Red Lentil Soup with Lemon

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 roasted lemon chutney. 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.

lentil soup in a bowl with rice and yogurt

The Details

A couple notes related to this soup. To make things simple, this is the sort of thing that is ideally made when you already have leftover rice, farro, etc., on hand. Because the 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.
table set with two bowls of red lentil soup with a side of bread
Also, while the recipe calls for spinach, other greens work well - sautéed kale, chard, etc. Leftovers are excellent and it freezes well (keep the yogurt separate from any soup you think you might want to freeze).

eating lentil soup and crusty bread
This soup is incredible alongside a good wedge of sourdough. You can see the bread above is slathered with goat cheese and this lemon chutney. So good!
bowl of mostly empty soup after eating

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Red Lentil Soup with Lemon

5 from 3 votes

An easy way to make this soup vegan is to swap olive oil in for the butter. You might do a creamy swirl of coconut (or cashew milk) in place of the yogurt.

  • 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
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
35 mins
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5 from 3 votes (1 rating without comment)
Recipe Rating


Hi Heidi. If you freeze this soup, do you also freeze the sauteed greens? I’ve been looking for a lentil soup that is not tomato-based, and this one is perfect (and practical).5 stars


    Hi Kate – you could do it either way, really. You could mix the spinach into the soup before freezing. Or cook it up as you reheat the soup. Enjoy!

    Heidi Swanson

So good… I was a little skeptical of how it would work with a full Tablespoon of tumeric, but I trust Heidi! Didn’t have mustard seeds but added extra cumin seeds in the butter before cooking down the red onion. Blended all of the onion and cumin mixture with half of the lentils in my Vitamix and added just 1 lemon with a lot of black pepper on top, serving over brown basmati rice (also out of spinach and yogurt, but will pick them up for the leftovers.)
So so so much better then all these “meh” lentil soups floating around on the internet. Thanks, Heidi. ❤️5 stars


    Whoop! So happy you enjoyed it Paula.

    Heidi Swanson

I made this soup this past weekend and it was the most delicious soup I’ve ever tasted! Thank you so much for the recipe!


heidi, thanks for the recipe. my husband I both really enjoyed it.


i just made this and it is incredible.


Happy Thanksgiving, Heidi! I’m hoping to make this soup the day after as a light way to recover, but have been to three different grocery stores now and none of them had red lentils. Would regular lentils be okay or should I continue my quest? Thanks!


What a deliciously appetizing and not to mention healthy soup. One definitely worth trying if you haven’t already.

Amy @ Chef Basket

Yummy soup – just made it. Skipped the rice, but I’m thinking of baking some bread (pain a l’ancien or something of the sort) to go with it now.


what a delicious soup recipe. we sauteed leeks, kale and watercress for the greens and ended up pureeing everything but half the lentils in the hopes that the kids would eat it for dinner (the site or crunch of onions stops them cold).
i would love to try the texture as you originally wrote so we will have to make it again soon.
it also worked great as baby food. she loved it!
such wonderful flavors. thanks!


On a positive note… One of the best soups I ever made!


Just made this, it’s amazing, thanks for the recipe.


My compliments on a great recipe. I really liked it. The only alterations I made were omitting the yogurt and using smart balance lite (to make it vegan) and I used baby spinach instead of chopped spinach. I ate it with some naan bread, since I had stopped by a local Indian store to get the mustard seeds and lentils.

Noah F

I made this soup and LOVED it. I didn’t use the cilantro (didn’t have any) and I subbed in chicken broth for the water. I’ve been feasting on the leftovers at lunch. So very, very yummy. Thank you!

Jennifer Jo

I really want to say how much I LOVED this dish, perfect for a autumn evening. You blog is constantly inspiring! Thanks!


I opened your blog on the way to the grocery store last night looking for something unique, as your recipes always are! :o) WOW! What a medley of flavors! It was wonderful. I left the “soup” a little thicker so it was more like a sauce. I made up a little bowl with each of the parts neatly arranged, the brown rice, the sauce, sauteed spinach and a dollop of the greek yogurt. I added a side of some rotisserie chicken and mmmmmmmm! YUM YUMMMMMY!! Thanks so much for another great meal!


i made this on sunday and we had leftovers last night. it’s such an incredible blend of flavors. we loved it! i was worried it was too thin, but the rice gives it the substance it needs – it’s perfect. it definitely thickens overnight and the leftovers are even better. thanks so much!

samantha jillian

I really enjoyed this recipe, with the added rice and yoghurt. I’ve made something similar, but the large amount of turmeric and lemon somehow made it more scrumptious to me.


Thank you so much for this delicious recipe! I followed it as written, save for a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar and a bit of chili pepper. I served it over farro and topped it with a spoonful of 0% Fage and a dollop of spinach cooked up with a bit of lemon and garlic.

Rachel Christu

Elizabeth did not answer the question…was not expecting daal. 7 cups of water was too much. What type of red lentils do you recommend?

HS: Hi Jake – if the texture is still too thin for your tastes, perhaps try a blend of the split red lentils + yellow split peas (which are chunkier & hold their shape). Also – serving over rice or a grain def. thickens up the overall experience. Not sure if that is how you served it. Or use the same lentils you used this time, scale back to 5 cups of water to start, and adjust from there throughout the cooking process until it’s the consistency you like/expected. Hope this helps.


Just made this recipe–as expected, it was delicious! I substituted quinoa for the brown rice and sour cream for the yogurt since that’s what I had on hand. Thumbs up for how quick and easy it was–literally took me only 20 minutes. Thank you Heidi!


This looks delicious! I love lentils.


I have only had red lentil soup once, but I remember saying, “Now I know why Esau was willing to give up his birthright for this…” And with lemon? YES PLEASE! Sooooo going to make this. THIS WEEK. It is on my list. Thanks!

Tiffany {A Clove of Garlic}

I just finished eating this for dinner, and it was phenomonal.The only changes I made were adding two crushed garlic cloves to the onion mixture and toasting whole cumin seeds and grinding them. I think everyone needs to make this dish at least once in their life. It was super easy to put togehter, pureeing the lentils wasn’t necessary as red lentils tend to disintegrate on their own. Thank you Heidi!


Lentil soup is one of my favorite dishes, I make it year-round but when winter comes around, I could live on it alone! I don’t use lemon but will be sure to try this, it sounds delicious. I recently posted a Lemon-Radish Soup on my site so I know the flavors are going to be wonderful together. Thank you for the inspiration!

Eat Well: This American Bite

I don’t have yellow mustard seeds. Do you think I could use the black version or skip them entirely?


I grew up in Dearborn, Michigan, which has a large Arabic population; take out the mustard seed and don’t worry about the spinach or the extra carbs (rice, whatever), add a little garlic, and you have a very basic and VERY good typical Arabic-carryout soup staple. Dearborn has Arabic restaurants as ubiquitous as most places have Chinese: and instead of egg-drop soup and eggroll, you get red lentil soup and a salad with sumac spices!
That said, I think one or two of your readers, who expected a more “dal”-like flavor profile, need to understand that your recipe has more of an Arabic/Mediterranean flavor profile; readers who understand that won’t be disappointed. I can guarantee it!


I made this today and it did not turn out well at all. 7 cups of water is too much–was that number accurate? I used the red lentils (masoor daal).


I finally found your new book today and bought it! All the way from Sydney, Australia xx


Ideal soup for this time of the year.

tobias kocht!

So sorry to hear about your cat, he had a great life, 18 that’s amazing! It is so hard to lose a family pet, they become more than a friend.They are that fluffy thing that you come home to and tell all about your day, like a person really that doesn’t talk back!
I love the look of this soup, lentils and lemon yum!

Honey For Jam

This recipe looks delicious and simple. Your “Lively Up Yourself” Lentil Soup converted me to a lentil soup lover years ago. I think greens and lentils go so well together!


I so sorry to hear about the family cat. 18 years old, means that he had a great life:)
I love how this soup sounds, it is the season for it now, as it is getting colder outside;) 🙂


I love anything lentil (brown rice too). I could eat this sort of thing for lunch everyday. In fact I think I will …

Family Meals and Cooking Tips

Heidi, I am so sorry to hear about your dad’s kitty Dre. My condolences… your soup sounds like, and is, the perfect comfort food. I am eating it right now and have to say that every single one of your soups (and other recipes) is amazing! I have tried them all (soup-lover, what can I say) and this one is the perfect addition. Thank you for sharing your amazing talent with the world 🙂


I made this recipe the evening after you posted it, and it is wonderful! I am the only vegetarian in my house, but everyone loved it (especially with the greek yogurt), and even asked where I had found it. We didn’t even have leftovers!
The only changes I made: I didn’t blend the lentils, because i couldn’t find the immersion blender, but it honestly turned out fine. The split red lentils fall apart enough, and it was nice to have the texture. Also, I added a bit of asafoetida to both the onions and to the lentils/broth.


I made this exactly as written tonight for dinner and it was FANTASTIC deliciousness. I often have leftover greens like spinach and left over brown rice. This is perfect for using them up and so good. Thanks!


This was sooo good and easy to make! It’s going to be a new staple in my meal planning:)

Winn Mahoney

I am very sorry for your family’s loss. The pet is completely part of our family who shares not only living environment but even emotions or memories. Missing so much of the kitty will be heard by him.
And this soup sounds very therapeutic and delicious. Lentils are not easy to find here in Japan. I want to try this recipe with other kind of beans, perhaps.


I made this last night for the family. It turned out wonderful. I used barley instead of rice and instead of the lemon juice, I diced two oranges and added it in just before serving. The spinach really added to the texture of the dish. This is my new favorite way to prepare lentils.


I’m so very sorry and saddened to hear about the loss of your family’s beloved kitty. It made me so sad to read, as I can completely relate to the heart-wrenching experience of losing an ailing cat that was more like my little girl than a mere pet (our kitty had just hit her 16th birthday when she died of kidney failure – that we’d been working hard to treat – and hyperthyroidism).
I hope warm soup and many wonderful memories of Dre will help to ease your grief. Thanks for posting such a delicious-looking soul-warming soup recipe on the heels of your news… I’m definitely going to be giving this one a try.


Heidi, I have become such a devoted fan of your recipes. Have been reading (and cooking from) your site & books for quite some time now, but only recently find myself situated on an island off of the coast of Hong Kong with only a few (very few) small markets & limited supplies. But, somehow, again and again this month, I have been able to recreate your meals and my family has been overjoyed to have a change from stir fry (which is, of course, the easiest thing to do with what’s available). This soup was just wonderful, even with local greens instead of spinach. Many thanks!


Thank You! One day, while shopping hungry (always a mistake) at our local co-op, they had delicious Lemon Lentil soup at their fresh bar, so I grabbed a cup. It was great, and I have been meaning to make an attempt at replicating it. Now I don’t have to! They used sorrel for the greens, but not that is not easy to get, unless you grow it.


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

Yum! Lentils and lemon, two of my favourites!


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


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 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.


Good old daal-chawal in Western dress 🙂 It’s the ultimate comfort food for us Indians. We would put a big blob of butter or ghee on top. Believe me, yoghurt is a poor substitute.


YUM. I will be making this tonight. Just substituting olive oil for butter because of my stupid cholesterol! But I don’t think that will hurt the recipe….

Cathy @ What Would Cathy Eat?

WTF! This looks amazing!!!!


I make almost exactly this soup every week, and my kids adore it. The only thing that I add to it is 1/2 a finely chopped jalpeno to the onion and spice saute. (This soup is the main reason I always keep jalapenos and a 10 lb bag of red lentils in the house…)

cLaire maunsell

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.


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.


Another wonderful Deborah Madison recipe….love red lentil soup — this one looks like a stunner.


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

Simply Life

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. 🙂


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

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

So sorry for your dad and all of you… losing a beloved kitty stays with you for a long time. I once had a cat for 20 years and still miss her even though I’m on the 3rd cat since her death. It really is like losing a family member… give him a hug from me.


So sorry about your cat, I don’t know how we’d get along without our animal buddies.
Your soup is beautiful, I just love the colors. My husband has taken a sudden liking to lentils, so I’ll try this for sure.

Sue/the view from great island

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?


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.


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!


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

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.


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