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, I'm so sorry your dad lost his sweet kitty. Many hugs from a stranger.


So sorry about the kitty. Sending good thoughts to your dad. My mom recently put her cat down and it was a sad time in her household as well.


This soup is amazing. I love your adaptation. So sorry to hear of the loss of a beloved pet.


so sorry about your dad's kitty. we had to put down my 18 year old cat 2 years ago and i still miss her on a regular basis. this soup is a nice warm panacea, i would think, and perfect when mourning a lost loved one. xo

laura @ glutton for nourishment

I'm sorry to hear about your families cat. The soup sounds delicious, I love adding a little lemon to my lentil soups.


Cilantro is the leaf of all evil. The rest of the soup sounds divine. I think I will just skip the cilantro and try it anyway. Thanks. :)


So very, very sorry about Dre. Hugs to your Dad. We have a neighborhood ambassador cat, too! Recently, my other (indoor) cat went missing for 2 days (he's back). i was inconsolable with grief, and am so grateful to have him back. My other cat lived to 21 and then it was her time, but it was hard to let her go...The best of friends they are, aren't they?


I'm so sorry about your dad's kitty- having pets or anybody you love in old age is always a bittersweet experience. I love Deborah Madison's 'Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone', and am really excited to try this version of Red Lentil Soup with Lemon. I've made the same type of soup from Melissa Clark's 'In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite' (a GREAT book) and I absolutely fell in love! Its so filling, and the unexpected flavor of lemon in the soup is delightful, for lack of a better word. Thanks for the great recipe!


So sorry to hear about your cat!! It's funny, I just made this soup two days ago....but I think I will try it with lemons instead of limes as you made it. The lime is just a bit too tart for me. Thank you for the suggestion.


I teared up so much that I couldn't finish reading your post about dre. You forgot to mention the story about dre finding a comfortable spot in someones camper parked in front of your parents house and your dad having to drive all the way to Reno to retrieve the stowaway!, that's love!!'

Shay curley

I forgot to ask you about substituting the cilantro - what do you think works best? Again, here in Bulgaria, cilantro is not sold as it is not used in our meals.


So sorry to hear about your dad's cat. 18 years is a long time for a pet to be a part of the family, so I'm sure it's difficult! Thankfully, this soup looks particularly comforting. This time of year it seems I am making soup every other day yet can never get enough - thank you for another wonderful idea for my "to make" list!


I am so sorry to hear about your kitty - I was in tears reading your dad's note. Cats are such great companions! I am living in Bulgaria right now, and it is hard to find red lentils but we were lucky at the market the other day and actually found some, so we will try this recipe next! Thank you!


There are few things worse than losing a furry friend. Over the years I have lost a few cats and it is truly something that always hangs on my heart. It sounds like Dre had one hell of a (great!) life. Thanks for sharing.

Dina Avila

I'm so sorry for your loss Heidi - I hope you draw on good memories...take time and remember. I love this soup recipe...I also adapted it as it "needed" something to ramp it up. Soup feeds the soul. - Natasha


Please offer your dad my sympathies. I had to euthanize my cat in May. She was also 18 and we had her in my family since my son was a teenager. He;s grown and has his own family now. She was a true companion and I miss her still.


thanks for the amazing recipe. have started it for dinner tonite. a windy day here in Chicago & a perfect soup day. a hug to your dad on his loss. pets are such an integral part of the family, aren't they? so comforting. best to him and to you.


It's so incredibly hard to lose a pet. They're truly never replaceable with another animal. I'm sorry that you and your family are dealing with this :(

Candice @ Sailing on Paper

There are few things in life more painful that the passing of a beloved pet. I know how your Dad (and you) are feeling today; I really do.


So sorry to hear the news about your Dad and Dre; my heart broke reading your post. Animals are truly special creatures. On a different note, the soup looks wonderful, and will be a welcome change to the slew of fall soups I have been preparing of late!


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