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the lentil soup project

I really like lentil soup. I’ve liked it since I had my first bowl of it in Istanbul, which is a d-baggy thing to say, like when people come back from Italy and say they won’t eat pizza anymore because it wouldn’t be as good as the pie they had in Naples. Go back to Naples then! Who’s stopping you? But anyway, it’s true: they have spices in Turkey that people don’t use much here, like Aleppo pepper, and I’ve searched for years for a recipe to recreate the magic of my first lentil soup experience, and never gotten even close.

But that’s all in my past. I’m a mom now, and don’t have time to waste on perfecting my own culinary experiences. I just want to cook things that my kids will eat. After pick-up last week, Finn and I stopped in at a coffee shop across the street from his school, for a snack. He ordered a pumpernickel bagel and I ordered a cup of lentil soup. “What’s that?,” Finn asked, as I tucked into my bowl. “Lentil soup. Want a bite?,” I asked, hopefully. After three bites, Finn hooked his hand around the bowl and pulled it in front of his face. After a few more bites, he told me that the soup was “incredibly delicious,” a phrase he has used only once before, in relation to Twizzlers. I looked down at the bowl full of protein-rich lentils and vegetables, and tried hard not to wig out. Then I politely approached the owner of the coffee shop for her recipe.


I either didn’t telegraph my desperation loudly enough, or the woman had never known the misery of having kids who were picky eaters. Either way, the owner didn’t give two shits about my malnourished kids and she wasn’t about to share her recipe. She told me, dismissively, that it was “just lentil soup with vegetables.” But I can be insistent when the situation calls for it, and I decided that my kids, and this soup, called for it. So I kept pushing her for details, and finally got one: roasted tomatoes. I bought another bowl for Finn’s lunch the next day and said “thanks” while adding the “for nothing” silently in my head.

A couple days later on a day off, I got to work. I researched lentil soups online, and broke out my cookbooks. The good news was that there were lots of recipes for lentil soup. The bad news was that none of them included roasted tomatoes. I rejected the recipes with cumin and other extraneous spices, and focused on the ones that included bacon. I settled on the recipe from “The Best Recipe: Soups and Stews,” and modified it to include some roasted tomatoes.

I gave the soup a taste. It wasn’t Istanbul, but it was pretty great. Rich, buttery, warming. Still, I was nervous when dinner time rolled around. Getting a kid to eat something once is one thing–getting a kid to eat something twice is a freaking miracle. I couldn’t be certain that Finn would eat my lentil soup, even though he’d loved the one he’d had before. I placed a bowl in front of both my kids. Tate ate his up along with four pieces of baguette with butter. Finn finished one big bowl and asked for another. Cuz and I gave each other silent high-fives across the table, while maintaining outward calm.

I’m not making any promises. But my kids ate it. And even if yours don’t, you’ll have a pot full of delicious soup that you can have all to yourself.


Lentil Soup with Roasted Tomatoes

Adapted from The Best Recipe: Soups and Stews, serves 12 (you can halve the recipe)

4T vegetable or olive oil

8 oz. bacon, diced

8 cups chicken broth

1 cup white wine

2 large onions, diced or chopped fine (my kids are likelier not to pick vegetables out of their food if the pieces are tiny, but maybe yours don’t care)

4 large carrots, chopped fine

2 T minced garlic

2 cups dried green or brown (not red) lentils, rinsed and picked over for stones

2 cups roasted tomatoes, chopped into rough chunks (recipe follows), or 2 cups canned, diced tomatoes with juice (fire roasted work great)

2 t chopped fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

1-2 T red wine vinegar, or to taste


1. Heat oil in a large stockpot or cast iron casserole over medium-high heat. Cook bacon until fat has rendered and pieces are browned and crisp.

2. Throw in the carrots, onions, garlic, thyme, bay leaves and a few grinds of black pepper. Saute for 3-5 minutes, until softened.

3. Throw in the lentils and tomatoes, and “sweat” the lentils by sauteing for 5-7 minutes.

4. Stir in the wine, stir until dissolved.

5. Pour in the broth along with two cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes, or until lentils are softened.

6. If you like a creamier soup, you can blitz 3-4 cups of the soup in a blender and then pour it back into the pot. Or you can leave as is. Stir in the vinegar at end. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

7. Enjoy with a crusty baguette and a salad! Leftovers are great for lunch.

*Roasted tomatoes: preheat oven to 400 degrees. Halve five roma tomatoes and put them, cut sides up, on a cookie sheet. Melt some butter and brush the tops with butter. Sprinkle with kosher salt and a little pepper, if you like. Roast them on the top rack until they turn brown and bubbly–took 25 minutes in my oven.


45 Comments Post a comment
  1. Reblogged this on Only the Best of Intentions and commented:
    I love lentil soup too. Unfortunately, no one else in my family does. The boys called it “brown slop” – and would sit and stare at it until I told them they could have PB & Jelly instead. I make it differently every time, but Molly Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook has a very good recipe in it.

    March 12, 2013
    • that’s a cookbook i’ve been meaning to get, for ages. thanks for the rec!

      May 9, 2013
  2. Loretta #

    Thank you for sharing this recipe. I was really craving lentils and after an extensive search, I found some brown lentils (amazingly not so easy to locate here). We made the soup and the whole family enjoyed it.

    February 23, 2013
    • love it. lentils in hong kong! love to you and yours, loretta

      February 26, 2013
  3. soup is the sh*t! so warming & comforting! i haven’t had a good lentil soup in AGES…will have to seriously consider trying one that got posted here (yours or one of these others). this is not for lentil soup, but the most delicious chicken soup i’ve ever tasted: the recipe came from and i have made it every week since i discovered it…months ago now. i LOVE it!! the secret is in browning the onions & chicken BEFORE the water goes in, and then straining the onions out (not as much work as it sounds, i promise!). the broth is deep and rich and so tasty i can hardly believe it. seriously, i eat it every week. congrats on getting the boys to eat it and thanks so much for sharing. 🙂

    February 12, 2013
  4. I just discovered a love for lentil soup. While soaking in my daughter’s bathtub I flipped to a lentil soup recipe (Whole Living Magazine) and decided that although I didn’t have the red peppers, fresh ginger and such, I had red lentils. The coconut oil and tumeric were divine mingling with diced yams and shredded kale. I added the kale on my own – habits of addiction…

    February 12, 2013
    • my friend courtney has been talking about whole living. i need to check out this magazine. coconut oil and turmeric sounds divine

      February 13, 2013
  5. Jan #

    At the risk of sounding dumb, may I ask what you mean when the recipe says “stir until dissolved”?

    Turkey is on my bucket list 🙂

    February 11, 2013
    • ah sorry, I mean stir the wine into the veggies until the wine has burned off/evaporated

      February 11, 2013
      • Jan #

        Thanks! That’s what I figured, but just wanted to be sure that I understand correctly 🙂 your recipe is on my dinner menu (such as it is 😉 ) this week!

        February 11, 2013
  6. Yum

    February 9, 2013
  7. I LOVE lentil soup. My family makes it every January 1st because it brings luck. I made a lentil and butternut squash stew this week and it was so delicious. I found the recipe in Family Circle.
    3 tablespoons olive oil
    3 carrots, peeled and diced
    2 ribs celery, trimmed and diced
    1 medium onion, diced
    1 medium butternut squash (about 2 3/4 lbs), peeled, seeded and diced (5 1/2 cups)
    2 tablespoons chili powder
    1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
    1 14 1/2 ounce can light and fat-free chicken broth or low-sodium vegetable broth
    1 14 1/2 ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
    1 1/2 cups small brown or French green lentils, picked through
    3/4 teaspoon salt
    1/3 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
    1. Heat oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add carrots, celery and onion and cook 5 minutes. Add squash and season with chili powder and ground cumin. Cook 1 minute.
    2. Stir in broth, tomatoes, 1/2 cup water and lentils. Cover and simmer on medium-low heat for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and stir in salt. Simmer, uncovered, an additional 10 minutes. Stir in cilantro and serve

    February 9, 2013
    • love the addition of the butternut squash. adding it to my list!

      February 13, 2013
  8. Turkish green lentil soup recipe

    One cup green lentil in a pot with 1,5 lt of room temperature water. Set to boil, after the water boils, keep it for 30 minutes boiling. When the lentil is soft enough to eat ( taste one:) , add one chopped onion, 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, half cup of noodles or spaghetti broken into very small pieces and salt. Boil 15 more minutes. Add a tablespoon of butter, dried peppermint.
    Serve hot. Enjoy

    February 8, 2013
    • thank you! i’m intrigued by the dried peppermint. i’m going to have a turkey lentil soup cook-off. i’ll report back

      February 13, 2013
  9. My six year old actually taught himself to make lentil soup. This is his recipe:

    8 cups veggie bouillion
    2 cups red lentils
    one tablespoon garlic powder
    one tablespoon smoky paprika

    Simmer everything together for half an hour. No veggies, but literally so easy a child can make it.

    February 7, 2013
    • this sounds like a great weekend activity for finn. thanks!

      February 13, 2013
  10. Yum! Love lentil soup

    February 7, 2013
  11. This looks great! I love roasted tomatoes -I usually roast a bunch super slow (8 hours at 200 degrees) in the summer and then freeze them to use all winter. They are my favorite.

    February 7, 2013
    • hey mary sue. what do you put them in? i love them myself but besides tossing them with ricotta gnocchi i don’t cook with them much

      February 7, 2013
      • I use them whenever I can. Soups are the easiest because I don’t have to let them thaw first, but I also add them when I am sauteing onions for eggs or sauteed veggies. I almost always throw them in with my pasta dishes – because their flavor is just so much more tomato-y than canned tomatoes. I have a friend who lets them defrost and then puts them on egg and english muffin sandwiches – I have yet to try that!

        February 11, 2013
  12. I love lentil soup and this sounds devine. The Moosewood one is an old standby but can get kind of boring after the 1000 time. I’m going to be in Turkey this summer. Want me to get you some Aleppo pepper? Do you need a new best friend?! Ha.

    February 7, 2013
    • i find the moosewood cookbooks intimidating for some reason. i was gifted one last christmas and haven’t cooked from it once. i may have to do so, soon. have so much fun in turkey, loey!

      February 7, 2013
  13. Hey I’m from Istanbul, Turkey:) if you need a Turkish recipe, I can help. We usually make 2 different recipes, one is made of green lentils and the other is made of red lentil.

    February 7, 2013
    • this blog is finally starting to pay off for me. please share both recipes, if time allows? thank you thank you.

      February 7, 2013
      • 🙂
        Red Lentil Soup Recipe:
        Chop an onion and saute it with vegetable or olive oil in a pot for a minute. Add one carrot(sliced) and one potato(sliced). Saute them all for one more minute. Add a cup of washed red lentils. Add salt. Add a liter of boiled water. ( If you like, add a tablespoon of tomato paste at this point. I ususally don’t.) Boil for 15-20 mins until everything in the pot melts. We use hand-blenders after we turn off the heat. So the soup blends better. If you don’t like a thick soup you can add more water. Add a table spoon of butter and a half table spoon of dried peppermint when the soup is hot. Wait until the butter melts, mix again. And ready to serve.

        February 7, 2013
      • potato!!!!!!!!! of course!!! i am so excited to try

        February 7, 2013
    • also i want to say, congrats on your country, which is absolutely unbelievable. had the best trip of my life driving around for three weeks with my husband. sirince was our favorite

      February 7, 2013
      • Thank you so much:) we really have a beautiful country, hope you can come again. Everyone should see Turkey once in their lives!
        Where do you live?
        I’ll share the other recipe as soon as I can type, it takes a while to do it with a toddler around:)

        February 7, 2013
      • i live in portland, oregon. USA. not as exciting.

        February 7, 2013
  14. Kim #

    Every Sunday night, I make a huge pot of spinach lentil soup for Olivia to eat throughout the week at lunch. We’ve been doing this since she was a kindergartener, and it’s still the standard. This week we’ve switched over to left over Super Bowl chili, but next week, we’ll be back to lentils. I remember feeling the same glee that I had finally found something that wasn’t still neatly packed in her lunch box when I’d unpack it at the end of the day. My recipe is vegan and easy, but still very tasty. At home, we eat it with slices of ciabatta and sharp cheddar cheese, or just sprinkle a little parm on top.

    1 large red onion
    2 cloves garlic
    t tblsp. olive oil
    2c. green lentils
    12 c. water
    1 lb chopped fresh spinach
    1 15 oz. can roasted tomatoes
    1/4 c. balsamic vinegar

    In a soup pot, bring lentils and add the juice from the tomatoes to a low boil. In a saute pan, saute the garlic and onion in olivie oil. When the onion has softened, layer the chunks of tomato on top. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir the tomatoes into the garlic and onion and lay the spinach leaves on top until they turn bright green. Skim any foam off of the simmering lentils and then add the vegetables to the soup. Simmer for 20 minutes to combine flavors. Add vinegar before serving.

    February 7, 2013
    • kim, the addition of spinach is brilliant, if only for the different flecks of color. and i don’t even have to lie about spinach since they drink it in their smoothies. now. let’s talk about food fatigue and kids. your daughter doesn’t mind eating the same soup over and over? finn will love something for a week and then i’ll get excited and he’ll OD on it and never want to eat it again (see: turkey meatloaf),

      February 7, 2013
      • Kim #

        That has happened with LOTS of different foods, especially every sandwich they’ve ever eaten, but not with this soup (for Olivia). Lately, if I’ve run out of soup before the week is out, I’ll make her a greek salad with the dressing (olive oil and lemon juice) on the side. So far, salad and soup are the things she doesn’t tire of. I had to mix it up more for Hazel. Libby’s a creature of habit. Plus, she comes home starving and ready for her third meal of the day by 2:30 now. She gets her variety from what we eat at home.

        February 7, 2013
  15. NOW you’re talking. Lentil soup with bacon? Yes, please. Juice cleanse? Not on your life. The closest to cleansing I do is rinsing out my wine or beer bottles before I toss them into the recycling bin.

    BTW, congratulations may be in order. With your kiddos loving this soup I believe you no longer qualify to register complaints about them being picky eaters. “Picky eater” and “lentil soup lover” are mutually exclusive terms unless the only thing they’ll eat is (are?) lentils.

    February 7, 2013
    • finn has always liked legumes, it’s more the visible vegetables in the soup that make me feel like progress is being made. i do think we’re getting there! finn ate dumplings and shrimp last week. perhaps soon i can go back to cooking what i want to eat!

      February 7, 2013
  16. Adding this to my recipe folder. If you are looking for a different take on lentil soup, my picky 3-year-old loves this one from Simple Bites: It’s really tasty!

    I use red lentils instead of green and madras curry paste instead of powder.

    February 7, 2013
  17. Courtney #

    I’ll try it–it looks good. I made a curried split pea soup last night that looked like it should be great but was sort of disappointing. (It was from Anne Getty’s cookbook so that’s what I get for getting recipes from socialites I guess.) Sometimes legume soups just lack a certain zing. Do you ever go to Barbur Foods at SW Capitol and Barbur? It’s owned by this Lebanese dude, and he has a great and unusual spice selection. I got a big container of Aleppo pepper there and I put it in everything.

    February 7, 2013
    • they do lack a zing–the white wine and vinegar help here. and courtney the soup at the coffee shop was pure vegan with homemade vegetable broth, which made me doubly annoyed that she wouldn’t give me the recipe. the cookbook I adapted from recommended balsamic but it’s not acidic enough for my tastes. i haven’t been to the place on Barbur, I’ll check it out–penzeys also sells Aleppo, which I think is actually not far off from the crushed red pepper that Koreans use (which I have vats of in my freezer)

      February 7, 2013
  18. yeseniathegreat #

    I love lentil soup! Love this recipe!!!

    February 7, 2013
    • it’s good stuff, soup

      February 7, 2013
      • yeseniathegreat #

        I like to add andouille sausage to mine. Gives it a nice kick.

        February 7, 2013
      • ah, well. sausage improves all

        February 7, 2013

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