This warmly spicy, soul-satisfying Moroccan lentil soup blends red lentils, tomatoes, onion, celery, garlic, and cilantro with ras el hanout, a North African spice mix. On top? Chile-fried onions. Now, try to resist that.
Moroccan lentil soup doesn’t come any simpler or more spectacular than this. It’s subtly spicy from ras el hanout and perfectly tart from a modest squeeze of lemon. It’s truly lovely, luxuriantly aromatic, and richly satiating. Originally published January 15, 2014.–Renee Schettler Rossi
Moroccan Lentil Soup
- Quick Glance
- 30 M
- 1 H
- Serves 8
- For the Moroccan lentil soup
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 1/2 teaspoons coriander
- 2 teaspoons ras el hanout (store-bought or homemade)
- 1 1/2 cups red lentils
- One (14-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
- 4 1/2 cups homemade chicken stock, canned chicken broth, vegetable stock, or water, or more as needed
- Salt, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 6 tablespoons cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped, plus extra to garnish
- For the chile-fried onions
- 2 onions, very thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- 1 fresh chile, seeded and finely chopped
- Juice from 1/2 small lemon
- Salt, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Greek yogurt, for serving
- Make the Moroccan lentil soup
- 1. Heat the oil in a heavy pan and sauté the onion and celery until softened but not colored. Add the garlic and spices and cook for 1 minute. Then add the ras el hanout, lentils, tomatoes, and stock or water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the lentils start to break down and sort of become a purée. The mixture will be quite thick and more dal-like than soup-y. If you prefer a thinner consistency, add more stock or water as necessary. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the chopped cilantro.
- Make the chile-fried onions
- 2. Slick a skillet with the olive oil, place it over medium-high heat, and toss in the sliced onions. Heat until the onions are golden brown and crisp at the edges. Add the cinnamon, sugar, and chile and stir just until the onions are coated. Then let the onions cook only until the sugar has dissolved. Immediately add the lemon juice—and be ready to dodge some spatters. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper.
- 3. Ladle the soup into bowls and add a dollop of yogurt and the chile-fried onions. Garnish with cilantro.
Moroccan Lentil Soup Variations
- Ham and Lentil Soup: Make the soup following the method above but omit the spices, celery, garlic, tomatoes, and chile-fried onions. Instead cook 2 onions, 1 potato, 2 carrots (all chopped) and 1 cup lentils in oil. Replace the chicken stock with 6 cups stock made from a ham bone (make sure it isn’t too salty; dilute with water if it is). Sauté flakes of ham or chunks of bacon in butter, adding 2 teaspoons caraway seeds, and sprinkle on top of the soup. Add a swirl of cream, if you please.
- Lentil and Spinach Soup: Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy pan and gently cook 1 onion, chopped, and 1 celery stalk, diced, for 8 minutes. Add 2 garlic cloves, chopped, and 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute. Add 1 1/3 cups brown lentils, 3 tomatoes, chopped, 2 thyme sprigs, and 4 cups water or chicken stock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and cook until the lentils are tender, about 45 minutes. If it seems too thick, add stock or water to thin it to the desired consistency. Season well. Shred 10 ounces spinach and add to the soup to wilt. Add the juice of 1/2 lemon and stir in 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. Serves 4.
- Minus the Lovely Chile-Fried Onion GarnishThose of you not inclined to indulge in the chile-fried onion garnish, simply toss 2 chopped, seeded fresh chiles into the soup or stir in a dab of harissa.
Recipe Testers Reviews
Delicious. Easy. A keeper. On a chilly weeknight, you won't need much else. The fabulous aroma and complex flavor make this vegetarian lentil soup (vegan if you use water instead of chicken stock and skip the Greek yogurt) so satisfying, it won’t leave anyone—meat-loving or not—feeling deprived. I cooked my lentils covered, and in 30 minutes they broke down to perfectly soft bits. We felt the recipe would serve 6 people at most if the soup is being served as the main dish. For the chile-fried onions (I HIGHLY recommend you make these, along with the ras el hanout spice mixture recipe already on the site), I used a Fresno pepper, jalapeño’s red cousin.
This soup was wonderful! I'm a soup lover and make red lentil soup pretty frequently, but never with this warm, flavorful blend of spices. It's well worth making your own ras el hanout. (I used this ras el hanout recipe. I will surely be making the soup again. Some thoughts: The suggested 4 1/2 cups of liquid (I used water) resulted in a dal-like consistency. I added an additional cup and the soup was still quite thick. It took about 45 minutes for the lentils to break down and the vegetables to soften. Next time, I would probably add a large diced carrot to up the flavor profile.
The chile-fried onions, which are a quick version of caramelized onions, are not just a garnish but an essential component. My red jalapeño added a slight heat to the soup and the onions and brown sugar some welcome sweetness. I stirred my onions into the soup and served it with a dollop of yogurt on top. Sautéed or steamed greens (spinach, arugula, chard, collards) or cubed winter squash or sweet potato would be lovely indeed. With some good bread, this is a rich, filling, and delicious meal for a winter's evening.
I give this Moroccan lentil recipe love because number one, it's easy to make, and two, it's what I like to call a "pantry raider," something for which you've got almost everything on hand in the kitchen except perhaps the cilantro. Truth be told, I'd describe this recipe as more of a vegetarian stew then a soup. The lentils don't quite turn into a purée as described, but they do break down with lovely sweetness. The dish is thick and has body that really promotes a feeling of warm satisfaction.
For the ras el hanout, I used the recipe from this site for Moroccan Spice Rub. As for the chile-fried onions, I took advantage of the author's substitution and skipped making them. I instead added a dollop of fat-free Greek yogurt, some more chopped cilantro, and a scattering of paper-thin sliced jalapeños. Holla! It was so good I had seconds and really had to restrain myself from having thirds.
I love this Moroccan lentil soup. The recipe is easy and quick to pull together and the result is delightfully aromatic and satisfying. I used fire-roasted diced tomatoes (by accident, as I thought I was grabbing plain diced tomatoes from the shelf but I missed them by a row). This was a delicious mistake. I also used store-bought ras el hanout, which smelled relatively fresh. I can only imagine how a homemade spice mixture would add even greater dimension, authenticity, and taste to the soup.
The lentils, while not a "purée" as the recipe suggests, were tender after just 20 minutes of simmering. The soup was very thick, so more chicken stock was needed. I think placing a lid slightly ajar on the pot while the soup is simmering would fix the problem of the consistency being more like a side dish as opposed to a soup. (Hey, not a bad idea!) Lastly, the cilantro was just the right herb to brighten the dish. I totally forgot to make the onion crisps, and only realized that after the soup was gone. But I can tell you, the soup was amazing even without the extra garnish.
I should first say that I am not at all fond of lentils or cilantro or even yogurt. But in the interest of retrying these ingredients, I decided to try this Moroccan lentil soup, as I do enjoy soup. And I had ras el hanout on hand, and how often does one get to use that? So I bought some red lentils and made the soup. After 30 minutes of simmering, they were still quite firm. After another 40 minutes they were soft, but not breaking down. The "soup" was so dense I could stand up my wooden spoon in it, so I added another 2 cups chicken stock. The chile-fried onions were tasty on their own, and the soup with the topping and the yogurt surprised me. I did like it. The second day I stirred the onions into the soup and liked it that way as well. All in all, I think this is a keeper for a lentil lover.
This Moroccan lentil soup recipe has won the Make-It-Again Award in my home. It's great and was well received. I was unable to obtain red lentils, so I used regular lentils from the supermarket without any discernible difference. This was a wonderful change from the lentil soup I usually make. The combination of spices is a welcome change, and the over-the-top topping of onions and yogurt puts this dish in a class of its own. This recipe is more like a stew, actually. The recipe is pretty straightforward except for the part of the lentils becoming a purée. The whole pot of lentils and liquid becomes a purée of sorts. It's more like a lentil stew, not a soup. I believe that is what the the intention was.
There are a lot of lentil soup recipes out there, but this one takes it up a notch. Considering that almost all of them have similar ingredients, what stands out for me on this one is the coriander and ras el hanout. My Moroccan Spice Rub from the Roast Chicken with Moroccan Spices recipe had gotten old, so I made another rub from another recipe that didn't have paprika or chili powder. I should have known better, because those two spices would have probably made this recipe even better. Plus the red colors would have been intensified, making the soup a nice, deep orange.
The 30-minute mark for cooking left the lentils really soft, and a good healthy stir with a whisk will give you a textured purée. If you want the lentils to remain in one piece, start checking them at the 15-minute mark and let them cook until they're soft enough to eat but still maintain their shape. The chile-fried onions are a great addition; I would recommend making them. If you have any soup left over, which is doubtful, you can do what I did and just add spinach and a little more broth to make the spinach variation. As with most soups, it was better the next day, and the spinach and lemon made it seem like a whole new soup.
I looked forward to making this Moroccan lentil soup because I hadn't used red lentils before. I assumed they would be readily available like the others, but I found that wasn’t the case. Two different stores didn't have red lentils. I didn’t have the time to run around anymore so I bought green lentils. The ras el hanout wasn't a staple in my cabinet, either, so I used the suggested recipe for Moroccan Spice Rub on the site. I simmered it for 30 minutes and the lentils were nowhere near done, so kept on simmering them for another 15 minutes. They still weren’t done, so I let them go for another 15 minutes. I also added another 1/2 cup water.
After doing a little research on the different kinds of lentils, I learned that the green ones take the longest to cook. Of course, this was after I made the soup! Duh! That accounts for the hour they took to cook. I added a fresh, chopped red chile to the soup, which gave it a good heat. Despite all this, the flavor was very good. I loved the cumin and coriander combo along with most of the other spices. I wasn’t crazy about the cinnamon, allspice, and cloves. I know that defeats the purpose of using ras el hanout seasoning, but it’s just my personal taste and I'll probably not add as much to the spice rub mixture next time. All in all, I liked this soup very much. It was hearty and satisfying along with being very easy to prepare. Next time I’ll hunt down the red lentils!