Red Lentil Soup with Lemon Recipe

An earthy, turmeric and mustard-spiked lentil soup served over brown rice with spinach and thick yogurt.

Red Lentil Soup with Lemon

A couple of you eagle-eyed observers mailed me about the bowl of soup pictured in the last photo at the bottom of the this post. It's worth asking about, so I thought I'd share it this week. The soup in the photo was a variation of Deborah Madison's Red Lentil Soup with Lime from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. What you see up above is a lemon version of the soup I cooked to go with the lemon chutney & goat cheese toasts in that Roasted Lemon Chutney post.

Before we go further with the soup, I also wanted mention that I got a sad email from my dad last Friday. It was short, directed to a short list of friends and family, and simply said, "I am sad today since I had to put down my 18 yr old kitty. He was such a great pet. It was brutal being with him as he slipped away while I stood over him telling him how much we were going to miss him." My heart broke, not just because I'll miss a cat that has been part of our family since my sister and I were teenagers, but because I know how much my dad will miss him and their little daily rituals. Dre "talked" a lot, loved to be brushed outside in the sunshine, survived numerous tangles with foxes and other California wildlife, and enjoyed home-cooked meals (as he got older) courtesy of my father. I think it is fair to say he was the most-loved cat in the neighborhood and would greet passing joggers, walkers, and other pets with perked ears, a fluffy tail, and a desire to act as a personal escort from one edge of the property to the mailbox on the other side.

Red Lentil Soup Recipe

He was as sweet as he looks there. He really was. We love you Dre.

Red Lentil Soup Recipe

A couple notes related to the soup - to make things simple, this is the sort of thing to make when you already have leftover rice, farro, etc. Because this soup has a number of components, starting with leftover rice helps keep one less pot on the burners. Deborah's version is a bit more brothy than this one straight out of the gate. I use a bit less water to start with, which allows me to thin it to my liking later on in the process. Also, while the recipe calls for spinach, other greens work well - sauteed kale, chard, etc. Leftovers are excellent and it freezes well (keep the yogurt separate from any soup you think you might want to freeze).

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Red Lentil Soup with Lemon

2 cups / 14 oz / 400 g split red lentils, picked over and rinsed well
1 tablespoon turmeric
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
fine grain sea salt
1 large onion / ~ 2 cups, diced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
1 cup chopped cilantro
Juice of three lemons, or to taste
1 large bunch of spinach leaves, chopped

plenty of cooked (warm) brown rice, to serve
plenty of plain Greek yogurt, to serve

Put the lentils in a pot with 7 cups / 1.6 l water, the turmeric, 1 tablespoon of the butter, and 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the lentils are soft and falling apart - twenty minutes or so. Puree with a hand blender. Add more water until the soup is the consistency you like, then taste and add more salt if needed. Keep the soup warm/hot.

While the lentils are cooking, prepare the onion. In a skillet over low heat cook the onion in 2 tablespoons of the remaining butter along with the cumin and mustard seeds, stirring occasionally. When the onions have softened, roughly 10 or 15 minutes, add the cilantro and cook for a few seconds before removing from the heat. Add the onion mixture to the soup, then add the juice of the lemons, one lemon at a time - until the soup has a nice bit of tang. Also, add more salt to taste at this point if needed.

Just before serving, add the last of the butter to the skillet, when hot add the spinach and a good pinch of salt. Stir well, and cook just long enough for the spinach to collapse.

Serve by placing a scoop of rice in each bowl, then soup, spinach, and a dollop of yogurt.

Serves 6.

Adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

Prep time: 5 minutes - Cook time: 30 minutes

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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Oh, my favorite china, the old Gröna Anna plate from Rörstrands. And the soup looks fantastic to, might need to try that one very soon!

I huvudet på Elvaelva

Avoca ( have a fantastic red lentil and orange soup which this reminded me of ...


This looks fantastic! I'm a big fan of lentil soups, and I've never heard of Deborah Madison before - I'm definitely going to try and find her cookbooks now. If I didn't want to use cilantro, would parsley be a good substitute? My condolences for Dre - he looks wonderful. I had a similar experience a few years ago and it was really difficult, it's amazing how food can comfort one during those times. Thanks for a great post Heidi.


This soup sounds amazing. Gonna make it today. However it's a bit heavy on butter...maybe I use some olive oil instead?


Oh Heidi, Dre looks so beautiful and it seems as though he lived a wonderful life which is everything we could want for our pets...... pets have such incredible personalities and auras and make such a big impact on our lives don't they? I am going to give my cat Mimi a cuddle right now.....


This looks like a perfect, healthy balancing meal. Sorry about the kitty, he's lovely in the photo.

Adam and Theresa

So sorry to hear about the family cat. This looks like the most perfect comforting bowl of soup ever made.


Sad days - what a sweet and precious cat. We can have such wonderful connections with our pets and it sounds like this dear cat was no different. I hope those warm memories will stay with all of you, especially your dad.


So sorry to hear about your dad's lovely kitty :(, pets dying is always sad as they're a member of your family. Gorgeous recipe as always. I love the creamy texture and addition of brown rice.


So sorry about your Dad's cat :( My husband's family has 5 cats between them, and I know losing them would be a great loss to all of us. My condolences.

Anjali Shah @ The Picky Eater

I am so sorry for your dad and your family...losing a pet who's been with you for 18 years is like losing a family member. It IS losing a family member. And my heart is heavy for you all. My condolences and ((HUGS))

Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga

I am so sorry about the dear kitty. The soup looks lovely.

[email protected] Meals For Meat Eaters

I've been very into red lentils lately with curry powder and black mustard seeds. I can't wait to try your version :) So sorry about your famiy's loss :(


Yum, i love the look of these bowls of soup with yogurt and rice! I recently enjoyed lemon lentil soup in Istanbul and have been craving it ever since. The spices in this sounds so tasty too.

amy chaplin

Love red lentils. Lemon makes most everything brighter and tastier. Sorry about your kitty, sounds like he had a great life.

Laura @ SweetSavoryPlanet

This looks like exactly what I've been in the mood for but unable to pinpoint... thanks for sharing it. And reading that note from your Dad is enough to break anyone's heart... looks like a beautiful cat.


So sorry about your Dad's kitty! Sounds like he was a real charmer.

Coco @ Opera Girl Cooks`

My heart is with your Dad, losing a pet is so very sad. I often look in my little dog's eyes and feel humbled by how much I love her. Pets are such a comfort.

la domestique

This soup is exactly what I feel like! Sorry to hear about your cat... I know that feeling of losing a family pet, it's heart-breaking.

My deepest sympathies to your family. Dre looks like he was a beautiful cat; he reminds me a lot of my cat, Mr. Noodles, that I lost early last year. So sorry you lost a great feline friend.

Christine in Philadelphia

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