Red Lentil Soup

Photo by Seyma Bayram

Photo by Seyma Bayram

This delicious red lentil soup, called mercimek çorbası in Turkish, is popular throughout the Middle East. It is a nutritious and easy-to-make staple that you’ll find at someone’s home or at a lokanta—a small, no-frills restaurant offering affordable, home-style meals to working-class men and women in Turkey. Best of all, this dish requires ingredients that keep well in a pantry.

Serve it with a chunk of hearty bread if you have some lying around.

Red Lentil Soup

Cook and prep time: approximately 45 minutes

Serves 4 to 6, depending on appetite


1 ¼ cup red lentils, rinsed and drained

2 tbsp white rice

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 large potato, chopped into small cubes

1 carrot, chopped into small cubes

4 tbsp tomato paste

2 tsp salt (or to taste)

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 tsp ground cumin

7 cups water

2 tbsp olive oil

1 lemon

Garnish (optional):

Fresh or dried mint

1 tbsp butter

1 tsp ground red pepper (Turkish, Korean or Aleppo pepper flakes work best, but you can substitute ground chili or cayenne pepper)


In a large pot over medium heat, sautée the onions and carrots in olive oil for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the potatoes, lentils, rice, tomato paste, water and the juice of half a lemon and boil for about 30 minutes on medium-low heat with the lid partially on. Stir occasionally to make sure the lentils don’t get stuck to the bottom of the pot. Add the salt, black pepper, and cumin.

Purée the soup in a food processor (optional).

Quarter the remaining half of the lemon and serve on the side.

To make the garnish, melt the butter over medium-high heat in a small pan and add the red pepper. Stir frequently until the butter bubbles for 10 seconds or so (be careful not to burn it!). Pour a tiny bit of the butter mixture on each bowl of soup, and sprinkle some mint on top.


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