Recipe: Fridge-Clearing Lentil Soup

Weeknight Dinner Recipes from The Kitchn

The fridge-clearing soup is a staple at my house. In fact, fridge-clearing in general is a good way to characterize my cooking style. But there is something about a sack of lentils that brings out the best of vegetables that have seen better days.

After three straight weeks of intense eating and carrying on in honor of the holidays, a soup that requires no shopping for ingredients is just what I need. Clean, simple cooking. Join me.

I like a bit of meat in my lentil soup, but of course, it can be made for vegetarians — just skip the bacon and swap chicken stock for vegetable stock or water. The red pepper flakes are there because I like a spicy lentil soup, but these are also optional. (Note: The recipe has been updated to reflect the commenter's request for a splash of acid, which is smart.)

This recipe yields a lot of soup, but it's easily halved or quartered. Better yet, make the whole recipe and freeze what you can't eat. It's going to be a long winter, but at least we can make it a delicious one.

Fridge-Clearing Lentil Soup

Serves 10 to 12

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion (of any color), chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground tumeric
1/4 pound chopped bacon, pancetta or ham, optional
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2-inch to 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes, optional
2 bay leaves
2 cups dried green lentils, picked over and rinsed
4 to 6 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
4 cups chopped vegetables (cauliflower, carrots, broccoli, leafy greens, etc.)
1 to 2 tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice

Yogurt, sour cream or crème fraîche
Chopped herbs
Chopped onion

In a large soup pot (6-quart or larger), heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the onion 1 to 2 minutes until softened, then add the garlic, cumin and tumeric. Stir to coat. Add the bacon. Add a teaspoon or so of salt and a few cranks of pepper. Cook until bacon browns a bit, another minute or so. Add the ginger, red pepper flakes (if using), bay leaves, and lentils. Pour over enough stock to cover. Raise the heat to bring to a boil, then lower to medium-low heat, cover the pot, and simmer.

If using tomatoes or hard vegetables, like carrots, add them after 15 minutes. If adding medium-hard vegetables like cauliflower or summer squash, add after 20 minutes. If adding leafy greens, add them when lentils are almost cooked through.

Cook a total of 30 to 40 minutes, checking every 10 minutes to stir the pot. Soup is done when lentils and vegetables are tender, but not falling apart. If soup needs more liquid at any time, stir in a cup or two. (It should look like thick soup, but not like thick chili.) When everything is cooked through, add the vinegar and taste for seasoning, adjusting as needed. Pull out the bay leaves and discard.

For a smoother soup, blend some or all of it in a blender or with an immersion blender. (Be careful blending when the soup is hot; blend in small batches.) Return the blended soup to the pot and stir. After blending, it may need more liquid. It also will probably need more liquid after cooling and reheated as leftovers.

Garnish with a dollop of yogurt, chopped onion and/or herbs.

This recipe has been updated. Originally published October 2008.

(Image credits: Sara Kate Gillingham)

Per serving, based on 10 servings. (% daily value)
10.2 g (15.7%)
2.6 g (13%)
40.4 g (13.5%)
15.1 g (60.2%)
6.9 g
17.1 g (34.2%)
11.3 mg (3.8%)
391.8 mg (16.3%)