These spicy harissa lentils make an easy weeknight meal that’s an unassuming melding of red lentils, harissa, sautéed onions, and garlicky tahini sauce that comes together in a way that can only be described as surprisingly magical given the few pantry ingredients it requires. You’ll dirty a few dishes along the way, but it’s worth it.Angie Zoobkoff

A bowl filled with spicy harissa lentil stew on a white plate with flat leaf parsley garnishing the dish and scattered around the bowl.

Spicy Harissa Lentils

5 / 2 votes
Spicy harissa lentils are an incredibly flavorful vegan meal that you can whip up on a hurried weeknight. Lentils and onions combine with a fantastic garlic tahini sauce to fill bellies fast.
David Leite
CuisineMiddle Eastern
Servings2 servings
Calories761 kcal
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time40 minutes
Total Time45 minutes


For the spicy harissa lentils

For the caramelized onions

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • Coarsely ground black pepper
  • 12 fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped

For the garlicky tahini sauce


Make the spicy harissa lentils

  • In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring the lentils and broth to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer, adding more water if necessary, until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. There should be almost no cooking liquid left when the lentils are done.
  • Add the olive oil and harissa, stir, and season to taste with salt, pepper, and, if desired, more harissa.

Make the caramelized onions

  • Meanwhile, in a medium skillet over medium heat, warm the oil. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden brown, about 12 minutes. Add the sugar, stir, and cook for 1 minute more.
  • Transfer the onions to a medium bowl and wipe out the skillet.

Make the garlicky tahini sauce

  • In the same skillet over medium heat, heat the oil and cook the garlic until golden, 1 1/2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and let cool for 2 minutes.
  • Add the tahini and 2 teaspoons of the lemon juice and whisk until combined.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper, and, if desired, more lemon juice.

Assemble the dish

  • Divvy the lentils among bowls and drizzle with the tahini sauce and a little harissa. Sprinkle with the onions, pepper, and parsley.
365 Cookbook

Adapted From

365: A Year of Everyday Cooking and Baking

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Serving: 1 portionCalories: 761 kcalCarbohydrates: 73 gProtein: 27 gFat: 42 gSaturated Fat: 6 gMonounsaturated Fat: 28 gSodium: 998 mgFiber: 30 gSugar: 10 g

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

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2019 Meike Peters. Photo © 2019 Meike Peters. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

I am singing praises to Leite’s Culinaria for providing me with this lentils recipe! I love lentils and finding new ways to prepare them is king. This recipe was slightly labor intensive, as many pans were needed to make this. That doesn’t matter, though, as it’s worth it.

It took about 45 minutes to make in total. I used a store-bought harissa and it was labeled “mild.” This was the only harissa the store carried. Thus, I would not consider this dish “spicy.” Using a spicier harissa would of course yield spicier red lentils.

I used store-bought vegetable broth. I didn’t need to add more broth but I did add 3 extra minutes to the cooking time to tenderize the lentils a little further and have a little liquid left.

I think if you were serving this as a meal, it would feed 2 generously. I do think it would accompany a nice grilled meat and for a side dish, 4 servings would be good. This dish could easily be doubled.

I’m already looking forward to making it again. This was very delicious, very filling, and healthy. It was beautiful, to boot! Loving lentils over here and feeling very proud.

There are certain cuisines that really are alchemical miracles. Indian, Moroccan, Syrian—so often these are cuisines where the individual components are lackluster (for instance the humble lentil) or even pungent (harissa) and yet when put together in the right proportions they shine brighter than you can imagine. This recipe is a perfect example of that.

I had chosen to make it, because I couldn’t think of anything for dinner and my husband loves anything lentil. But I planned on this being just a plate of beans that I would serve with a veggie and forget about. Apparently I completely underestimated the magic that occurs when the mild-mannered lentil gets to roll around in some harissa and caramelized onions and a drizzle of tahini. Jay (my husband) just kept saying “Happy Birthday to me!!” (not his birthday) while eating dinner.

I was shocked at how quickly it came together. The onions actually took longer than the lentils! I served it with some sautéed kale and Jay and I ate all of the lentils in one sitting. If we had made an additional side, like some couscous, we could have easily stretched it out for 2 meals. I will definitely make this again.

I used homemade stock that I had on hand and Mina brand spicy harissa. I used 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and wouldn’t have minded a third.

Happy Harissa Dance! This recipe is headed for heavy rotation. I recently tested the Speedy Ravioli Lasagna when I was short on time, but this dish falls equally into the “speedy” category.

I used red lentils from my local supplier, Sahadi’s. This should not stop anyone from making this delicious and weeknight-friendly meal.

I added an additional 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice. When making it again, I will use an extra 1 teaspoon to brighten the richness of this dish.

This dish is a winner.

harissa lentils recipe is just the kind of thing you’d want to eat on a chilly night. And it’s so easy you can absolutely pull it off on a weeknight. Wonderful delicious layers to savor such that a small bowl will satisfy you more than you think. Tender lentils adorned with garlic-y tahini and lovely sweet onions and energized by harissa (there’s a great recipe for homemade harissa on this site if you’re so inclined; make ahead if you have 30 minutes on another day).

My red lentils cooked in 12 minutes (I like them pretty soft), the same amount of time to make the caramelized onions.

Oh, one more thing— double, even triple, the recipe so you can enjoy it the following day.

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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