Lemony Red Lentil Soup


For starters, this is not my recipe.  Thanks to Melissa Clark from the New York Times who originally described this soup in 2008, this recipe has been floating around Facebook in a more recent post on my feed.  Multiple people have shared it and one of our team members who is currently trying a vegan lifestyle made it and told me I should give it a go.

Since I fell in love with Ethiopian yemisir wat a few years ago, I tend to associate red lentils more with berbere-like spices.  I wouldn’t have thought to use tomato paste, cumin, lemon, and cilantro if it wasn’t for this recipe.

As luck would have it, I had all the ingredients on hand this weekend. I personally wouldn’t use the words “divine” or “mind blowing” for it, but rather: comforting, soothing, light, homey, tasteful.

Worth making.


Lemony Red Lentil Soup

By Melissa Clark, adapted for oil-free cooking. Serves 4-6 people.


  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon salt OR mushroom seasoning, more to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper, more to taste
  • Pinch of cayenne, more to taste
  • 1 quart (or 4 cups) vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon, more to taste
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro


Using a large nonstick pot, saute the onions first then add the garlic during the last minute. For oil-free cooking, add small amounts of water as needed to keep the vegetables from sticking. Stir in the tomato paste, cumin, salt, pepper, and cayenne and allow to saute for an additional 2 minutes.

Add the broth, water, lentils, and carrot.  After bringing to a boil, drop the heat down to a simmer and partially cover. Cook for an additional 30 minutes or until the lentils are soft and broken down. Taste and add more salt (or mushroom seasoning) as needed.

Using an immersion blender or a food processor, blend half the soup and return it back to the pot. You want the soup to still have some texture – don’t blend it to a puree. Stir in lemon juice and cilantro. If wanted, top with extra chopped cilantro before serving.

Recipe Notes:

  • On the recipe’s comments, someone said something about grating the carrot.  I thought about doing that but changed my mind at the last minute. I imagine it would work lovely, too.
  • This is a simple soup that would serve fine as a backdrop for multiple variations: add diced potatoes, mushrooms, canned chopped tomatoes, barley, bulgur wheat (as the Melissa’s original post describes), spinach, etc.  Of course, it’s always nice to make the original recipe before you change it too much and then say you don’t like how it turned out!

Ethiopian lentil stew: yemisir wat

Between my third and final fourth year of dental school, I decided to sign up for a dental mission trip to Ethiopia that would take place during one of our longest school breaks.  I managed to convince two other classmates to come; additionally, two dental hygiene students with a sense of adventure and that restless travel bug condition had signed up, too.

Hello to Ethiopia and it’s wonderful cuisine. (Not to mention the coffee – but I’ll save that for another time.)

yemisirwat1hAfter spending three weeks there and having experienced traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremonies, traditional food, injera bread, and wats, I realized it was a completely new culinary world I knew nothing about and was one I needed to figure out how to have again when I got home. Living in rural Montana makes it kind of hard to find an Ethiopian restaurant, but I managed to drag my husband and cousins to one in a slightly sketchy part of Atlanta, GA, and we were all blown away.

The flavors!  The spice!  (Oh, and the coffee.)

yemisirwat2vI found out that the primary seasoning ingredient used the most in Ethiopian cooking is a spice blend called berbere (say: BUR-bur-ree). You can consider berbere like the many different kinds of dry curry spice mix you kind find in stores: the specific seasoning mix really varies per person, company, or household that makes it.


I eventually got my hands on some bulk berbere that I personally liked (you can see it here).  Most Ethiopian wats (aka stews or curries) are meat-based, but there are many dishes that can be found made with vegetables or legumes.  After searching online, I ran into a newspaper story that featured an Ethiopian vegetarian feast and immediately was inspired.

I decided to make yemisir wat (aka misir wat). In most of these pictures, I used a different kind of lentil instead of the usual red lentil.  I still prefer red lentils because they break down and turn into a lovely mash (as unappetizing as that word sounds, it works well). There’s no way to get or easily make injera bread for this wat, so a bed of warm rice it is.

We also like like to add more color to our legume meals, so you can see some of the following in the pictures: red cabbage, steamed swiss chard, green onions.yemisirwat5h

Yemisir Wat

Serves approximately 6 people as a main course with another starch


  • 1-1.5 onions (any type), minced
  • 2-4 garlic cloves minced
  • Thumb-sized amount of ginger, grated
  • 0.5-1 tablespoons berbere (adjust later, depends on how spicy your berbere mix is)
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 3 cups water
  • Salt/Braggs Liquid Aminos/soy sauce, to taste


Using a medium sized pot or skillet with a lid to be used later, saute onions till almost translucent, then add the garlic and ginger and saute another 1-2 minutes more till fragrant. Add the lentils and water to the pot and cover.  Bring to a boil, then drop the temperature so the liquid is at a simmer.  Let cook for 30 minutes or till the red lentils are broken up, whichever comes first.  Add your choice of saltiness (salt, Braggs, or soy sauce) to taste, and add more berbere as needed.

This is not as traditional, but I’ve added the following before for variety: small diced potatoes, sliced/diced mushrooms, canned coconut milk to taste.

Recipe Notes:

  • I’ve made this before without the ginger (couldn’t find it in the store!) and it tasted just fine.
  • The first kind of berbere mix was The Silk Road brand and I found it quite hot! While I normally like things spicy-hot, it was a bit much so but with not as much flavor as I preferred. My point is that every berbere mix is different and I tried to give a starting amount in the ingredient list with the tip to taste and add more later as needed!
  • I tend to use Braggs Liquid Aminos the most. When I was somewhere else and didn’t have access to it, soy sauce worked quite well. I imagine salt would work, too, but it tends to lack that final umami taste that the former two options can give to foods.
  • Again, I prefer red lentils because they break up into a nice mash. You’re welcome to try other lentils, but don’t expect them to fall apart.