zesty lentil soup

zesty lentil soup

For the last few weeks, I've been putting the finishing touches on some fresh takes on classic Middle Eastern salads, and I'm very excited to start sharing all the recipes and photos. A couple weeks ago, I raved about beet salad with fresh chive blossoms. I recently posted this recipe for ruby fennel tabbouleh, and I've got two others (1, 2) in the works, so be sure to keep an eye out later in the summer for more tabbouleh variations. And on Wednesday, I'm posting a take on classic fattoush.

So, yes: everyone loves a crisp, refreshing seasonal salad with a bright, sunny dressing, and lots of fresh summer produce. But after about a month of nothing but salads with every meal, all those cool cucumbers and juicy tomatoes start to become a little monotonous. And that's when you remember that the right kind of soup can make a wonderful summer meal too.


That's all just to say that this red lentil soup is not one of those hearty, stick-to-your-bones, warm your heart and soul, flannel-blanket-in-a-bowl kinds of soups with russet potatoes, roasted beef bones, cheddar cheese, roux, barley, mushroom, and gobs of roasted garlic. Instead of warming it, this soup will lift your soul, clear your head, and bring your senses back to life after an early summer salad burnout.

How does this soup do it? Lots and lots of cilantro, sumac, lemon, and—most importantly—mint. But you know how sometimes you accidentally add way too much mint to something and it ends up tasting like toothpaste? Dried mint is the key to this soup's subtlety. You can buy dried mint in some specialty stores, but if you can't find it, you can easily dry fresh mint at home, which is absolutely in season right now. If you have a friend who grows it, they're probably already trying to find people to take all the extra mint off their hands. And while it might sound strange to dry out an ingredient before adding it to something wet, it actually makes all the difference.

zesty lentil soup
zesty lentil soup

But I totally understand if you're skeptical—whenever a recipe tells me to add water and then boil to reduce, I roll my eyes and totally ignore both instructions altogether (because who wants to simultaneously waste time and make their house more humid?), but this is different, and absolutely not an oversight.

Just think about how different dried basil and fresh basil taste. Close your eyes and imagine a caprese salad with dried basil; then imagine a sandwich with fresh basil meatballs. I mean, both sound totally delicious, but completely different than what you're probably used to. No matter the herb, drying changes everything! The dried mint makes this soup herby without being too minty, and the red lentils make it filling without feeling heavy. And best of all, this soup is delicious at room temperature or chilled.

But if you're not totally on board with chilled soups, you can absolutely enjoy this one hot on a summer day. My great grandfather Paulos would always drink chai in sweltering weather, because he claimed that drinking a hot liquid actually cools you down. While I've never been quite sure if this is true, he was a wise man, and so on hot days when I'm craving a bowl of hot soup, I just go with it. Or you can just revel in the chill of your air conditioned kitchen while you eat hot soup under a blanket (no judgement!).

zesty lentil soup

zesty lentil soup

yield: 6 servings
active time: 20 minutes
total time: 30 minutes
download a
PDF to print

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1 small or 1/2 of a large onion, minced (about 1 1/2 cups)

  • 3 carrots, diced small (about 1 1/2 cups)

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste

  • 2 quarts (8 cups) vegetable broth or stock

  • 1 pound (16 ounce) bag red lentils (slightly over 2 cups), sorted and rinsed

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons crumbled dried mint

  • 2 teaspoons paprika

  • 2 teaspoons sumac

  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)

  • Salt to taste

  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (about 1 to 1 1/2 lemons)

  • For serving: chopped cilantro, sumac, crushed red pepper, lemon wedges, pita bread or rice

  1. Place a stockpot over medium heat and add the olive oil. Stir in the onion, carrots, and garlic, and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring every minute or two, until they soften.

  2. Once the veggies soften, stir in the cumin and coriander seeds, and cook, stirring constantly, for another 2 minutes.

  3. Stir in the tomato paste and continue to cook, stirring constantly, for another minute.

  4. Add the vegetable broth, lentils, dried mint, paprika, sumac, and cayenne pepper. Stir together, cover, and increase heat to high. Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, covered, for about 10 minutes, until the lentils are starting to fall apart. *

  5. Taste the soup and add more salt if necessary. If the soup looks a little dry add 1/2 cup of water at a time. Partially purée the soup, if desired. Once you're happy with the seasoning and amount of liquid, stir in the lemon juice.

  6. Serve either hot, chilled, or at room temperature. Garnish with cilantro, sumac, and crushed red pepper. Serve alongside lemon wedges and bread or rice.

* Most red lentils sold in US grocery stores are split red lentils. If you have whole red lentils, you should increase the cooking time to about 15 to 20 minutes. The lentils should be falling apart and not al dente.

zesty lentil soup

lentils and rice | niskeh ou riza

Lentils and rice

I was on the phone with my mom a few weeks ago, brainstorming dozens of Assyrian dishes to add to my ever-growing list of recipes to develop, photograph, and post to the blog. We talked about doing a series of posts on Assyrian fasting and feasting (more to come in the next few months!), and as we brainstormed ideas, I started to imagine all of the beautiful, colorful ingredients and presentations we might cook and photograph.

As we talked, my mom gave me a list of about 15 amazing ideas, and I hurriedly jotted them down, but when she suggested lentils and rice, I have to admit, I sort of hesitated to add it to the list. How am I supposed to convince people that they need a recipe for something so familiar? Furthermore, how am I even supposed to write a recipe for something that just requires you to cook a couple simple ingredients? The next weekend I flew to Chicago to visit my family, and as I watched my mom make lentils and rice, I realized how wrong I was to even consider forgetting it.

Basmati rice
Basmati rice

Never be deceived by simple ingredients! The simpler the ingredients, the more carefully and thoughtfully they need to be prepared. This recipe only has four real ingredients, but it's not just a matter of stirring everything together; there are a few important techniques to keep in mind.

The key technique to making perfect lentils and rice is lots and lots of rinsing. You rinse the lentils both before and after you cook them, you rinse the uncooked rice, and you rinse the pot before adding everything back in for a final steam. If you don't rinse, an olive-beige scum will cover everything, creating a (somehow simultaneously!) gritty and gummy texture and unappealingly homogenous color.

The other key to this recipe is timing. You don't want to add everything together at the same time because rice and lentils cook at different rates; if you get the timing wrong, one or the other (or both!) will turn to complete mush. This recipe has you covered on all accounts. There's nothing but perfect lentils and rice ahead.


serves: 6 to 8
total time: 40 minutes
active time: 15 minutes
see also:
mujadara, mujadara tacos, and mujadara french onion soup

Lentils and Rice | niskeh ou riza

1 pound brown or green lentils
1 cup basmati rice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 cups boiling water
2 teaspoons kosher salt

  • Rinse the lentils and sort through them for little pebbles. Cover with about 3 inches of water in a medium stock pot.

  • Turn the heat to high. Once the pot of water and lentils comes to a boil, turn the heat to medium and boil uncovered for about 10 to 15 minutes.

  • While the lentils are cooking, rinse the rice until the water runs clear and set it aside. *

  • Start testing the lentils for doneness around the 10 minute mark. The lentils are ready once they are unpleasantly al dente. You should be able to chew one (it should be somewhat soft), but it should still be gritty and mealy.

  • Once the lentils are ready, strain them and rinse them until the water runs clear. *

  • Use a damp paper towel to wipe down the sides of the pot that you cooked the lentils in until the scum is completely gone.

  • Add the olive oil to the pot, turn the heat to medium and add the diced onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens (about 5 minutes).

  • Add the lentils back into the pot, along with the rinsed rice, kosher salt, and 3 cups boiling water. Stir together and shake everything out into an even layer.

  • Turn the heat to high. Once the water comes back up to a boil, cover, lower the heat to low, and cook for 15 minutes. Do not look inside the pot while the lentils and rice are cooking.

  • Once 15 minutes have passed, open the lid, do not stir the lentils and rice, and take a taste. If they taste done, cover, heat for another 30 seconds, and then turn the heat off, keeping them covered.

  • Keep the pot covered for another 10 minutes after you've turned off the heat.

  • After 10 minutes of resting, fluff the lentils and rice with a fork and serve.

* To do a more environmentally-friendly version of the rinsing steps, you can rinse by adding water to the pot, swishing things around, straining, and repeating a few times. This uses less water than just rinsing in a colander over the sink.

For another variation on lentils and rice, visit my recipe for piquant lentils and rice.

Lentils and rice