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.
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.
- 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
- 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!
*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