Yellow Pea and Coconut Milk Soup

Yellow Pea and Coconut Milk Soup

This soup starts out thin, but when the spinach and rice are added, it ends up with layers of textures and colors. For a lighter first-course soup, omit the rice or use very little.

Split peas take at least an hour to cook, which is one good reason to soak them for a couple of hours, unless you pop them into a pressure cooker for 25 minutes on high. Another alternative is to use red lentils, which break down quickly into a light, golden soup.–Deborah Madison

LC Don't Toss Those Cilantro Stems! Note

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 stalks carry just as much aroma as their leafy counterparts and 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. You can thank us later.

Yellow Pea and Coconut Milk Soup Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 30 M
  • 1 H, 45 M
  • Serves 6 to 8


  • 2 cups yellow split peas, rinsed and soaked for at least 1 hour if possible
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cloves
  • Sea salt and coarsely ground pepper
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons 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
  • One 15-ounce can coconut milk
  • Juice of 1 large lime, or to taste
  • 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 cup 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 washed


  • 1. After you’ve soaked the yellow peas, drain and put 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 and cook, partially covered, while you go on to the next step.
  • 2. Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat, then add the onion and cilantro stems. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion starts to color and soften, 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, 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.
  • 3. To finish, bring 1 cup water to a boil, 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. Combine the spices with the yogurt and set aside. In a separate skillet, wilt the spinach in the water clinging to its leaves, 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.
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Recipe Testers Reviews

This 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 the rice provided satisfying textural contrast, 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.

This is an excellent soup that is 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 soup also reheats very well, though the color will not be as vibrant as the original. Deborah Madison does it again!

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.

After I selected this recipe I began to have second thoughts. All those ingredients, all those steps, all those pans, and the blender too. When the soup was simmering and the smells began to fill my kitchen, I returned to my original thought that all those spices could blend into some really great flavor. Blooming the spices by cooking them in the butter and onions eliminated any raw overtones and they had, as anticipated, evolved into a fantastically aromatic seasoning.

Fabulous! This 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.

Thanks to a beautiful bunch of spring spinach from the farmers market and some leftover coconut milk, I had enough of the non-standard pantry items for this recipe to convince me to try it. That left me needing only the yellow split peas and a bunch of cilantro, which is easy enough considering the long-ish list of ingredients. I soaked my yellow split peas for 5 hours and they cooked until softened in the 1 hour total mentioned in the recipe. This occurred despite the addition of salt to the beans right from the start of the cooking process. (I had always been taught not to salt beans until they had softened, or else they would perhaps never soften. Because I trust Deborah Madison, I went ahead and salted, and I had no difficulty with the beans whatsoever. This makes me wonder if the no salting beans rule is an old wives tale, and it’s good to know it’s possible to cook beans in salted water without completely dooming your dish in step 1.) I cooked the onions, along with the yellow split peas, until they were very soft in the hour’s total cooking time. Because the yellow split peas were very soft and because the onions had started as a small dice and were also very soft, I did not “puree” the mixture with anything other than a potato masher. I mashed everything right in the soup pot. I stirred in the (full-fat) coconut milk, added the lime juice, salt, pepper, and chopped cilantro as directed, and found myself with a very substantial stewy soup, not at all a soup that I would describe as something that “starts out thin,” the words used in introducing this recipe. My soup started out very thick, and I thinned it down to bring it to a soupier texture and consistency. There would have been nothing wrong with a stewy concoction, but I had envisioned (and seen in the photo) something that definitely looked like soup. I was actually glad I did thin it out, because the addition of rice (I used white basmati) and spinach does have a thickening effect, though both also add texture and some different colored elements to the yellow of the soup. Because this is quite a few steps (peas, onions, rice spinach), you may start to think it could be okay to skip the spiced yogurt—do not yield to this thought! Making this spiced yogurt takes just a few minutes, and again adds color, plus a fresh burst of flavor, to the soup. As with the coconut milk, I used a full-fat yogurt. I served this with lime wedges on the side and accompanied it wit a nice warm whole-wheat naan. It was a fantastic layering of flavors, both in taste and visually. The photo looks soupier than mine did, even with the addition of more water, and my spinach was more visible when the bowl was served. Because this is essentially a bean soup, I am not sure if it could ever be considered a “lighter,” dish, but it would surely lighten up a bit with the omission of the rice. I would caution that this trade-off would not be wise, since part of the magic of this soup is in the layering of flavors and textures. The rice was tasty, the texture a positive addition, and the white next to the golden yellow of the peas and the green of the spinach a visual delight. The serving size of 6 to 8 was accurate in my house. Lastly, I love the idea of using the cilantro stems, and will be seeking out additional ways of using them, ways that help to reduce the waste of buying a nice big bunch of cilantro, using just what the recipe calls for, nearly always just a very little bit, and then discovering some time later that the rest—the majority—of the bunch has become inedible from neglect.


  1. This is a delicious soup. Really intense flavors layered with the mellow lentils. (I used the red lentils instead.)

  2. Mmm…i love soup…I love yellow split peas and I love coconut milk!

    And I can’t think of a single reason not to make this tonight :)

    I’ll try it with brown rice but otherwise, I’m sticking with the recipe. Love that you added the bay leaves too. I don’t know if that’s a Portuguese thing but my mom always added them and now I do too. It gives the soup something extra!


    1. Lovely thinking, Cecilia. We’ll be standing by to hear how it goes…

  3. As I was making this very soup but from Mastercook, I was thinking, “Gosh, 5 1/2 teaspoons of turmeric sure is a lot!” so I only put 4 teaspoons in, even though that seemed like a lot, too. But I thought, maybe it’s just for the color! After my husband and I had it for dinner (agreeing that although it was too much turmeric, it was still pretty good, enough so that we had seconds), I decided to Google the recipe and found it on this site. Aha! Only 1 1/2 teaspoons of turmeric! Somehow when I was importing the recipe from Mastercook, “1” got changed to “5”. Mystery solved. I can’t wait to make it again with the proper amounts of spice—as I said, we enjoyed it with the turmeric nonetheless. :)

    1. Sheila, I’m sorry to hear about the gaffe, but I have to say, I’m glad it happened as it brought you here! Many thanks for sharing how much you like the soup, it’s one of our faves, too. And rest assured, we test each recipe over and over to ensure it’s worthy of your time, your ingredients, and your expectations, which means that you can cook with confidence when you try our recipes. Welcome!

    1. Angel Ann, we actually don’t calculate the nutritional information for our recipes. While we’re aware that this is disappointing to some, our philosophy is to try to emphasize a casual yet healthful balance of various foods rather than a strict counting of calories or fat grams. We do understand that there are those for whom exact amounts are necessary or desired, and we’re sorry if this disappoints you. I do hope you still try the recipe, as we’ve heard nothing but really quite nice things about it.

  4. 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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