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Layla is my college roommate and lifelong friend. After 20+ years, her 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.

red lentil soup (instant pot or stovetop) in a white bowl
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Why we love this recipe

Every family has a handful of signature recipes. And this signature recipe now has more than a handful of families. With just a few ingredients and a level of taste and comfort that goes beyond, it’s practically stone soup. It’s:

  • So simple, yet so satisfying
  • Vegan and gluten-free
  • Make-ahead and freezer-friendly

It’s no wonder so many of you have incorporated it into your culinary repertoire throughout the years.

What you’ll need

Here’s a glance at the ingredients you’ll need to make this recipe.

ingredients in bowls
  • Red lentils (sometimes called masoor) are a wonderful, versatile ingredient. They’re small and quick-cooking, full of protein and complex carbs, and great at soaking up flavors. There are several varieties commonly sold in the U.S., some smaller and redder, some a little bigger and more peach-colored. You can use them all interchangeably.
  • In the original recipe, cumin is the only spice. These days I also add coriander, paprika, and turmeric. You can make it either way.
  • Arborio rice is the same short-grain rice you’ll find in risotto, and its starchiness helps create a slightly creamy soup. You can substitute carnarloni (also a favorite for risotto), any type of short-grained rice that you’d use for sushi, or even, in a pinch, the longer-grained but totally delicious basmati rice.

How to make it

Here’s what you’ll do to make red lentil soup (Instant Pot or stovetop). You can see the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get all the details in the recipe card below.

step by step in the instant pot
  1. If you like, sauté the onion in two tablespoons of olive oil until softened. I normally dispense with this step and add all ingredients to a pot or Instant Pot.
  2. If cooking on the stovetop, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until lentils are falling-apart tender, about an hour.
  3. If cooking in the Instant Pot, set to manual, high pressure, for 10 minutes. Pot will take a while to come up to pressure and then start counting down. After cooking time ends, carefully perform a natural pressure release.
  4. Soup is ready to eat! It will thicken up a bit as it sits, which I like. It’s great with a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Expert tips and FAQs

Do I need to soak the lentils?

For this recipe, whether you’re cooking on the stovetop or in the IP, you really don’t need to soak the lentils in advance to help them cook. They’ll cook quickly regardless. (If you eat a heavily plant-based, unprocessed diet and are concerned about phytates and bioavailability, you can feel free to soak them.)

Do be sure to rinse the lentils until the water runs clear.

Can I make this recipe in advance?

Yes! It keeps well in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week, or freeze it for up to a year. We almost always have a batch in the freezer to defrost for busy nights.

More favorite red lentil recipes

red lentil soup (instant pot or stovetop) in a white bowl

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red lentil soup (instant pot or stovetop) in a white bowl
4.79 from 14 votes

Red Lentil Soup (Instant Pot or Stovetop)

By Carolyn Gratzer Cope
I always make either a double or triple batch of Layla's lentil 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: 10 minutes
Cook: 1 hour
Total: 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings: 4
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Ingredients 

  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil (optional)
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1 cup (140 grams) dry red lentils, rinsed
  • ¼ cup (45 grams) arborio rice
  • 6 cups 1(420 ml) water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper

Instructions 

Stovetop Instructions

  • In a medium pot with a heavy bottom, heat the oil over medium-high heat.
  • Add the onion and 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.

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.
  • Place all ingredients into the Instant Pot. The olive oil is completely optional.
  • 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.)
  • 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.)
  • Give your soup a stir, and it’s ready to eat!

Step-by-step video

Notes

  1. 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, AND 1/2 teaspoon ground sweet paprika (plus the 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper listed in the recipe).
  2. 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.
  3. Alternatives to arborio rice include carnarloni and other short-grained rice varieties, including any that you’d use for sushi. In a pinch, you can use a long-grain rice instead, but it won’t contribute quite as much creaminess.
  4. 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
  5. You can make this soup in advance. Leftovers keep well in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week, or freeze for up to a year.
I first shared this recipe on Umami Girl in 2011.

Nutrition

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

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Soups
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Tried this recipe?Mention @umamigirl or tag #umamigirl!

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Carolyn Gratzer Cope Bio Photo

About Carolyn Gratzer Cope

Hi there, I'm Carolyn Gratzer Cope, founder and publisher of Umami Girl. Join me in savoring life, one recipe at a time. I'm a professional recipe developer with training from the French Culinary Institute (now ICE) and a lifetime of studying, appreciating, and sharing food.

4.79 from 14 votes (14 ratings without comment)

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28 Comments

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

    Lisa

  3. 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! 🙂