Belinda Jeffery

Middle Eastern lentil soup

I almost feel as though this heady, spicy soup is some sort of magic elixir – it is the dish I turn to whenever I’m feeling a bit below par or need comforting. With each spoonful I can feel it weaving its spell; warming me up and sending all sorts of goodies scurrying through my body to fight off bugs and build up my immune system.  I’ll often add a handful of baby spinach leaves to the pan just before I take it off the heat for a little bit of ‘green’ and always have chunks of pide bread close by for dunking.

I like to use freshly ground spices, however, if this isn’t possible for you, then try to buy your ground spices from a reliable source that has a steady turnover, as once they’re ground the flavour dissipates quite quickly.


Serves 6 – 8

500g lentils (I use whatever lentils I have on hand…they all work well)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 onions, finely chopped

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 ½ teaspoons sea salt

2 small red chillies, finely chopped

2 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger

3 teaspoons freshly ground cumin seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder

1 teaspoon freshly ground coriander seeds

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

2.25 litres (9 cups) water or homemade chicken stock

Juice of 2-3 limes (or substitute lemon juice), to taste

Sea salt, extra

A little plain yoghurt, extra virgin olive oil, cracked black pepper, and herb sprigs, to garnish

Pide bread, warmed, to serve

Thoroughly wash and drain the lentils. To do this, I usually put them in a big fine sieve and swish them around in lots of cold water, changing the water regularly. Initially the water will be cloudy, particularly with the red lentils, but after a few goes it will clear. While they’re in the sieve, stir the lentils around to check for any little bits of gravel or dirt as they’re notoriously gritty.


Pour the oil into a large saucepan then warm it over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and salt to the pan and cook for 15 minutes, stirring them from time to time.  Now add the chillies, ginger, cumin, curry powder, coriander, cinnamon, sweet Hungarian paprika and smoked paprika to the pan. Cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes or so to bring out the fragrance of the spices.


Now tip the  lentils into the pan. Mix them in well and cook , stirring occasionally, for another few minutes. Pour the measured water (or stock) into the pan. Increase the heat to high and bring it to the boil. Once it’s bubbling merrily, reduce the heat to low and simmer the soup gently, partially covered, for about 25 minutes until the lentils are very soft (puy-style lentils may well take longer to soften.)


When the soup is ready, cool it slightly then puree it. Ideally use a stick blender for this so you can do it all in the pan. Add lime or lemon juice and extra sea salt to taste – it’s worth fiddling with this a bit to get the balance just right.


To serve the soup, ladle it into warm bowls. Stir the yoghurt to loosen it and spoon some on top of each bowl, then finish with a drizzle of olive oil, cracked black pepper, and a few herb leaves. Serve with plenty of warm pide bread for dunking.


(The soups keep well for at least 5 days in tightly sealed container in the fridge and only improves in flavour over time.)