Monday, March 28, 2011

Spicy Egyptian Lentil Soup Good Enough to Serve to 50 People at a Rehearsal Dinner

About a month ago, I was browsing Foodgawker and came across a delicious-looking lentil soup. I have a real love of lentils, and am always looking for new treatments (however, as much as I love them, I will never, never make a 70s-style lentil loaf. Have some respect.), so I was very drawn to this Spicy Egyptian Lentil Soup posted by afarmgirlsdabbles. In the blog post including this recipe, she describes a trip to Egypt to visit her sister, during which she reluctantly tried this soup, a local favorite, and was blown away. She was so impressed that, upon returning stateside, she recreated a soup with the rich, complex spice that Middle Eastern cuisines are so good at, accented by the bright flavor of lemon.
The original lentil soup as served in Cairo, with a glass of fresh strawberry juice and shawarma. Photo courtesy of afarmgirlsdabbles.
That very night, I made her soup, and had a similarly enthusiastic reaction. So, when I was called upon to help cook for the rehearsal dinner for the wedding of one of my closest friends, and was told that we were going to do a "Soup Bar" of 5 or 6 different soups to serve about 50 people, I jumped at the chance to include this. We served the soups in mismatched, over-sized coffee mugs with a choice of 4 or 5 different breads and a salad. The soup bar worked beautifully and, though my soup was a little more spicy than I had intended, it went over very well, particularly with the lentil-loving bride.

With the author's permission, here is that spectacular soup. I would add a bit more lemon than she suggests, but as she points out in her post, this soup is all about a "beautifully balanced, earthy, spicy heat" and preserving that balance is key. How much spice and lemon is dependent on the freshness of your spices, how long you simmer, how long you've soaked your lentils, etc., so this is a great opportunity to perfect your taste-and-adjust-spices skills. Just keep in mind that, as always, cumin needs to go at the end, because it will get very bitter if it is cooked for too long. Also, I highly suggest using red lentils. I'm sure the soup would still be delicious with green lentils, but the color and more delicate texture of the red lentils is ideal for this soup.

Also, please visit the original post at her blog to look at her gorgeous pictures of Cairo. I'm such a food+travel voyeur, and before too long, I'll be providing you some culinary travel experiences of my own. If all goes to plan and I get my student visa, I'll be in Scotland beginning in September for a Master's program at the University of Edinburgh, and who knows what exciting interpretations of local cuisine that will yield... seitan haggis? Kidding.

Without further ado,  

Spicy Egyptian Lentil Soup 

Serves 6-8

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced into 1/4" pieces
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 large celery rib, diced into 1/4" pieces
1 large carrot, diced into 1/4" pieces
1 large baking potato, peeled and diced into 1/2" pieces
1-1/4 c. lentils (red or green)
2 qts. vegetable broth
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. turmeric
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus additional lemon slices to serve alongside finished soup
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Over medium-high heat, in a large saucepan or small stockpot, heat the oil.  Add the onion and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 or 3 minutes.  Add the celery and carrot and cook for another 5 minutes.  Add the potato, lentils, and vegetable broth.  Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until all the vegetables are very tender.  This should take 40 to 50 minutes.

Puree the soup in batches, using a blender, and return it back to the pot.  Or blend carefully right in the pot with an immersion blender.  Add the cumin, cayenne pepper, turmeric, and lemon juice.  Season with salt and pepper.  I'm not known for adding much salt to my food, but I found myself adding more than I thought I would to boost the flavors.  Just add a bit at a time, tasting after each addition.

Serve the soup hot with slices of fresh lemon on the side.  Some warm fresh pocket bread would also be good with this meal.

Again, thanks so much to afarmgirldabbles for the use of her recipe and picture! Visit her site for more great recipes. 



  1. Lovely post, Emily. I love the idea of a soup bar with a variety of coffee mugs to eat from - too much fun! So glad this soup went over so well, thanks for sharing my recipe!

  2. Emily- Let me just say that you LOVED my lentil loaf I made one night when you were over. If you don't remember, I think you need to try it again, or maybe I can do a guest blog on it?

    Having said that, I just want to agree that this is my favorite lentil soup recipe I've ever made. Lately I've been searching for "the one" and nothing can stand up to this one. Last time I made it, I added a sweet potato instead of a regular potato- and it was marvelous! I also cut back on the cumin- like half of it, because sometimes cumin smells like armpits to me. If you are one of the odd people who agree with the cumin/armpit thing, I suggest you cut back on it too. Also, this soup is better the next day, or the next, next day (if it even lasts that long!).