free), grain-free (gluten-free), soy-free, and nut-free.
One of the things I love about this soup is that it incredibly flavorful. It contains a lot of Moroccan spices – cumin, coriander, ginger, and cayenne pepper – which are not only bold, but also fragrant and vibrant.
Spices are used extensively in Moroccan cuisine. Rarely will you find a Moroccan dish without the depth of flavor brought by at least three spices. Upon a visit to any Moroccan souk (market), you will notice a stall after stall with vibrant red, yellow, and brown spices mounded in piles. Anise, black pepper, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, ginger, nutmeg, paprika, saffron, turmeric, and white pepper are among the most popular ones.
If you’ve ever wondered what makes Moroccan food taste so delightful, it is most certainly a set group of spices. There is a reason why the most recommended Moroccan souvenir to bring back home are freshly ground spices. Moroccan cuisine has Mediterranean, Andalusian, and Arabic influences, making it wildly exciting to cook and eat. Moroccan dishes are sweet and spicy, sour and salty, floral and buttery, and just like this red lentil soup – bursting with flavor.
Tips for Making Red Lentil Soup
The beauty of this soup is that it’s a pantry soup. The list of ingredients is simple and relatively short:
- Red lentils: unlike other types of lentils, red split lentils are hulled and, therefore, cook up quicker than any other variety of legumes. They break down and disintegrate as they cook, producing thick, heart soups. If you cook them long enough, they become almost creamy in texture. The great thing about red lentils is that they are very mild and take on pretty much any flavor.
- Onions and garlic: these two aromatics are a classic in almost every soup. They give off deep, well-rounded flavors and pleasing aromas when cooked, and are the core of flavor bases.
- Carrots: I love the sweetness of carrots in this soup, but celery, zucchini, or parsnips would be really good too.
- Tomato paste: a few tablespoons of tomato paste intensify the body of the soup and impart a beautiful red tone.
- Spices: the combination of cumin, coriander, ginger, and cayenne pepper deliver assertive, bold flavors with a little bit of heat. It’s this blend of spices that transforms simple pantry ingredients into a complex, flavorful meal.
- Lemon juice: a splash of lemon juice helps to brighten up and balance out the deep flavors. Lemon pairs really well with Moroccan spices and is a frequent addition in Moroccan dishes.
- Spinach: like all good soups, you need something green to make it come alive. If you don’t like spinach, you can leave it out or use other leafy greens.
How to Make Red Lentil Soup
- Sauté the aromatics and spices. Sauté the onions and garlic over medium heat in a little bit of olive oil. Give them a change to soften and turn translucent. Then add the spices. Sautéing the spices is the fastest, richest way to build flavor. No amount of simmering will extract as much flavor from spices as frying. Take your time sautéing all the ingredients; it will add layers of flavor.
- Caramelize the tomato paste. One trick I’ve learned from Geoffrey Zakarian, a chef in New York City, is to let tomato paste “brown” in olive oil together with the aromatics and spices. This can boost the soup flavor in a big way. Letting the tomato paste heat through and then deglaze the pan caramelizes the sugars, making the soup smoother and sweeter.
- Add the carrots, lentils and vegetable broth. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring it to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, season with salt (if the broth doesn’t contain salt already), and simmer, partially covered, until the lentils begin to break apart into a smooth, velvet-like texture.
- Blend (optional). If the soup is not creamy enough for you, you can always purée half of the soup in a blender.
- Stir in the lemon juice and spinach. Finish the soup off with a squeeze of lemon juice and a handful of fresh baby spinach.
How to Serve Red Lentil Soup
Garnish the soup with some fresh parsley leaves and a wedge of lemon. Serve hot.
I often pair lentil soup with good crusty bread. Make sure to slice your bread thick enough to tear off nice big hunks — perfect for dunking and swiping up the last few drops of soup.
How to Store and Reheat Lentil Soup
The flavor of this red lentil soup improves with time. So, go ahead and make a batch to eat throughout the week. If your weather is still snowy and dreary like it is here in Canada, you’ll enjoy eating this comforting soup for sure.
- Refrigerate: allow the soup to cool to room temperature. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for 3-4 days.
- Freeze: allow soup to cool to room temperature. Transfer to an airtight, freezer-safe container (leaving a little bit of room for expansion) and freeze for up to 3 months.
- Reheat: Transfer frozen soup into the refrigerator 24 hours before reheating to thaw slightly. Reheat in a pot on the stovetop over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until hot. Add ¼ cup/60 ml water/broth at a time if too thick.
More Favorite Soup Recipes
If you love this lentil soup recipe, you might also enjoy one of these healthy soups next:
- Vegetable soup: another family favorite. This vegetable soup is made with homemade vegetable broth and packed with all kinds of veggies. No matter what produce you have on hand, this vegetable soup always comes out delicious.
- Minestrone soup:
If you try any of these recipes, please, leave a comment and rate the recipe below. It always means a lot when you do.
Red Lentil Soup
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 onion , chopped
- 2 cloves garlic , minced
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 carrot , chopped
- 1 cup red lentils
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
- sea salt , to taste
- fresh parsley leaves , for garnish
- Sauté the aromatics and spices. Heat the oil in medium-size pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until translucent, 3-5 minutes. Then add the cumin, coriander, and cayenne pepper and sauté until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.
- Caramelize the tomato paste. Add the tomato paste and let it "brown" in the pan for a few minutes together with the aromatics and spices.
- Simmer. Add the carrot, lentils, and vegetable broth, and bring it to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, season with salt (if the vegetable broth doesn't contain salt already), and simmer, partially covered, until the lentils begin to break apart into a smooth, velvet-like texture, about 30 minutes.
- Stir in the lemon juice and spinach. Remove the soup from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and spinach.
- Season. Taste and adjust the flavor, adding more salt for saltiness, garlic for pungency, cumin for an earthy flavor, cayenne pepper for heat, and lemon juice for acidity.
- Serve. Garnish the soup with freshly chopped parsley and a wedge of lemon. Serve hot.
- Store. Leftovers keep well covered in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. For longer term storage, freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
- Reheat. The easiest way to reheat frozen soup is to remove it from the freezer and place it in the refrigerator 24 hours before reheating to thaw slightly. Reheat on a stovetop, adding extra 1/4 cup (60 ml) water/broth at a time if too thick.