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Lentil soup – simple, tasty, healthy, hearty and frugal

September 25, 2013

My Middle Eastern cookery education started with a bang when I moved to Saudi Arabia. Housed on a compound I had access only to a small grocery store. Unless I joined the compound shopping bus trip or asked KP to drive me to the supermarket I had a very limited choice. We shared our apartment with a bachelor (long story) and my batterie de cuisine consisted of a frying pan, a saucepan, a wooden spoon and an inadequate knife. There were three plates, forks, knives and spoons (they’d bought an extra one of each for my arrival). Nearly 18 years on and how things have changed and my kitchen cupboards are full to bursting – but in those pre-childen days, with time on my hands, I did everything the old-fashioned way, from scratch and without the aid of gadgets.

The first recipe I was given was for lentil soup, by a work colleague’s wife (KP’s work colleague as I wasn’t officially allowed to be employed). This guy was flamboyant and known for wearing suits of every colour from light green to pale pink and his wife also dressed up to the nines. However, this soup couldn’t be more modest and it’s part of home cooking throughout the Middle East. Some restaurants serve it free of charge as an appetiser, flavoured with chicken broth made from the bones of meat destined for shawarma.

The handwritten recipe was so simple – sauté 1 chopped onion and 1 chopped carrot in a little olive oil. Add 1 cup of rinsed lentils and 3 cups of water. Simmer for 20 minutes, season to taste and add a teaspoon of cumin and some lemon juice to serve. I haven’t changed it much but use Claudia Roden‘s proportions, stock instead of water and sometimes add celery.

This is the ultimate in low-cost, body-and-spirit-warming comfort food. Homemade stock is good but a quality stock cube is fine (I use Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon). I also like a lot of lemon juice added at the end – but I have ridiculous cravings for lemon. There are many variations of this with spinach or potato for instance. Marrow bone is a fine thing to add and garlic croutons make it luxurious.

chopping onions

Lentil soup


3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
375g red lentils, washed and drained
2 litres of chicken or vegetable stock (home-made is great but a stock cube is fine)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 lemon, juiced

Serves 6


  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or stock pot.
  2. Add the onion and carrot and sauté until the vegetables are soft and the onion is transparent, but do not allow to brown.
  3. Put the red lentils into the saucepan, followed immediately by the hot stock and stir well.  Leave to simmer for about 25 minutes or until the lentils are very soft. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Purée with a stick blender, in a food processor or Vitamix, rub through a sieve or crush with a potato masher. Add the cumin and lemon juice to taste. Return to the heat to warm through, then serve.

Pack your lunch.

Soup is so simple to make and really satisfying as a packed lunch. Imagine the aroma and the look on your work colleagues faces as you unscrew the cap of your flask and pour out a cup of warm, fragrant goodness. Chunky vegetable soups are great for using up odds and ends in the fridge and smooth soups like roasted tomato could hardly be easier.  If you have a hearty appetite, soup and sandwich make a great combination. I’d suggest smoked turkey ham and mustard on granary bread to go with the recipe below. Pour soup into a wide-mouthed flask and eat with a crunchy, roll of bread.

UAE Saves Week 2013

I’m posting recipes and ideas that are great for packed lunches this week – some are already up on the site if you want to plan ahead. There are other non-food related, practical activities every single day, find out what’s on here and don’t forget to use #UAEsaves on your pics, posts and tweets.

P.S. Vote for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. 14 stellar wine writing posts to choose from, only one vote. Please cast yours now.

What were your first kitchen tools? Do you have a favourite soup recipe?

  1. September 25, 2013 9:01 am

    For some reason I can never fathom, I’m not a great fan of soup but could eat dal every day. The variations of this simple lentil recipe are incredible and I always judge an Indian restaurant by the quality of its dal. You will be pleased to hear that I like a good squeeze of lemon in it…

    • September 25, 2013 1:48 pm

      Vege teen is like that which is a bit irksome. We’re also dhal fanatics in our household.

  2. September 25, 2013 9:19 am

    Now this I do miss! Thanks for the recipe Sally…will try to make this at home 🙂

    • September 25, 2013 1:49 pm

      It’s true – the simple things you miss most. What are you enjoying most (food wise) about your new home?

  3. September 25, 2013 9:47 am

    Simple, but oh so delicious and comforting! The kind of soup I love to make…



  4. September 25, 2013 9:50 am

    How simple! Soups are perfect for all occasions and a great way to fill-up heathily my hungry wolf teen in his growth spurts. Adore lemon just like you the more the merrier! xox

    • September 25, 2013 1:50 pm

      Wolf teen – ha ha …you have a boy 🙂

  5. September 25, 2013 11:33 am

    We are having a bit of a lentil revival. Ed has been making delicious dal and if there is some left over it gets added to soup. Love the simplicity of that original recipe.

    How different your life must seem now to those first days.

    • September 25, 2013 1:51 pm

      You cannot begin to imagine….:)

  6. September 25, 2013 11:38 am

    Simple, nutritious and delicious! I’ve never added lemon before though – I’ll have to try that…

    • September 25, 2013 1:51 pm

      The lemon adds freshness and sharpness to the earthy lentils and cumin. Do try…

  7. September 25, 2013 1:11 pm

    Delightful and so light. It is creamy without the addition of cream.

  8. September 25, 2013 2:39 pm

    In my first uni share house, we had three of anything we didn’t need (previous housemates…) and none of what we did need (like a good knife). Still, it was where I started to learn to cook, I still remember our dinner staple of spaghetti and canned sardines with nostalgia..

  9. September 25, 2013 2:47 pm

    This kind of soup is my go-to when I need a quick comforting soup. Not much beats a good old-fashioned lentil soup, especially one with a backstory. But I have a big appetite and ideally would have it with a slab of good bread that’s been smeared with ripe avocado and dusted with za’atar. Glad to see your batterie de cuisine has filled out – good knives are a non-negiotiable for me!

  10. September 25, 2013 3:14 pm

    Lovely post as always Sally. I’m a big fan of lentil soup, made some at the weekend for my week day lunches funnily enough! I love adding lots of lemon too, sometimes chilli. Also find it’s brilliant for those days when I’m trying my best not to overeat as it keeps you full for ages.

  11. September 25, 2013 5:22 pm

    It’s a sure sign of winter in this house when the lentil soup is made – I normally add bacon and use ham stock in my recipe but I’m looking forward to trying this recipe too! Thanks x

  12. Ani permalink
    September 25, 2013 5:26 pm

    Absolutely love lentils! I have recipes including lentil tacos and lentil “meat”loaf on my blog that are my staple vegetarian meals.

  13. September 25, 2013 5:53 pm

    lentil soup is a staple in our diet. it’s just so comforting and warming! Thanks for sharing your version xx

  14. September 25, 2013 6:25 pm

    It’s always the simple flavours that stand the test of time. Lovely soup Sally.
    I remember similar simplicities of our home when we lived in Mauritius as well as me not officially being allowed to work.
    Have a super day.
    😉 Mandy xo

  15. Ginny permalink
    September 25, 2013 7:26 pm

    I so remember you inviting me to yours one Thursday evening when Chris was away and your lentil soup was just a great big foodie hug, just what I needed to lift my spirits and get me through the rest of the weekend with three small children and no husband – I think only ex-Saudi bods will understand quite how depressing a solo weekend was! I still make this soup and it still has magical cheering up properties by its sheer deliciousness!

    • September 25, 2013 7:40 pm

      Gosh it was wasn’t it – I’d forgotten how torn I felt when KP went off on his only full day off to play golf. I wanted him to enjoy himself but was utterly depressed by another day stuck in the house with small children and few choices available. So glad you still make this soup. Your comment made my day (just had a stroppy teen yell at me… understand!)

  16. Karen permalink
    September 25, 2013 9:15 pm

    Thanks for the recipe Sally, I made it for lunch today (added a bit of turmeric and chilli) and it was delicious – thanks for reminding me of lentil soup – I seem to have got stuck in green lentil Dahl mode for the last few months! Love reading your posts xxx

    • September 25, 2013 10:57 pm

      Tumeric is THE North African spice so I’m not surprised you added it. I must try adding chilli – KP insists on adding it to everything so not sure why it’s never made it into this recipe. So glad to hear from you and thanks for the very kind words. Need to walk off some of this food some time… 🙂

  17. September 26, 2013 2:11 am

    I taught a class last night with a lentil, carrot and orange soup. So comforting and perfect for the chilly fall weather!

  18. September 26, 2013 4:57 am

    One of my favorites, always look forward to a pot!

  19. recipesfromapantry permalink
    September 26, 2013 3:41 pm

    Everyone should have a recipe for lentil soup – its one of the best things for warming you up.

  20. September 26, 2013 8:05 pm

    Love a good lentil soup! This recipe looks awesome and so easy 🙂

  21. September 27, 2013 1:17 pm

    A simple yet very flavourful cumin lentil soup! Yum Yum Yum! x

  22. September 28, 2013 12:41 am

    I love how versatile lentil soup is. add a tarka of various spices and you have a dhal, add some crumbled feta and oregano and you have something middle eastern, add some garlic cheese bread and you are in france. Brilliant base recipe for the cupboard


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