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  • Writer's pictureMallory Warner

North African-inspired Lentil Soup

Inspired by the setting for this month’s book club novel In the Country of Others, I decided to throw together a spicy, North African-inspired lentil soup. A graduate school professor taught me how to make this simple dish and it became a staple during those student days. What I love about this recipe is that you can update it according to your taste preferences and the ingredients you have on hand, such as carrots, tomatoes or bell peppers. This dish can be enjoyed as your main meal or as a starter.

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 1 Hour

1 Tbs Olive Oil

2 small yellow onions (small red onions are also fine) diced

2 garlic cloves, diced (if you're a garlic girl like me, use more)

1 Tbs ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

½ tsp cayenne pepper

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp smoked paprika

Chili flakes

2 cup dried red lentils

4 cups water or vegetable broth


Lemons, quartered

Chopped cilantro or parsley (optional)

Harissa (optional)

Olive Oil

Add olive oil to a large dutch oven over medium heat.

Once hot, add onions and garlic into the pan, cook until translucent, about 2-3 minutes.

Add spices and stir until fragrant. To add more heat, you can increase the amount of cayenne or chili flakes.

Rinse the lentils in cold water until water runs clear. Drain and add to spice and onion mixture. Cook for 5 minutes.

Add water/broth and stir, bringing the liquid to a boil.

Generously salt the soup. Lentils need a lot of seasoning, so add salt and continue to taste throughout the cooking process. If you are using a vegetable broth, you may not need to add as much salt as you would if you are using water or other liquid, such as canned diced tomatoes.

Once the soup is at a boil, turn to low heat and cover. Keep an eye on the soup, checking every few minutes to see how much liquid the lentils have soaked up. If you have thirsty lentils, you may need to add more liquid throughout the cooking process.

Cook until lentils are soft, almost dissolving into the soup. You can either blend with an immersion blender to make a smooth soup or keep the lentils in their state for more of a stew-like texture. Do not blend if you’re using other vegetables such as diced carrots or bell peppers.

Be sure to taste the soup to see if it needs any more spice or flavor. When I make this recipe, I usually have to add more cumin or cinnamon. Again, this soup is wonderful because it can be adjusted to your liking.

Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice and cilantro or parsley.

Drizzle olive oil and/or add harissa for more spice.

Serve with crusty bread or pita.

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