Tips for Making the Best Lentil Soup

Advice on choosing lentils, broth, and vegetables and making it vegan or meaty—plus a reminder that it doesn't take that long to make lentil soup.

lentil soup

When it's cold, everyone needs a comforting bowl of soup, and lentil soup wins on so many levels. Lentils are pulses, a member of the legume family, and they are protein-packed: One cup of cooked lentils has 6 to 18 grams of protein and is also an excellent source of soluble fiber. And unlike dried beans, lentils cook quickly, making them a great choice for a speedy, satisfying soup from scratch. Here are some tips for ensuring lentil soup perfection.

Choosing Your Lentils

What to use? Lentils come in different sizes and colors ranging from yellow and red to green and brown and vary slightly in flavor and texture. The good news is you can use any type of lentil in lentil soup. The other good news: Lentils don't need to soak as beans do (though you do need to sort and rinse them before cooking).

Different types of lentils cook in different amounts of time. Red lentils are the fastest cooking and they dissolve as they cook and make for a smooth soup. Others, such as green and brown lentils, hold their shape and make a soup with more texture.

It Doesn't Take Long

Our shortcut 15-Minute Lentil Soup uses pre-cooked canned lentils for speed but even when using dried lentils you can get a hearty, nutritious soup on the table in 30 to 45 minutes depending on the type of lentils and vegetables you use. The Easy Lentil Soup, pictured above, takes just 45 minutes. Whatever recipe you use, cook the soup until the lentils are tender but not mushy and any vegetables are cooked through.

Liquid Matters

A basic rule of soup-making is that better-quality broth will create a more richly flavored soup. Chicken or vegetable stock is most often used, but if you have some homemade lamb stock in the freezer, that would create a deeply flavorful base; beef stock is also delicious.

The Flavor Base

A little onion and garlic sautéed in olive oil are all you need to form a flavor base for the soup. A mixture of carrots, onion, and celery brings more aromatic flavors, like in our classic Lentil Vegetable Soup.

It's Easy Going Vegan

Yes, you can make a really delicious lentil soup without bacon. There are so many ways to create a richly flavored soup sans meat—with types of lentils, vegetables, herbs, and spices. Try our Vegan Lentil Soup made with French lentils, coriander and cumin, plus crushed tomatoes, and broccoli rabe or make any of our meatless lentil soup recipes using vegetable stock or water rather than chicken stock.)

Meaty Additions

Should you want a meaty bowl, bacon, sausage or ham hocks are the pork parts most often called for in lentil soup recipes. Try Lentil Soup with Sausage and Kale or Red Lentil Soup with Bacon for protein-packed options.

Go All in for Vegetables

The options are endless: root vegetables such as parsnips, rutabaga, and turnips, add a subtle sweetness to the soup. Mushrooms up the umami factor, while tomatoes can stand in for some of the broth and brighten the flavors. Greens, like Swiss chard, can be added close to the end of cooking.

Change It Up

Lentils are the starting point. Depending on the herbs and spices you use, your soup can be altogether different. Go classic with thyme and bay, or try curry flavors or fresh ginger. Garnish with cilantro or parsley or chives when you serve. Start your soup using the same lentils and vegetables and broth combination, but change it up each time by using a different combination of spices or adding parsley and grated Parmesan when you serve. It's an easy way to it make different and delicious but still easy to cook and cozy too.

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