This is my go-to soup recipe when I can’t be bothered to look up a recipe. It’s wholesome and tasty and ridiculously simple.
It’s based on a Turkish lentil soup that I ate on my travels and it is really simple. Its simplicity belies the years that I spent searching for it. The one that I remember probably cost 50 cents and was served to me in Goreme, Cappadocia (the place with all the hot air balloons). It was a simple cheap soup that you find on menus everywhere in the country. And yet, I couldn’t recreate it at home.
You see, all of the Turkish red lentil soups recipes that I could find involve tomato paste, or red pepper paste, or some other red ingredient. Years passed. I tried adding bits of this and that and still got no closer.
Then I came across a book by Leanne Kitchen (which is a really great travelogue if you’re interested in Turkey as well as recipe book, though it’s large and doesn’t sit easily on the shelf) and suddenly understood that I’d been adding when I should have been subtracting. Take the tomato paste away, bump up the lemon, and it was exactly what I was looking for.
The beauty of this recipe is its simplicity, sure. But it’s also really really cheap and really really easy. I’ve lived off variations of lentil soup soup (or my Gran’s similar yellow split pea soup recipe) for years when short of cash or saving for something. It was a staple during student years and my early twenties when I would cook up a big batch that would do me a week of lunches.
I even liked it as a kid – just make sure you cook the lentils down enough so they lose that fibrous pulsey texture.
This is where it helps if you live in a soft water area. I could never get my soups like my Gran’s and it flummoxed me for years until I realised it was the hard water where I live. You could try using filtered water or soaking the lentils before use, but to be honest that seems to negate the point of a really quick and simple soup. You can always whizz it up at the end with a stick blender for a smoother finish.
The lemon is key though, it brightens the soup and makes it sing. But then I’m particularly partial to sour flavours as I love the punch. If that’s not you then do dial it down a bit.
If you’re new to cooking pulses and lentils then red lentils are the best ones to start with as they’re the quickest to cook and break down. A big bag of dried lentils is a great storecupboard essential (check ethnic supermarkets for big bags of pulses at bargain prices).
Personally I’m of the opinion that most soups can be improved by a few easy toppings – if I’m feeling fancy (like in the photos) then a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil, a dollop of natural yoghurt, some toasted seeds or spices, or a scattering of fresh herbs. But this is entirely optional and most of the time I won’t bother with all that jazz.
- 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup dried red lentils (around 200g)
- 4 cups of broth (chicken or vegetable - around 1 litre)
- juice of 1/2 lemon
1. Chop the onion, somewhere between a fine and a rough chop will do.
2. In a heavy bottomed pot, warm the oil over a low-to-medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes or so until the onion is slightly translucent, stirring every now and then.
3. Add the lentils to the pan and stir to coat with the oil.
4 Add stock.
5. Increase the heat and bring to a boil.
6. Lower the heat to a summer and cook for 20 minutes or so until the lentils have broken down. Stir occasionally and add more water if it becomes too thick.
7. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon, season to taste.
This quantity will make 4 small bowls, but I use it for 2 big bowls with a bit for leftovers.
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