Layla is my college roommate and lifelong friend. After nearly 20 years, her easy vegetarian red lentil soup is almost as close to our hearts as she is.
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I am really not sure what to say about this soup, other than that if you don’t try it, I honestly might have to fight you. With my fists. I know it’s not what you’ve come to expect around here, threats and machismo and knuckle sandwiches. But trust me, in this case it’s for your own good.
Now. On the one hand, my arms are on the scrawny side, complete with double-jointed elbows which, while great for party tricks, do not make the prospect of a punch or a bitch-slap seem as terrifying as it might otherwise be. Layla’s got dainty arms, too, so even if the two of us were to come at you with guns blazing, it’s possible you might survive intact. On the other hand, over the years since Layla and I met in college, this soup has become not just one of my favorites, but one of my mom’s favorites, too.
Have you met my mom? You may remember her as the natural foods advocate from my childhood who never let a box of Stouffers or Hamburger Helper cross her threshold, even in the 1980s. You may remember her as a friendly and devoted ESL teacher who finds and celebrates the good in everyone she meets. You may also remember her as the lady with the freakish pain tolerance, or the one who casually tosses out there once or twice a year, “You’d be surprised. I’m stronger than I look.” To be clear, I’m not saying that I’ve floated this whole show-of-force proposition to her, or that we’re involved in any sort of conspiracy. I’m just saying that she really likes this soup. A lot.
The point being, you are going to try Layla’s lentil soup, which is made from those diminutive little chameleons called red lentils that turn pale yellow when you cook them. I’m hopeful that we can do this the easy way—that you’ll quickly grasp the beauty of this humble, simple comfort food that elevates a mere…ahem…fistful of common ingredients into a healthy meal that’s sure to become a regular in your repertoire. I’m hopeful that we can do it the easy way. But if we have to do it the hard way, we will.
Talk to you soon.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, finely diced
- 2 carrots, diced (optional)
- 1 cup dry red lentils, picked over and rinsed
- 1/4 cup arborio rice
- 6 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin*
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Lemon wedges, for serving
- In a medium pot with a heavy bottom, heat the oil over medium-high heat.** Add the onion and carrots (if using) and cook, stirring occasionally until starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat if necessary to prevent browning. Add lentils and rice and stir to coat with oil. Add water, salt, cumin, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cook, lifting the lid occasionally to stir, until lentils and rice are completely tender and the soup is of uniform and moderately thick consistency, about an hour. Serve hot with lemon wedges to squeeze overtop.
- *At the risk of messing with perfection, I also really love the following variation on the spices: 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon ground sweet paprika.
- ** You can omit the oil and just combine all the other ingredients in the pot from the start. I usually do this now because I don't notice a difference, and it's a little easier. Sometimes I drizzle a little fruity olive oil onto each bowl before serving.