Yellow Pea and Coconut Milk Soup

This yellow pea and coconut milk soup starts out thin, but when the spinach and rice are added, it ends up with layers of textures and colors. Hearty and delicious.

Three bowls of yellow pea and coconut milk soup with pieces of spinach and a dollop of yogurt in each bowl.

Adapted from Deborah Madison | Vegetable Soups | Broadway, 2006

Deborah Madison does it again. That’s what a recipe tester said after tasting this soup. We couldn’t agree more. While there are trendier bloggers and food websites, we keep coming back to this cookbook author for her exquisitely balanced and comforting recipes that are homey yet haute at the same time.–Renee Schettler

Yellow Pea and Coconut Milk Soup

Three bowls of yellow pea and coconut milk soup with pieces of spinach and a dollop of yogurt in each bowl.
This yellow pea and coconut milk soup starts out thin, but when the spinach and rice are added, it ends up with layers of textures and colors. Hearty and delicious.

Prep 30 mins
Cook 1 hr 15 mins
Total 1 hr 45 mins
8 servings
363 kcal
5 / 4 votes
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  • 2 cups yellow split peas rinsed and soaked in water for at least 1 hour if possible
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cloves
  • Sea salt and coarsely ground pepper
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons (1 to 2 oz) butter, light sesame oil, or a mixture
  • 1 large onion diced
  • 1/4 cup minced cilantro stems*
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of hot red pepper flakes
  • 1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk
  • Juice of 1 large lime or to taste
  • 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 cup uncooked white rice
  • 1/2 teaspoon each ground turmeric and paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon each cumin seeds and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • Large bunch spinach stems removed, well rinsed, water still clinging to its leaves


  • After you’ve soaked the yellow peas, drain them and place them in a pot with 2 quarts water, the bay leaves, cloves, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer, cover partially, and begin to cook.
  • Meanwhile, in a medium skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. And then add the onion and cilantro stems. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion softens, about 10 minutes. Add the spices and 1/2 cup water from the simmering peas, and cook until the water has cooked away. Add the onion to the simmering peas and continue cooking until both are very soft, about an hour in all. Remove the bay leaves and cloves and then purée. Return the soup to the stove and stir in the coconut milk. Add the lime juice, then taste for salt and season with pepper. Stir in the chopped cilantro.
  • Bring 1 cup water to a boil and then add 1/4 teaspoon salt and the rice. Give it a stir, lower the heat, and cover the pan. Cook until the rice has absorbed the water and is done, about 15 minutes.
  • In a small bowl, combine the spices with the yogurt. In a separate skillet over medium heat, wilt the spinach in the water clinging to its leaves and then chop it coarsely.
  • To serve, ladle the soup into bowls, divide the spinach leaves among them, then add cooked rice to each bowl and serve with a spoonful of the spiced yogurt.
Print RecipeBuy the Vegetable Soups cookbook

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*Do you include the stems when you chop cilantro?

Who can afford to mindlessly toss good ingredients in the garbage? Yet that's what many of us do each time we carelessly chop off cilantro stems and bid them a hasty adieu. The fragrant little stems are edible and carry just as much aroma as their leafy counterparts. They lend oomph to this simple, pocketbook-friendly lentil soup, as well as just about any other recipe that calls for cilantro, including the fragrant Peppercorn Cilantro Root Flavor Paste.  Including them depends on your preference but they will add extra flavor and texture to your recipes. Thank us later.

Show Nutrition

Serving: 1portionCalories: 363kcal (18%)Carbohydrates: 46g (15%)Protein: 16g (32%)Fat: 15g (23%)Saturated Fat: 11g (69%)Trans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 10mg (3%)Sodium: 83mg (4%)Potassium: 919mg (26%)Fiber: 14g (58%)Sugar: 6g (7%)Vitamin A: 4229IU (85%)Vitamin C: 17mg (21%)Calcium: 113mg (11%)Iron: 5mg (28%)

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Recipe Testers’ Reviews

Deborah Madison does it again! This is an excellent soup that's richer than would be expected if you simply examined the ingredients. The soup alone is delectable; adding the spinach, rice, and yogurt brings out a whole additional level of complexity to the flavor that just makes it even better.

This yellow pea and coconut milk soup also reheats very well, though the color will not be as vibrant as the original.

Fabulous! This yellow pea and coconut milk soup has everything that you could ever desire in a dish—great flavors, great textures, and great appearance. The soup itself is reminiscent of an Indian dal, but ever so creamy, with a slightly sweet undertone.

The rice and spinach add a wonderful dimension, a wonderful tooth feel, juxtaposed with the soup and the smooth, spicy yogurt topping. And don’t omit the spicy yogurt topping—it complements everything else perfectly.

Originally published August 22, 2006



  1. 5 stars
    This is such a delicious recipe! Thank you so much for posting. I was strapped for time and put all the ingredients up to the red pepper in the instant pot for 15 minutes, with 16 minutes natural release. Absolutely delicious!

  2. 5 stars
    I was happy to make this for Sunday dinner–a few tiny substitutions: I used kale instead of spinach. And I actually set it on top of the rice (in a rice cooker) and it wilted perfectly.

    Added a full teaspoon of chili flakes because we like spice.

    The split pea soup was so rich and full of flavour–those spices really give it so much depth and the aroma filled the house all afternoon.
    My guy, who is vegan, had some tahini instead of the yogurt sauce, and we served it with naan, and all so good! Leftovers to boot!

    1. Nice, Kathy! It sounds like you had the perfect meal. Thanks so much for letting us know.

  3. 5 stars
    This soup, while time-consuming, is rich and spicy, yet fresh and sprightly in taste. Dishes that are East Indian-spiced tend to go for depth of flavour; but this soup, with the addition of just-cooked spinach and rice, has a fresh verve, while the coconut milk, spiced yoghurt, and blend of spices in the soup give it a wonderful mouthfeel and a tingle of heat.

  4. 5 stars
    This yellow pea and coconut milk soup came together beautifully, easily, and deliciously. The proportions of the spices and the coconut milk created a perfectly nuanced fusion of flavors with no one overpowering note. The spinach and rice provided satisfying textural contrast, making it appealing to the tongue as well as the eye. And the spiced yogurt—its seasonings as balanced as the soup’s—imparted a tangy counterpoint to the creamy base.

    Although the combination of spices might seem exotic to some, the resulting dish is so approachable that my guinea pigs, whose taste buds vary in levels of adventurousness, unanimously declared it a keeper of a recipe.

  5. I just made it and it was very flavorful. A bit of work. Only thing was I didn’t add the yogurt mixture–and I don’t think I missed it. The spice profile says Thai or perhaps Mediterranean but the purée aspect along with the rice and spinach put it on another level. Very good.

    Won’t necessarily make it again, as my wife ‘liked’ it but it didn’t put her over the moon.

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