Eight Important Factors to Consider When Making Lentil Soup
Hearty and nutritious, vegan or meaty, lentil soup has many forms. Make it a staple of your cold-weather cooking by following our rules to soup success.
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 six to 18 grams of protein and is also an excellent source of soluble fiber. And unlike their beany kin, lentils cook quickly, making them a great choice for a speedy, satisfying soup made in just one pot.
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, texture, and cooking time. 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). That's two reasons why lentil soup is such a winner.
Different types of lentils cook in different amounts of time. Some, like red lentils, 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.
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.
It's Easy Going Vegan
There are so many ways to create a richly flavored soup without meat—with types of lentils, vegetables, herbs, and spices. Yes, you can make a really delicious lentil soup without bacon. (For a vegan soup, make any of our meatless lentil soup recipes using vegetable stock or water rather than chicken stock.)
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.
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 unami factor, while tomatoes 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 curry flavors or fresh ginger. Garnish with cilantro or parsley or chives when you serve. Always start the 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 Doesn't Take Long
Even when making the entire soup from scratch, a meal like this Red Lentil and Squash Curry Soup can be ready in as little as 30 minutes. Just cook the soup until lentils are tender but not mushy and any vegetables are cooked through. We recommend choosing red lentils for the fastest-cooking soup.