Two Way Lentil Soup: Vegan or Not

Lentils: They can be frugal or fabulous. We grew up with the frugal version: brown lentil stew on meatless days. Friend and cookbook author Triset De Fonseka uses red lentils in her Sri Lankan dals.

I’ve enjoyed the fabulous, too, like pan roasted salmon on a bed of black/beluga lentils. 

Out of all the lentil recipes that folks make, though, lentil soup is at the top of the list.

The version I’m sharing today is more mild in flavor than lentil soup with sausage.  Makes for a tasty weeknight meal. It starts out brothy, but gets thicker if put in refrigerator overnight. Nice served with a thick slice of toasted bread.

Lentil soup with spinach, smoked paprika and fresh roasted peppers

I didn’t have enough smoked paprika for this recipe, so used both smoked and regular, sweet paprika. Smoked paprika gives the soup some depth since it is dried over wood smoke. 

You can do either all sweet, all smoked or a combo. 

Don’t use a sweet or red onion in this recipe. The flavor won’t carry through. 


1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for garnish

1 medium regular onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon regular sweet paprika

1/2 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika

2 bay leaves

1-1/4 cups brown or green lentils

1 roasted bell pepper, chopped

6 cups broth – I used chicken

Salt and pepper

Fresh spinach — several good handfuls or as much as you like


Heat oil over medium heat in soup pot.

Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes.

Add cumin, paprika and bay. Cook and stir until fragrant, a couple of minutes.

Add lentils, bell pepper and broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook, again stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender and just starting to fall apart. That took 30 minutes on my stove.

Add salt and pepper to taste and adjust seasonings, adding more if you like.

Remove bay, stir in spinach until wilted.
Drizzle each serving with a bit of olive oil. 


Make it vegetarian/vegan

Use vegetable broth

No fresh spinach? Sub in frozen, thawed

One 10 oz box should do it.

Brown vs green lentils

Common brown and khaki green lentils can be used interchangeably. They usually sit side by side at the grocery. Green lentils take a bit longer to cook. 

Store paprika in freezer

“Red” spices including paprika keep their flavor longer when frozen.

Give paprika a sniff before using. If there’s no aroma, there’s no flavor. It should last a good year in the freezer. 

Adapted from Milk Street. 

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