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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losing a pet is like losing a little happy family member. i know it is so hard and my heart goes out to both of you. i have a jar of lentils in my pantry waiting to be used up and this looks great! i went to click on the link for where several people had been cooking from Madison's book, but it just took me to the library part of your site. is it supposed to go somewhere else?


Hi Heidi, Sorry to hear about the loss, but what a sweet post. Can't wait to try this soup. My partner and I are making Brown Sugar Rosemary Walnuts for Xmas gifts this year (excited:)) - we found cellophane bags, great twine at Paper Source in Berk, but only giant unsavory labels. Where did you get those lovely-sized labels shown in the photo? Many thx for all the lovely recipes and blogging, Lindsay and Hale


I'm so sorry to hear about your Dad's cat, losing a pet is never easy. As for the food. . .This WILL be made and eaten by myself and my husband, A-SAP! Love it, just like the rest of your recipes.

Lisa [With Style and Grace]

Oh Heidi! I'm so sad to hear about the loss of Dre. Kitties are the sweetest, and it is so hard to lose a pet; they truly do become part of your family. My condolences to your dad for the loss of his little cat. xo

Betsy Dunlap

what a sweet lookin' kitty. i get so sad hearing those stories about older animals passing away who've been part of the family forever. I've had my cat since she was a kitty and that's been almost 13 years - i will be an absolute mess when that time comes for her, and i hope it's years and years away !! in happier news, the soup sounds excellent. I need another lentil recipe around here :).

heather @ chiknpastry

So sorry to hear about the loss of your furr baby-my condolences to your father. This recipe looks delish! Perfect for today's chilly weather, I'll have to try this one soon!


Heidi, such a nice essay about your Dad's cat, Dre. You really evoke a potent image about him escorting passersby along the edge of the property. Lovely photo of him, too. May he rest in peace, and your family too, for knowing and loving a charming kitty!

Susan A.

What a sweet kitty. I know you guys will miss him and my sympathies to your father for the loss of his baby. BTW, the soup sounds excellent and I look forward to making it now that soup weather is here.


I'm so sorry about the family loss Heidi, here is a little something for your dad.... Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable. All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind. They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster. You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart. Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together....


Another wonderful Deborah Madison red lentil soup -- this one looks like a stunner.


So sorry to hear about your cat. He is beautiful! I love my cat like a child. I cant imagine losing her! On a lighter note i got to Rome today and thought of you as i wandered trastevere. We are using a lot of your suggestions for apps/books. Thanks :) I can really see why you like the trastevere neighborhood.


dre is over the rainbow bridge now, where other well loved companions wait to greet him. deepest sympathies to your family.


So, so sorry for your family's loss. He seems like a great little guy and was obviously well loved and beautifully taken care of till the end.

Ana Sofia

It sounds like Dre enriched the lives of many. Much in the way you do with your lovely blog. Thanks for sharing as you do. Beautiful photo of Dre!


Sorry to hear about your cat, difficult to say goodbye. Thanks for the soup recipe, I was looking at it and it reminded me of a soup we make in my country. It is with brown lentils, swisschard, onions, lemon, some use potatoes, coriander and garlic but I don't. I think you would love it. Take two cups of brown small lentils, wash them. In a pressure cooker, fry a yellow onion in some olive oil until slightly brown, add the chopped swisschard, stems and all and fry, add the lentils and water to cover and cook until the lentils are extremely soft. When they are cooked, add the juice of a large lemon and some ground cumin and salt. It is delicious and I hope you try it and it brings you comfort.

sarah daouk

oh dear i had to put down my 18 year old tiger two weeks ago and in beginning in october my beloved old dog i know how it feels to hold them passing my best wishes to your dad lg birgit


Yum! Lentils and lemon, two of my favourites!


Thank you for your wonderful recipes - you give as much pleasure as your dads kitten - absolutely essential part of the family -many many thanks and best wishes.

Anne Stevens

I'm so sorry to hear about your family's loss. I just lost my childhood cat 2 weeks ago, they really are a part of the family. the soup looks great btw

Caitlin @ Vegetarian in the City

This post really hit home because we've recently found out that our 7 year old dog has lymphoma and a few more months to live. I admire your dad for being there to say goodbye to Dre and I'm searching for the courage to be able to do the same for Sydney. Because that's what our pets deserve from us.


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