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.-David Leite

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

Yellow Pea and Coconut Milk Soup

5 / 10 votes
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.
David Leite
Servings8 servings
Calories363 kcal
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time1 hour 15 minutes
Total Time1 hour 45 minutes


  • 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.


*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.
Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison's Kitchen

Adapted From

Vegetable Soups

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Serving: 1 portionCalories: 363 kcalCarbohydrates: 46 gProtein: 16 gFat: 15 gSaturated Fat: 11 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 10 mgSodium: 83 mgFiber: 14 gSugar: 6 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2006 Deborah Madison. Photo © 2006 Laurie Smith. All rights reserved.

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.

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.

Thanks to a beautiful bunch of spinach from the farmers market and some leftover coconut milk, I had enough of the non-standard pantry items for this yellow pea and coconut milk soup 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’d 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.)

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 didn’t “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. I served this with lime wedges on the side and accompanied it with 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’m 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’d caution that this trade-off wouldn’t 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.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    I am in the process of packing to move and the Debora Madison cookbook from which this recipe came is in a box somewhere in my house awaiting a move so I can make this delicious soup. I have made it for years and love it more and more every time I make it. I am grateful to have found this recipe on the internet so I can make this delightful soup for New Year’s Eve. Thank you for posting this recipe.

    Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year,


    1. You’re welcome, Jeanette. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you as well. Good luck with the move!

  2. 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!