In search of lentil soup—with conditions
November 22, 2019 8:40 AM   Subscribe

I want to make lentil soup. Pretty much every recipe I find contains tomatoes and/or spinach. I don’t like either of these. Do you have a tried and true lentil soup recipe that would work for me? Note—tomato sauce/flavor is fine. I just don’t like pieces of tomato or tomato seeds. And yes, I know I can purée tomatoes but I just really don’t like using any form of fresh tomatoes when I cook. It’s a texture thing. We’ve all got our food quirks, right?
posted by bookmammal to Food & Drink (35 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I make these lentils and I only put the tomatoes in sometimes and it is delicious either way. I also usually use ground cumin instead of the cumin seeds she suggests.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:46 AM on November 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

You don't need tomatoes, it will be fine.

1 c lentils
1 medium onion
2 carrots
1 rib celery
4 or 5 mushrooms of any kind
parsley and fresh thyme, a bay leaf
4 c chicken stock
1 c white wine if you want
potatoes optional

Cut all the veg. small. Rinse and pick the lentils (check for small stones). Sweat the onions in olive oil until translucent, add the chopped carrots and celery and mushrooms and sautee a bit more. Then add the lentils and stir until they are coated in the olive oil. Add herbs, stock, and white wine. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook for 20 mins or 1/2 hour. Sometimes I pulse it with an immersion blender so that it's thicker. Serve with good bread and a salad.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 8:46 AM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

This Martha Stewart recipe contains neither tomatoes nor lentils.
posted by ubiquity at 8:47 AM on November 22, 2019

This recipe is really good. I do personally find it needs to be cooked 15-20 min longer than the recipe calls for if you want softer lentils. It's quite delicious though :)
posted by KMoney at 8:48 AM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Hah, I was reading the post and thought that I was useless, mine has both tomato and spinach, but then you said the flavor was fine, and mine relies on tomato paste rather than tomatoes. My recipe isn't worth much, and does have spinach, but I'd bet that any tomatoey recipe that looks good to you would work pretty well with a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste subbed in for each whole tomato or equivalent.
posted by LizardBreath at 8:51 AM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

My favorite lentil soup, with fried red onions and north African spices, has no tomatoes in it.
posted by Jeanne at 8:51 AM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

When I was growing up we used to have really simple lentil soup like this - basically broth, lentils, any vegetables that won't disintegrate fully if they are cooked as long as it takes for the lentils to cook such as the carrots and leeks in this recipe. I am pretty sure my mother just chucked in whatever was on hand, especially anything that needed using up or things she found in the freezer. Sometimes there was some chopped smoked sausage, ham or bacon as well. I do not recall her ever using tomatoes or spinach. I do recall it being very nice and filling in winter.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:53 AM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Lazy lentil soup:
1 lb lentils
head cauliflower cut into small pieces
~6 c broth
bay leaf

Boil until the lentils are done. The cauliflower will fall apart and add texture. Surprisingly good.
posted by momus_window at 8:54 AM on November 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

I make this Alton Brown recipe, but I also hate the texture of tomatoes, so I just sub in a can of tomato sauce and it's delicious.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 8:55 AM on November 22, 2019

I made one like lawn beaver's last week (but with a bunch of garlic too) and added some spicy dijon mustard and red wine vinegar at the end. Recommend!
posted by something something at 8:55 AM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I use “Hearty Lentil Soup” from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison.

Link here
posted by TORunner at 8:56 AM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oddly enough I have never seen lentil soup with either tomatoes nor spinach. That said, I find the soup is elevated to greatness by serving with fresh lemon juice 🍋 🥣 😋
posted by exogenous at 9:00 AM on November 22, 2019 [7 favorites]

For most recipes where I wouldn’t want squishy tomatoes I substitute crushed tomatoes; it comes out slightly thicker without changing the wetness

I like spinach but I’m not keen on it in soup unless it’s something like ghormeh sabzi that’s predominately butter greens. For other soups I find that shredded kale tastes better, holds up to cooking and darn near never gets squidgy.

Both of these tend to work 1:1 pretty well.
posted by mce at 9:04 AM on November 22, 2019

This lentil and sausage stew looks pretty close to my mom's cold weather standard, except hers didn't bother with bacon or carrots. Do the loose sausage rather than links.

Most importantly, mom's also had a big pinch of fennel/anise seed in it for a bigger Italian sausagey flavor. I see other recipes that use fennel bulb, and I'm sure that's good too, but there's something about the bite of seeds that is just like it's meant for lentils.

I often riff in some chopped mushrooms when I make it, which is also a very lentil-compatible flavor and texture.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:08 AM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

The Serious Eats Chicken, Lentil, and Bacon stew could definitely be adapted to a stove if you don't have an InstantPot, and it doesn't have any tomatoes or spinach. It's amazing, very rich and filling and extremely delicious. I make it once a week for dinner and we never have leftovers. I only do the bacon 25% of the time (when I have a package otherwise open), it makes it extra-delicious but it's quite good without.

The key flavor ingredient is sherry vinegar which turns it into a Spanish-flavored dish. I've seen a few recipes that do this and they often don't have tomatoes or spinach - it's a very different profile than what I think of as the "health food bowl o' lentils" that go heavy on tomatoes and spinach. (Sorry guys who love that type of lentils!)
posted by iminurmefi at 9:10 AM on November 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm on a diet that rules out both tomatoes and spinach - and I love this 1 Pot Everyday Lentil Soup.

I haven't tried this recipe yet, but I find that Budget Bytes usually does right by me, and she has a Vegan Winter Lentil Stew.
posted by See you tomorrow, saguaro at 9:20 AM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

This Easiest Lentil Soup by Melissa Clark really is super easy and delicious! No tomatoes or spinach included.
posted by peacheater at 9:38 AM on November 22, 2019

If a recipe calls for canned tomatoes, you can sub tomato paste + an appropriate amount of liquid.
posted by the_blizz at 10:03 AM on November 22, 2019

This is the one I use which has neither of those things as the base recipe. It's super simple and you can dress it up with whatever.

6 cups chicken stock [or whatever, soup base, not too salty]
1 onion
1 red pepper
4 carrots

chop veggies & sautee in olive oil & add to hot stock

1 1/2 c red lentils
1/2 c wild rice
[or whatever, 2 cups grains]

add 2 tsp cumin [or to taste] and red pepper flakes. Salt & pepper to taste.

Simmer on low heat til lentils are soft, about 90 min. Stir every once in a while.
posted by jessamyn at 10:33 AM on November 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

Dangit, jessamyn just beat me to posting her lentil soup recipe which has been my lentil soup recipe ever since I saw her post it once many moons ago.
posted by komara at 10:38 AM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Sri Lankans make a creamy, delicious, red lentil coconut milk based curry to eat over rice. Curry is a misnomer, because it is very mild and many of us eat it as a soup. The lentil flavor is dominant, plumped up by a few roasted mustard seeds, and other optional spices. You can also add caramelized or fried onions for texture and extra flavor. Here's a simple recipe, but please don't use powdered coconut milk (which most places don't have anyway.) Canned coconut cream works amazingly well. Also, the dish is very forgiving - feel free to adjust things to your taste. You an Google for "Sri Lankan dal curry" and a ton of recipes come up - some use tomatoes but it is very rare to see tomatoes used in this dish in Sri Lankan homes.
posted by Everydayville at 10:39 AM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

This is weird; tomatoes and spinach are both pretty much extraneous.

Here's your basic lentil soup recipe: saute some onions and carrots and celery. Add broth and lentils. Simmer for about 20 minutes or so. You can customize this recipe further by adding whatever other vegetables you like (I usually do mushrooms and bell pepper and, yeah, sometimes some spinach) and whatever spices (garlic, cumin, bay leaf, curry blends are nice). If you're not vegetarian, some kind of porky flavor from sausage or a ham bone is really nice. But basically the vast majority of lentil soup recipes are going to be variations on this theme.
posted by waffleriot at 10:41 AM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

No tomatoes, no spinach: sweat garlic and onions (saute just to release aroma without coloring), add rinsed lentils and finely chopped carrots and celery. Cover with 3x liquid to 1x lentils (so, 3 cups of water/stock to 1 cup lentils) and simmer until lentils start to fall apart, about 20 mins. Add another cup of liquid and raise the heat, and add 1 cup fideo (broken pasta) noodles, plus salt, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, cumin, paprika, whatever spices you like. Cook until pasta is soft, about 9 minutes. To finish, add fine chopped fresh sweet peppers and crumbled feta or mexican cheese.
posted by twentyfeetof tacos at 12:04 PM on November 22, 2019

Chorbat el Ads is a staple at our house. It's quick, there are no tomatoes, and it tastes great. (The only change I'd make to that BBC recipe is to use the juice of a whole lemon, or even one and a half – the fresh lemon is what takes it through the roof.)
posted by Beardman at 12:11 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Now I want lentil soup. It's funny, like others above I've never heard of spinach in lentil soup and I only started using a bit of tomato puree recently. Otherwise it's just the simple mirepoix, brown or black lentils and stock or water, flavored with garlic, thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Once I often threw in a 2-inch piece of salami and picked it up before serving, which is delicious, but I rarely bother anymore.
I love making a dal of red or yellow lentils too, and for that I make a tarka of just warm spices, because I learnt it from a Jain person who doesn't eat onions or garlic. This I add to the lentils when they are cooked, just in water.
posted by mumimor at 12:11 PM on November 22, 2019

I make this Turkish lentil soup all the time. It contains tomato paste (which you could omit if you wanted to) but no actual tomatoes. It's really very good.
posted by essexjan at 1:43 PM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Sometimes I just cook lentils and eat them with butter, salt, pepper. You can add almost any vegetables, and a variety of herbs/spices, though I have been using curries a lot. Potato and lentil curry is great. Add broth to make it soup.
posted by theora55 at 1:53 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah what waffleriot said. Most dahl recipes (which is what lentil soup really is) are just lentils and aromatics, no other vegetables or meat. The only time I've had dahl with stuff in it was kichori and that's a more involved rice and meat dish. So just look up recipes for dahl and you're golden.
posted by divabat at 2:55 PM on November 22, 2019

This one has tomato paste but no tomatoes and no spinach. I love it.

Red Lentil Soup with Lemon
Serves 4

3 tablespoons olive oil, more for drizzling
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste (I’ve also used diced tomato or marinara sauce)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt, more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of ground chili powder or cayenne, more to taste
1 quart vegetable broth
1 cup red lentils
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
Juice of 1/2 lemon, more to taste
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro.

1. 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.
2. Stir in tomato paste, cumin, salt, black pepper and chili powder or cayenne, and sauté for 2 minutes longer.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.

Recipe credit: New York Times
posted by mmw at 5:33 PM on November 22, 2019

Turkish lentil soup - contains tomato paste

3 tablespoons butter/olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 cup red lentils, washed and picked over
1.5 tablespoons tomato paste
6 cups water or stock, or more if the soup thickens too much
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1.5 tablespoons dried mint leaves, crumbled
1 tablespoon sumac
Garnish: a few mint leaves (optional), sumac

To serve: lime wedges and bread

Heat the butter in a large saucepan and sauté the onions over low heat until they are light golden - 5-10 minutes. Stir in the paprika, cumin seeds, tomato paste, and hot pepper flakes; cover and cook for another 5-7 minutes.

Add the lentils and stir everything together so the tomato and the spices combine with the lentils. Add the water/stock and cover and cook until the lentils are soft, about 30-40 minutes.

When the lentils are cooked, use a hand blender to blend the soup to your preferred consistency Crumble the mint leaves and add into the soup. Stir and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat. Sprinkle some of the sumac (save the rest to garnish). Stir to combine.

Ladle into bowls, serving with lime wedges, fresh mint leaves (if available) or crushed dried mint and garnish with sumac.

NOTE: This soup will thicken a lot as it stands. Loosen with some hot water and reheat, if you are not serving immediately
posted by knapah at 3:09 AM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

I’ve been making lentil soup for years and tomatoes are one thing it had never occurred to me to add!

Onion, garlic, cumin, lentils. Maybe ginger. Maybe turmeric, chilli, and/or curry powder or garam masala. Maybe lemon juice. Maybe spinach. Maybe chopped apple. Maybe raisins.
posted by fabius at 9:43 AM on November 23, 2019

I have the same issues as you but love lentils. This Ottolenghi recipe for a curried lentil, tomato, and coconut soup, with tomato sauce subbed for crushed tomatoes, is one of the soups I make the most (and I make a lot of soup).
posted by carrienation at 12:54 PM on November 23, 2019

mmm, lentil soup! I have so many recipes! Below is my current favorite, by Sarah DiGregorio. You can substitute the canned tomatoes with tomato sauce, or a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste (add to your onions while sautéing, once the onions have become a bit translucent). For the greens in this recipe, I use arugula (and leave off the basil). Needless to say, lentil soup is always very forgiving, so you can adjust pretty much however you'd like.

This is written for a pressure cooker, but if you don't have one, just make in a soup pot and cook for longer (~30-40 minutes on simmer, I'd say), and you don't need to reduce the wine — it will cook down naturally. Just add water or broth if it seems to be becoming too thick.


Olive oil
1 large red or yellow onion, chopped
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 pound hot or sweet Italian sausage (pork, chicken or turkey), casing removed
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
3 fresh thyme sprigs or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
Generous pinch of red-pepper flakes
¾ cup dry white wine
1 (14-ounce) can whole or chopped tomatoes
8 cups chicken stock
2 cups dried lentils, preferably black beluga
1 bay leaf
5 ounces delicate leafy greens, such as baby spinach or baby kale, or 8 ounces hearty greens, such as chard or collards (stemmed and chopped), fresh or frozen
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Chopped fresh basil, for serving
Grated Parmesan, for serving

Cover the bottom of a 5- to 8-quart pressure cooker with a thin layer of olive oil. Add the onion and season lightly with salt. Using the sauté setting, cook until the onion is softened and translucent, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes.

Add the sausage. Cook, breaking the sausage into small pieces with a spatula or a wooden spoon, until it starts to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the fresh garlic, onion and garlic powders, thyme, oregano, red-pepper flakes and several generous grinds of pepper. Stir to combine and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the wine and stir, scraping the bottom of the pot to remove any browned bits. Simmer until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and their juices (if using whole tomatoes, crush them into pieces with your hands as you add them), followed by the chicken stock, lentils and bay leaf. Season generously with pepper and stir to combine. Cover and set steam valve to sealed position. Cook on high pressure for 10 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally for 5 minutes, then release the remaining pressure manually.

Open the lid. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Using the sauté setting, stir in the greens and cook until wilted and tender, 2 to 5 minutes, depending on the type of green. Stir in the vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide among bowls and top with basil and Parmesan.

And now, for something completely different! Several years ago, I became obsessed with a super simple lentils recipe for Mjeddrah by Jennifer Raymond from the 1970s book "Diet for a Small Planet." It says, "according to biblical scholars, Mjeddrah is the 'mess of pottage' for which Esau sold his birthright to Jacob." This particular recipe is very, very basic — just lots of onion, lentils, and brown rice, basically. But I would get crazy cravings for this! Here's the recipe from the book via Google books. If that's not visible for anyone, let me know and I can write it out. And of course, there are many other versions online.
posted by taz at 1:01 PM on November 23, 2019

taz, that Mjeddrah was the recipe that started me on lentils! Fun to see it again, and it's still delicious.

Yesterday, I made a simple lentil stew using canned lentils*, because I had a can and I'm alone this week so I thought I'd keep it simple. It was delicious, but I realized that the vegetables need a bit more softening before you add the lentils and liquid when you use canned lentils. After I'd eaten last night's portion, I put in an end of fennel salami and cooked it a bit more. That will be today's lunch.

*I've mentioned this before, but I'll put it in again here: lentils are so easy to cook, it rarely makes sense to use canned. But the ones from Bonduelle are really as good as home made, so even if you only save 10-15 minutes of cooking time, they are worth having as a pantry staple. Good for lentil salad as well.
posted by mumimor at 3:15 AM on November 24, 2019

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