My favourite soup this winter.
For years, lentil soup has been my go-to everyday soup. You know, the puréed silky smooth kind. And because the lentils are so full of flavour, and I always start out with a base of onion, carrot, tomato paste and chili paste, it doesn’t need a proper stock to be tasty. Plain water is more than good enough. Perfect for a quick everyday meal.
The last few weeks, though, I’ve been craving the chunky soups that the Brits are so good at making (I lived in London before moving to Istanbul). But I also wanted to incorporate the flavours I love so well from my staple lentil soup. The solution? Make said lentil soup chunky.
When making chunky soup, however, water no longer suffices as the liquid. Stock becomes a necessity. Of course, you could just use a stock cube, but I never do. Manufacturers put all sorts of stuff in them, but even more importantly they tend to dominate where they should be adding subtle flavour. Wherever you use them, and no matter how little you use, the final dish ends up tasting like…stock cubes. But then, who keeps homemade stock in the fridge at all times? Exactly. The solution: Quick stock.
If I don’t have stock in the fridge or freezer, I’ve started making a quick stock. That is, stock made in the time it takes to prep all the other ingredients before the stock needs adding to the dish in question. It won’t have as deep and complex a flavour as a proper, homemade stock. But it’s much better than using a stock cube or just water. And in a soup like this one, where there already is a flavour base of onion, tomatoes, chili and lentils – it works really well. Of course, if you have homemade stock, the soup will be even better, but if not, scroll down to the end for directions to make my quick stock.
In the recipe, I’ve indicated how much chili paste I use, but not given any definite amounts. Chili pastes vary significantly, even the same brand may vary a lot depending on how fresh it is. Use as much as you like (or even exclude it altogether if you prefer). I like the soup to have a bit of a kick, but not super-spicy. I use Turkish chili paste (acı biber salçası). Being aromatic and less spicy than many other varieties, it’s perfect for this soup, but feel free to use any chili paste, chili sauce or chili flakes you have to hand, or even use fresh ones. The soup will be vegan and vegetarian if you use vegetable stock. Serves 4-6.
Chunky lentil & vegetable soup
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 50 g (c. 2 topped tbsp) tomato paste
- chili paste, to taste (I use c. 25 g/1 topped tbsp Turkish aci biber salcasi) (chili flakes, chili sauce or fresh chili may be substituted) (may be omitted)
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 175 g red lentils
- 1-1.2 l vegetable or chicken stock (use quick stock if you don’t have another good-quality stock at hand, see below)
- 500 g mixed vegetables, in small cubes (I used 1 large carrot, 1 large potato, 1 red pepper and a good handful of cauliflower florets. Other suitable vegetables include courgette, tomato, broccoli or spinach – use what’s left in your fridge)
- 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 100 ml roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley (thick stalks removed) (may be omitted)
- salt and pepper
- Fry the onion in the olive oil over medium heat until softened but not browned, 8-10 minutes. Stir regularly.
- Add the tomato paste, chili paste (if using) and cumin and fry for another minute, stirring constantly.
- Add the lentils and vegetables (except any vegetables that need only a few minutes’ cooking, such as broccoli or spinach). Continue frying and stirring until the lentils and vegetables are well covered by the oil and pastes, a minute or so.
- Add some of the stock and mix until there are no lumps. Add the rest of the stock along with some seasoning (unless your stock already is seasoned). Use 1 litre of stock for a thick, almost stew-like consistency (see pics) – more for a more traditional-looking soup. Bring to the boil, cover and turn the heat to low. Leave to simmer until the lentils have softened, 15-20 minutes. Add any remaining vegetables at such a time that they finish cooking at the same time as the lentils. I prefer my vegetables soft for this soup – do as you please.
- When the lentils and vegetables are done, take off the heat. Add lemon juice and parsley and taste again for seasoning. Leave to stand, lid on, for a few minutes before serving.
Add 1.5 litres of water, a quartered onion, a carrot sliced into four parts, a few herb stalks (leaves removed) (if you have), a few cubes of celeriac, 1 bay leaf, a few whole black peppers and a few whole allspice (if you have). Add or substitute any other aromatic vegetables you have lying around, such as leek or turnip. Bring to the boil, cover and leave to simmer for as long as you can – at least 15 minutes but half an hour or more if you can. Strain the stock before using.
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