One of my go-to favorites year-round, but especially during Ramadan, is lentil soup. I thought I’d find the main ingredient in the grocery store easily this year, because who uses lentils? I didn’t have much luck, either at my regular grocery store or at any others nearby. Who would have thought that it would be so hard to find them? I guess more people are cooking and realizing that certain things, like lentils, are good to have on hand, because they don’t exactly expire. I was finally able to get some by way of an online order from a bulk supplier. And then I could make my soup.
When you’re cold, lentil soup is a great way to warm up. If it’s a hot summer day and you don’t want to turn on the oven and heat up the apartment, it’s an easy stovetop dish.
In the Middle East there are many different versions of what is known in Arabic as “shorbat adas.” And in Ramadan, it’s heavily featured in some households. It’s easy to make, and it’s filling and nutritious after a day of fasting. Traditionally some families break their fast with a date and a bowl of soup before they make the early evening prayer and then start on the full dinner meal.
The lentil soup I ate growing up was the result of my mom throwing whatever she had on hand into the pot with the lentils. I almost feel like it should be called “everything but the kitchen sink soup.”
Because of the way I learned the recipe from my mom, what I make might be considered blasphemous to the purists out there, but my excuse is that I come from a mixed background—my father is from Lebanon and my mother is from the Midwest—and everything we make gets adapted into our own fusion at some point.
Lentil soup is so versatile you can flavor it in endless ways with whatever spices you have on hand. I love that you can think of the lentils as the base for the soup dish and then add to it.
This is my go-to lentil soup recipe. What’s yours?
- Orange lentils (one cup for every 2-3 people)
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 small yellow onion
- 2-3 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. pepper
- 2 tsp. cumin
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- Carrots (optional)
- Potatoes (optional)
Put lentils into a bowl and pour cold water on top. Move the lentils around in the bowl with your hand, then drain the water. Keep doing this until the water runs clear and you’ve been able to take out any debris that may have been mixed in. On the rare occasion I’ve found small stones, so you want to be careful. Once you have your lentils ready put them to the side.
Mash or chop 3 cloves of garlic and chop up a small yellow onion. Throw them in a saucepan and saute them in about 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil on low heat.
Add the lentils to the sauce pan and toss for a few seconds along with the salt, pepper, cumin, and cinnamon, then pour 6-8 cups of water (or broth, if you want to use that instead) and let it boil. After it begins to boil, turn the heat down and let it simmer on low for about an hour.
Keep an eye on how the soup is coming together. You don’t want it to get so thick that it feels like hummus. If that seems to be happening, slowly add more liquid, about half a cup at a time. Depending on how you like your soup you can use more or less water.
Once the soup is done cooking you can pour it in a blender or use an immersion blender to smooth out the texture. I like to eat it as-is, even if it’s not super smooth and creamy.
Before you dig in, squeeze some lemon on top of your soup. The tart flavor goes well with the cumin.
That’s a very simple, basic recipe. You can dress it up by adding chopped carrots or potatoes. You can add more or less of the spices. It’s all dependent on your taste and what you like. If you want your lentils to be very bright and colorful then go the carrot route.