Layla’s Lentil Soup (Easy Vegetarian Red Lentil Soup)

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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. Make this recipe on the stovetop or in your Instant Pot. And get all our best soup recipes here.

Easy Vegetarian Red Lentil Soup Layla's Lentil Soup 780 | Umami Girl-2


See recipe notes for two variations: one adds lots of warming spices, and one omits the sautéeing process at the beginning. I tend to use both variations now when I make this wonderful soup.

A red lentil soup worth fighting for

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.

It’s also my mom’s favorite red lentil soup recipe, just sayin’

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.

Love, your red lentil bully

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.

Easy Vegetarian Red Lentil Soup Layla's Lentil Soup 780 | Umami Girl-2

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Layla's Lentil Soup: Easy Vegetarian Red Lentil Soup

I always make either a double or triple batch of this soup. In the past few years I've been adding a few additional spices — see notes below. Turmeric is what makes the soup so yellow in the photos — it will be paler yellow without it. If you'd like to make this soup in the Instant Pot, see the instructions below.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Serves 4


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely diced
  • 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


Stovetop Instructions

  1. In a medium pot with a heavy bottom, heat the oil over medium-high heat.**
  2. Add the onion and and cook, stirring occasionally until starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat if necessary to prevent browning. ***
  3. Add lentils and rice and stir to coat with oil.
  4. Add water, salt, cumin, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to maintain a simmer.
  5. 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.

Instant Pot Instructions

After many years, we finally tested Layla's Lentil Soup in the Instant Pot, and it works great. You can make a single or double batch in a 6-quart IP using these instructions (a double batch will take longer to come to pressure, but will cook for the same amount of time afterward). Don't make a triple batch in the IP. It will be too big.

  1. Place all ingredients into the Instant Pot. The olive oil is completely optional.
  2. Set vent to sealing position. Cook on manual mode, high pressure, for 10 minutes. (Pot will take between 10 and 20 minutes to come up to pressure before timed cooking begins.)
  3. Carefully do a manual pressure release by turning the vent to open. (We like to use a towel or a long-handled spoon to do this.)
  4. Give your soup a stir, and it's ready to eat!


*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.

*** As a few of you incredible longtime readers have noticed, a prior version of this recipe included a couple of diced carrots. That was a bit of a whim on my part and wasn't part of Layla's original recipe. I haven't included carrots in years and had kinda forgotten about it, but it tastes great, so if you want to add two medium carrots, finely diced, at this stage, go for it. xx

Nutrition Information

Amount Per Serving:

Calories:: 290 Total Fat:: 8.3g Carbohydrates:: 43.1g Fiber:: 5.8g Protein:: 12.7g

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  1. alex

    WOW! This was so yummy. Thank you!

  2. lentil_obsession

    Hey layla..
    Is it alright if I try it without the onions?

  3. Eleanor

    I’m so excited to try this soup. Do you reckon brown rice would be an okay substitute for the arborio? I’m planning on garnishing with a bit of cucumber yogurt. Yum and thank you!

    1. Hi Elanor, yes, brown rice works fine. I find a short-grain variety (like brown sushi rice) gives the soup the best body. Enjoy!

  4. I made this soup last night and it was…..SPECTACULAR! Huge hit with my family. Thank you!! It’s definitely going in to my meal rotation.


    1. Hi Lisa, I’m so glad. Thanks for letting me know!

  5. We are big lentil soup fans around here and this dish sounds perfect. I love the simplicity of it and yet it has this deep, hearty feel to it. Another wonderful addition to our repertoire. Hooray Umami Girl! 🙂

  6. I just made this tonight and I’m eating it right now. Well, I’m trying to eat it but it’s very hot and I have to unfortunately keep waiting so that I don’t burn my taste buds. This is the first recipe I’ve tried from your site — it’s delicious! I must admit I used chicken broth instead of water. Thank you for the wonderful recipe; it’s made 5/5 stars in my cookbook, and that doesn’t happen often!

    1. Hi, Zeynep! I’m so glad you like it. Do me a favor and try it with water one of these days, too. I used to make it with broth even though Layla’s original recipe called for water (because that’s just the kind of girl I am, or was!), but over time I switched back to water. I honestly think it’s just perfect that way. Save your chicken stock for a soup that needs a beautiful, delicate broth. 🙂

  7. This soup looks heavenly!

  8. Vicki (piggledy)

    We tried this last night – weeelllllll, we tried to have it last night, only to be interrupted by our Taco Tuesday dinner partners, who wondered why we seemed to have forgotten them. We had! This soup was so captivating, and I had it all ready to go on the table. So, we covered and refrigerated it, checked the burners and turned off the lights and packed ourselves off to Buddies’, for dinner with our friends. Friendship, after all, is more important than eating our soup, right NOW. So, we reheated our soup, hash, and green beans for breakfast, and decided this is a lovely soup, indeed, and we will have it again, for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It definitely makes it into our rotation! Yum. Simple, but so, so, so good. Thank you. Now, I’ll have to explore your site further! Thank you for the lovely soup! love, piggledy

    1. Vicki, that’s hilarious. And I’m really glad you liked the soup!

  9. Katie Turner

    I love this soup!

    I went on a hunt for new recipes the other day and i found this one on foodgawker. I chose it because it seemed like a healthy, simple, and no fuss recipe. It tastes oh so much better than i expected! The lemon really compliments it perfectly.

    Thanks for the recipe!! I’ll definately be making this one again.

    1. Hi Katie, thank you for letting us know! I agree that the ingredient list doesn’t prepare you for the magic of the finished dish. It’s one of those mysteries that I’d prefer remain mysterious—but I’m glad to be able to pay it forward.

  10. Well now I’m kind of terrified NOT to try this soup. A) Because I fear I’d miss out on something delicious, and 2) Even if you do have scrawny arms you probably still have more upper body strength than I do.

    So needless to say I’ll be trying this soup ASAP.

    1. Soup tastes better than fear. Just go ahead and make the soup, and it’ll be allllll goooood.

      (Takes off bully costume.)

      Thanks for reading, Molly! Hope you enjoy the soup.

  11. Guess what I’m making for dinner???


    Hope it’s okay that I use homemade chicken stock and garnish with bacon.

    1. Hooray! Of COURSE it’s okay, although I have to say that this is the rare soup that I think is truly just as good made with water. I’m not usually a believer, but for some reason it just works here. Bacon, of course, is unimpeachable.

  12. Jill

    Mmm… too bad I don’t have all those ingredients on hand. I know, I know. Its the lentils & rice… guess I’ll have to start stocking those because I’m sure this soup is as good as it looks! With a snow day today and all… it would have been the perfect time to try it. Humph. Ah well… I’ll have to wait until I can dig my way out to a store. :o) xo

    1. You’d just better hope you get plowed out before I do, so I won’t have to come…errmm….plow you out with my fists to preserve my reputation as a thug. Wait, eww.

      See what a natural I am with them fighting words? Look out!

  13. Yearnfully good soup.

    It mends chinks in your soul and leaves lovely warm feelings with its taste and the lemon’s tang.

    Just so good.

    – Cope

    1. Awwwws. Now I want some more.

  14. Kalynskitchen

    How could this possibly taste bad? I’m sold.

    1. Whew! Kalyn, I wouldn’t want to have to fight you. You seem so nice and supportive. Also, I think you could probably take me if it came to it.

  15. cheryl

    First of all, please don’t hurt me. Even though your soup doesn’t contain magical leafy greens, I am still very much on your side.

    Second, I have an Indian grocery store near me that sells a gigantic bag of red lentils for $6. I mean, this bag is GIGANTIC, so it’s quite a deal.

    Third, I have never put arborio rice in a soup. Why is a question I cannot answer.

    And fourth, when we finally meet, I challenge you to an arm wrestle. Loser makes the winner a pot of lentil soup. Deal — or no deal?

    1. You can’t beat lentils for price. Between the lentils and the water instead of stock, it’s possible this soup actually pays you to eat it. Hmm.

      I only recently switched to arborio in this soup, and it works wonders for slight creaminess. Layla herself turned me on to the idea after having made the switch.

      And. Arm wrestling. Deal, of course. But I’ll just bring the soup with me in advance, what with my scrawny arms and everything I’ve heard about your new and improved biceps.