This richly spiced but not spicy red lentil soup is made thicker and heartier by the addition of cauliflower rice. It’s a complete vegan meal in a bowl, but serve it with a little naan or pita bread if you like.
I take recipe inspiration wherever I can find it–meals in restaurants, descriptions in novels, even online menus for college cafeterias. But twice now I’ve gotten ideas from a friend of mine, Maureen, who didn’t realize at the time that she was contributing to this blog.
The first time was 12 years ago, when my daughter had dinner at her house and came home raving about the meal, particularly the coconut rice. Unfortunately, when I wrote about the recipe for my blog, I neglected to say how I found the recipe, so Maureen was never credited.
This time, I’m giving Maureen full credit for inspiring me to buy red lentils and make this soup. We were chatting and she mentioned that she hadn’t been able to buy red lentils for dinner. Right at that moment, my daughter texted me that she was headed to the Indian grocery store–did I want anything? “Red split lentils!” I texted back immediately, not to rub in the fact that Maureen was without lentils but because just that quickly I developed a craving for them.
We continued to talk about the uses of red lentils, and Maureen mentioned a soup in one of the Moosewood books, I think Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, that contained carrots and tomatoes and that she adapted to her family’s tastes. When I got home to check, I found that that book has two red lentil recipes, but only one of them had tomatoes. It’s been a long time since I’ve made anything exactly as dictated by a recipe, but I decided that night to give the Moosewood Red Lentil Soup with tomatoes a try, as written, except for the oil.
It was a moderate success. I needed to increase the spices a little at the end, and I served it over rice to make it heartier, but my family enjoyed it, with the feeling that it needed a little something.
A few days later I decided to try it again, this time really increasing the seasoning and adding riced cauliflower to it. I kept what I loved about the original recipe, the shredded carrots, and switched out canned tomatoes with green chilies for the fresh tomato in the original.
It was a huge hit. My husband loved it, and my daughter, who originally balked at the idea of having red lentil soup two times in the same week, went back for seconds and even wanted some for lunch the next day. Thank you, Maureen, for the inspiration!
The secret, it turned out, was adding just a little bit of garam masala right before serving. Like the lemon juice, garam masala, in small amounts, brightens the flavors, adding a hint of spice but not overwhelming the other flavors. I make my own, but you can buy it from a spice store or Indian grocery if you prefer.
The red lentils I use are these red split lentils from the Indian grocery. As you can see from the price, they are inexpensive if you can buy them locally, but if you can’t find them, Amazon has a few reasonable choices, with free shipping for Prime members. Be sure that you’re buying split red lentils; whole lentils take much longer to cook.
Lots of Lentil Soups
I think that the addition of this soup to my blog officially proves that lentil soup is one of my favorite things to cook. Here are just 5 (there are more!) of my favorites:
Red Lentil Soup with Cauliflower Rice
- 1 1/2 cups red lentils
- 6 cups water
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 1/2 tablespoons ginger root peeled and grated or minced
- 1 large carrot (1 1/2 cup shredded)
- 1/2 cup green or red bell pepper finely chopped
- 1 large onion chopped
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 12 ounces riced cauliflower (one bag, frozen)
- 3/4 cup canned diced tomatoes and green chilies (such as Rotel brand, see note)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
- sumac optional, to taste
- Check the lentils for debris and rinse well. Put them in a large pot with the water, garlic, and ginger root and begin heating over high heat.
- While the water is warming, shred the carrot and chop the pepper and add them to the pot. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Keep warm.
- While the lentils cook, heat a large non-stick skillet and add the onion to it. Cook, stirring often, until the onion begins to brown. Add a splash of water if the onion sticks or browns too much on the bottom.
- When the onion is a caramel color, add the cumin, coriander, turmeric, and cayenne and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute. Add the riced cauliflower to the pan and stir, scraping the bottom. Cook until the cauliflower is warm.
- Add the contents of the skillet to the lentils along with the tomatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently, to allow the flavors to blend. Just before serving, stir in the lemon juice and garam masala. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with sumac, if desired.
Nutritional info is approximate.
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MariaApril 26, 2018 at 2:54 pm
This sounds delicious Susan! And I love the process of how the recipe came to be–sharing with friends, spur of the moment cravings–red lentils are a great soup go to for me, too, when I haven’t soaked beans or even just because. My challenge will be not roasting the cauliflower and eating it all, so there’s some to make the “rice” with! xo
MariaApril 26, 2018 at 3:47 pm
ps: thanks for the tip about the pinch of garam masala–love knowing that! xo
GiraApril 26, 2018 at 5:04 pm
Looks amazing! Great photos! I have some frozen cauliflower rice in my freezer that needs a purpose, so I will have to try this recipe soon!
Neil JonesApril 27, 2018 at 7:13 am
Just made this. Asolutely delicious.
I used blended plum tomatoes with a couple of chillis of choice! Then added this to the mix.
JanellaApril 27, 2018 at 1:32 pm
I have everything to make this! I’m going to make it this weekend. Dinner solved!
CleVeganApril 27, 2018 at 1:49 pm
Thanks for the recipe, Susan.
Does the water for the lentils ever boil, or do you just heat it until you are done shredding the carrot and chopping the pepper?
(I shred carrots and keep them in zipper bags in my freezer)
My red lentils often seem to take longer to get soft even if I boil them.
Susan VoisinApril 27, 2018 at 4:14 pm
Yes, I should have specified that you should bring the lentils to a boil before lowering the heat and covering. Since I’m shredding the carrots and chopping the peppers, my lentils were boiling by the time I added them. They often do take longer to cook; I think it depends on the age of the lentils.
BeckyApril 28, 2018 at 1:03 am
Trader Joe’s sells red lentils that I love and use a lot.
Michael BreitensteinApril 28, 2018 at 1:53 pm
and if you are doing weight watchers like me it’s a completely free soup
i’m going to try it soon
love your food
Ilene UngerleiderApril 29, 2018 at 8:49 am
Didn’t realize until I got home that Rotel tomatoes have cilantro in them. I returned them and am using tomatoes plus chopped chiles. I cannot eat cilantro. The soup s delicious and nutritious. Thanks so much for all that you provide us vegan home cooks.
VaaganMay 1, 2018 at 3:40 am
I could not agree more about the cilantro thing. It literally tastes like soap to me. Whenever I am served cilantro in any meal, and often it is in Mexican and Middle Eastern food, I simply cannot eat it.
Anyway. Thumbs up to the blog author here – great post, and the food pictures are stunning! 🙂
AliosnMay 1, 2018 at 4:07 pm
My son and I made this last night and really enjoyed it. We made just one small change – we picked a couple of large silver beet (chard) leaves, chopped them into smallish pieces and added them about 5 minutes before the end.
Carolyn BlakeneyMay 11, 2018 at 7:39 pm
Great idea; greens are a wonderful addition to lentil soups. I usually use spinach because it is more easily available here but when the garden gets going again, I will have chard!
Rhonda @ Change In SecondsMay 1, 2018 at 5:10 pm
Wow that looks delicious!
VirginiaMay 1, 2018 at 8:15 pm
This soup is just amazing! The cauliflower adds a “lightness” to the typical lentil soup that is refreshing. What a wonderful taste – I know this will be on the menu many, many times. Thank you for this recipe – outstanding.
ElizabethMay 5, 2018 at 11:16 am
This looks great! I have never used sumac before- it says to taste. How much is a safe starting amount to add initially? Thanks!
Susan VoisinMay 5, 2018 at 5:46 pm
Just a light sprinkle over the top is enough. It has a tangy taste, so perhaps you should sprinkle it on one area first to make sure you like it.
ColleenMay 5, 2018 at 11:28 am
Has anyone tried this in the instant pot?
MarcyMay 22, 2018 at 2:01 pm
I did today and it came out great! I increased the spices to make up for the IP and cooked it ohigh for 10 minutes.
BarbOctober 7, 2019 at 7:35 am
Did you add all ingredients including cauliflower together and then cook on high for 10 minutes?
Ann-MarieMay 16, 2018 at 4:50 pm
Just made this, and it is as delicious as it looked. Thank you!
torrentsMay 17, 2018 at 1:37 am
This website is great. I find a lot of useful info
DiannaJune 8, 2018 at 11:05 am
I have a question about adding the lemon juice and garam masala. Should I only add it prior to serving? I will be the only one eating this and if I plan to reheat for later meals, should I add it to my individual serving dish each time (a quantity divided by 4 each time)?
DiannaJune 8, 2018 at 11:54 am
I haven’t added those final seasoning yet but I have been tasting it and this soup is delicious! Love it.
PiaJune 11, 2018 at 6:03 pm
I do this in the slow cooker, the onions and spices go in first and get sauteed, then I add the rest and let it cook on high for three hours or low for six hours, it is beautiful too this way.
NicolaJune 15, 2018 at 4:40 pm
This was amazing! About to make it again. Thanks for all your wonderful recipes.
Dephinah SirakoJune 20, 2018 at 4:45 am
Looks delicious. Thanks for sharing
jenyMay 27, 2019 at 1:02 am
This is good
LauraSeptember 18, 2019 at 8:21 pm
I can’t wait to try this! Will brown lentils work just as well? That’s all I have right now and I may not be able to wait until I can go to the store to get red ones to make it! Lol! Thanks!
Susan VoisinSeptember 18, 2019 at 9:08 pm
Brown lentils take longer to cook and don’t break down like red ones. I hate to make you wait, but I think you’ll like the soup much better with red lentils.