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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Nothing is more comforting than soup. Thanks for the reminder to pull out Deborah Madison's books again. I love the way you have picked up her mantle.


So sorry to hear about Dre, my heart goes out to your Dad.


Sorry about your cat. I lost my childhood dog a few years ago, and somehow she ends up in my dreams every once in a while. I love it when she comes to "visit me" Anyway, soup looks delicious! Can't wait to try another way to spruce up lentils.


On October 18th, my parents put to rest our beloved family cat, Andrew. "Drew" was with us for 17 years, so I'm fully aware of the emotions of losing a pet that was yours, but not quite yours anymore. It will be hard for me to go home for Christmas and not feel him in the house anymore. But, he had a great 17 years!


Awesome cookbook recipe functionality on your site!!! I just signed up to provide input on my favorite recipes from Madison's book. I've always wanted to compare notes with others regarding recipes in books because sometimes there are mistakes and/or recipes not tested out too well. Anyways, I've dreamed of this for years and I'm so happy you are taking it on. :) Thank you!!!


Perfect! I have all the ingredients, including cilantro and kale that desperately need to be used up, plus I've been craving lentil soup. Thanks for the recipe!


Sorry about Dre. I watched my cat as he slowly went to sleep and it really was heartbreaking. My thoughts go out to your Dad, I'm sure the garden and house feel a little empty. A comforting soup actually sounds just right for him.

Nuts about food

I wish I'd known about the Deborah Madison experimenting! Her book is one of my top 2 books to consult when trying to fling together farmers' market ingredients into a meal, and invariably tasty. And while sorry for your cat's death, I'm happy that your dad can so reach out to family and *feel* like that. You're a lucky one!


A) I'm SO sorry about Dre! I know how hard that is. B) This recipe BA-LOWS my mind. I'm so all over it. And maybe in it. C) I hope you'll be at BlogHer Food in Seattle next June! D) That is all. For now.

Bev Weidner

Hi, Heidi. Thinking of you and your sweet Dre. xo.


This soup looks amazing. I can't wait to try it out. Thank you for sharing. So sorry to hear about your dads cat. It's such a hard thing to lose a pet. I had a childhood pet for fifteen years and was heart broken when he passed. Sending love your way.


Losing a childhood animal can be so tough. I am so sorry for your loss!! Luckily you have this comforting soup. It looks and sounds wonderful.

Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar

I'm always looking for new ways to cook lentils- thanks!

Simply Life

My cat lived for 18½ years too, but wasn't as generally sweet-tempered as Dre (although he was with me). They are definitely family members and it is a very hard thing to lose them. Your lovely lemon kick continues. :)


As a mother of three (cats), the youngest 4 months, the middle 4 years and the oldest 18 years old, my heart is breaking for your father (and you). So sorry. Clearly Dre was oh-so-loved and had a lovely life. Beautiful soup, naturally.

JL goes Vegan

So sorry to hear about Dre. I can see that your Dad is strong.. I can never imagine how hard it is for him. I won't be ready if I had to lose Pancake (my dog) in the future..


So sorry to hear. What great memories of Dre. Your soup looks absolutely lovely.

Belinda @zomppa

I lost my Morgana this past summer, after 18 years of friendship. One day she didin't come back home. She was tired but she never complained and she greeted you with her soft mrr. I live far away from some years now, but everytime I was back to my parents home she was sweet and happy to see my husband and me. A big hug to Dre, may he meet my Morgana somewhere (and let them play together). Cheers Martina


Your soup recipe is very similar to the daal- chawal (daal means lentil and chawal means rice) we have in North India. And the daal becomes nice and tangy with a twist of a lemon.


Oh Heidi, my heart goes out to you and your family. Dre left pawprints on your hearts, may you be comforted by the memories of him. We have 3 kitties and love them so much. Wonderful soup, I'm getting hungry looking at your gorgeous picture :)


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