lentil cooking

As soups go, this one enjoys near-mythic status.

Ginger made it several years ago at a book club she hosted.

“What is that spice?” we wondered. “Curry?”

“Turmeric,” she replied. “And cardamom.”

“What are we eating?” we asked. “Tomatoes?”

“Red lentils,” she answered.

Since that night, we’ve made the soup countless times. Some of us stick to Ginger’s technique, throwing everything into a pot of water, then waiting for the magic to happen. Others tweak the recipe, layering the Middle Eastern-inspired spices in a bath of olive oil and simmering the lentils with chicken or vegetable broth.

lentil soup2However we do it, this dish is kitchen alchemy: A few simple ingredients — red lentils, aromatics, coconut and lime — morph into a soup that’s hearty enough for a main dish, yet light enough for a side. A soup that’s classy enough to start a multi-course dinner, yet homey enough to slurp from a mug. This is the soup we feed our families when they ail; the soup we give our guests to make them welcome; the soup we whip up on busy weeknights and leisurely Sundays. It’s the soup our friend craved and asked for a few short days before she died.

Yes, near-mythic status, this soup. It’s a soup to savor.

It’s a soup to share.

 Ginger’s Mythic Lentil Soup


  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 1/3 cups red lentils, rinsed and drained
  • 3 3/4 cups water, chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • 1 14-ounce can coconut milk
  • Juice of 1 lime

Roughly chop the onion, garlic and tomatoes.

Glaze a soup pot with olive oil. Add the onion and garlic. Season with salt and pepper, then saute over low heat until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add the spices and stir for 30 seconds to a minute.

Add the lentils and tomatoes and stir well to combine.

lentil cookedPour in the liquid. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and cover the pan. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the lentils are very tender. Cool at least 20 minutes, then remove the cinnamon stick.

Carefully transfer half of the lentil mixture to a blender. Shake the coconut milk well and add half of it to the blender. Whir on high speed until the mixture is pureed. Transfer to a clean pot.

Repeat with the remaining lentils and coconut milk. Add to the first pureed mixture.

Stir well, then squeeze in the juice of a lime. Stir again and taste. Add more lime juice, salt or pepper if needed.