Middle Eastern Lentil Soup To Warm the Soul

A delightfully earthy and fragrant lentil soup garnished with feta and cilantro.
A delightfully earthy and fragrant lentil soup garnished with feta and cilantro.

How satisfying is this vegetarian “Middle Eastern Lentil Soup”?

So much that I didn’t even catch my husband, aka Meat Boy, sneaking slices of salami afterward, as he is wont to do.

That tells you just how delicious this hearty bean and spinach soup — imbued with cumin, coriander, fennel and cayenne — really is.

The recipe is adapted by the Wall St. Journal from “The White Dog Cafe Cookbook” (Running Press, 1998). The cookbook was written by the owners of this Philadelphia restaurant, Judy Wicks and chef Kevin von Klause.

I further adapted it by using fabulous Rancho Gordo’s Black Caviar Lentils instead of the called-for French Puy lentils. If you do so, too, just know your resulting soup will be darker and less golden in color.

Rancho Gordo heirloom Black Caviar Lentils.
Rancho Gordo heirloom Black Caviar Lentils.

The recipe directions didn’t state when to add the 1/4 cup of minced garlic. So, I noted to add it half way through cooking the onions. Don’t fear the amount of garlic. It actually amounts to about 6 cloves, so it’s not excessive by any means.

This is a thick, hearty, chunky and aromatic soup with a taste that will transport you immediately to the vibrant spice markets of the Middle East.

Serve with warm flatbread, pita or artisan loaf slices.
Serve with warm flatbread, pita or artisan loaf slices.

Although you can skip the feta garnish to make this soup vegan, it really pays to add it. The salty, tangy cheese enhances everything else in the bowl and gives it even greater focus. It’s earthy, spicy, filling, and just so comforting to tuck into.

I love lentils because they cook so quickly, compared to most other beans. That means you can make this soup on the spur of the moment. After one bowl, you know you’ll be making this again and again.

Doesn't that look good?
Doesn’t that look good?

Middle Eastern Lentil Soup

(Serves 6)

1 pound (2 cups) Puy lentils (or black lentils)

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cups diced yellow onion

1/4 cup minced garlic (5 to 6 cloves)

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 tablespoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons mustard seeds

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 (14-ounce) can plum tomatoes

3 cups tightly packed spinach leaves, coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup packed chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

1/2 cup chopped feta, for garnish

Place lentils in a saucepan and add water to cover by 4 inches. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until lentils are just tender, about 20 minutes. Drain, reserving cooking liquid.

In a soup pot over medium-low heat, warm oil. Add onions and saute, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Add garlic, and continue to saute until onions turn translucent, another 5 minutes. Add coriander, cumin, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, and cayenne, and cook over medium-high heat until spices bloom, 1 minute.

In a blender or food processor, pulse tomatoes until nearly smooth. Stir tomatoes and their juice into soup pot. Simmer to meld flavors, 5 minutes.

To the soup pot, add cooked lentils and 3 cups lentil cooking liquid, and bring to a simmer. Stir in spinach and cook until just wilted. If soup is too thick, add more lentil cooking liquid or broth or water. Season with salt and pepper.

To serve, top with cilantro and chunks of feta.

Adapted from “The White Dog Cafe Cookbook” by Judy Wicks and Kevin von Klause, as published in the Wall Street Journal

More Soups to Savor: Carolyn’s Never-The-Same Veggie, Bean and Sausage Soup

And: Cauliflower Soup with Aged Cheddar & Mustard Croutons

And: Chicken Meatball Soup

And: Easy Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons

And: Galician White Bean Soup

And: Limon Omani Oven-Roasted Chicken Soup with Celery Seeds

And: Mama Chang’s Hot and Sour

And: Roasted Asparagus Soup with Pistachio Cream

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  • Thanks Caroline, this looks outstanding. Going to incorporate my favorite seasonal veg into this, green garlic!

  • Hi Reuel: You and I obviously think alike! LOL I also added a little spring garlic in the soup. It’s one of my fave spring ingredients, too. πŸ˜‰

  • We love lentil soup — just had some last night, as a matter of fact. πŸ™‚ The flavors in this are terrific — wonderful list of ingredients. Feta garnish for me, please!

  • Hi John: If you love lentil soup, then this one will really satisfy. So big in flavor, and so nourishing. Enjoy!

  • Made it today and it’s as good as you say! I did add green garlic. I’d do it again… Used French Feta from International Market, so good!

  • Hi Reuel: So glad it was a winner for you, too. Sounds like for you and me, green garlic’s season is never long enough. Love the stuff! πŸ˜‰

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