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Red Lentil Soup

Red Lentil Soup

I finally understand what it means to really trust a cookbook or a recipe website.  A good cookbook or website is a place where, without having time to test a recipe beforehand, you can pick a dish at random, follow it with few changes and your meal will be healthy, delicious and a smashing success. You know that no matter what you pick, you are in good, competent hands.

This red lentil soup from Heidi Swanson’s 101 cookbooks was all that and more. It is a vibrant and colorful, medium-bodied soup structured by lentils and bolstered by split yellow peas all supported by a light coconut broth. Hints of ginger, a flourish of cilantro with a grace note of scallions add depth of flavor to the dish. A small splash of butter added to curry-plumped golden raisins and tomato paste bring this dish over the top and saved my evening. Thank you, Heidi.

Split Yellow Peas and Red Lentils

I had been preparing a sardine appetizer for a small get-together at the apartment. It was a simple recreation of a dish I had experienced in an Italian restaurant. With only 30 minutes before the arrival of our guests, I pulled the sardines out of the oven and discovered that they had lost their structure and were still full of hard bones. The skin had burned, but the rest hadn’t cooked evenly.  I had no time to save them and now I was a dish short.

Working cautiously and tenderly around my convalescing self-esteem, the wounded guest in the room, I put the sardines aside, promising myself I would find a way to repurpose them so they will not have died in vain. I washed a few dishes to minimize the pungent smell of fish oil and burning sardine skin and then hit the computer and the bottle simultaneously. I searched for a quick, light dish that would pack some flavor and add to the meal. With its relatively simple roster of ingredients and easy execution, I stumbled upon a bright star. Coconut red lentil soup with yellow split peas.

Red lentil soup

I substituted parsnips for carrots and was slightly more generous with the herbs and spices, a little more frugal with the butter/ghee. My Indian friend for whom I made this said it tasted just like his mom’s soup from back home. Success.

Coconut Red Lentil Split-Pea Soup adapted from and inspired by Heidi Swanson’s Red Lentil Soup from 101cookbooks.


  • 1 cup yellow split peas
  • 1 cup red split lentils (masoor dal)
  • 7 cups water
  • 1 medium carrot (I used 2 parsnips), cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh peeled and minced ginger
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 2 tablespoons butter or ghee
  • 8 scallions, sliced into thin circles
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste
  • 1 14-ounce can coconut milk (I used a reduced fat can)
  • 2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
  • One small handful cilantro, chopped


Rinse the split peas and lentils. Place them in an extra-large soup pot, cover with the water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add the carrot/parsnip and 1/4 of the ginger. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the split peas are soft.

In the meantime, in a small dry skillet or saucepan over low heat, toast the curry powder until you can really smell its earthy fragrance. Be careful not to burn the curry powder. Set aside. Place the butter in a pan over medium heat, add half of the chopped scallions, the remaining ginger, and raisins (be generous). Saute for two minutes stirring constantly, then add the tomato paste and saute for another minute or two more.

Add the toasted curry powder to the tomato paste mixture, mix well, and then add this to the simmering soup along with the low fat coconut milk and salt. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes or so. By adding water you can make the soup thinner. If you cover and let simmer for longer, the soup will get thicker.

Serve with a handful of cilantro and a generous handful of scallions for color, texture, flavor and contrast.