Main Course/ Vegetarian

French Lentil Soup

November 1, 2019
bowl of lentil soup with baguette toasts

Is it a thing to travel the world learning about other cultures through soup? If it isn’t, it should be. Soup was one of my first loves as a child, and remains one of my favorite meals, no matter where I am in the world. I love that almost every country has its own traditional soups, born out of locally available ingredients. Many soups are peasant foods, used to stretch small quantities of meat into meals for large families, or to sustain a population during the cold winter months when produce isn’t readily available. France boasts French Onion Soup, Seafood Bisque, and Bouillabaisse as entries into the world soup annals, but my favorite might be French Lentil Soup.

Lentils are grown all over the Mediterranean region, and in many other parts of the world, and have been part of the human diet since prehistoric times. In France, the most coveted variety are Lentils du Puy, which I call for in this recipe. You can use other brown or green lentils, but lentils du Puy are small, grayish-green, and hold their shape nicely even when fully cooked. Known as “poor man’s caviar,” these lentils are used throughout France in salads, sides, and soups. 

For this lentil soup recipe, I decided to go vegetarian. This would make an excellent no-meat Monday dinner with a side of buttered baguette. My recipe starts with cooking down onions and carrots in olive oil, then adding garlic, tomato paste, and cumin for seasoning. The tomato paste brings a depth of flavor that is sometimes lacking in vegetarian soups. Finally, you will add lentils and broth, and simmer until tender. You can blend some or all of the soup, deciding how creamy you want your texture. Adding spinach and lemon juice at the end provides more nutrients, flavor, and a pop of brightness. 

ingredients for french lentil soup: lentils, garlic, tomato paste, cumin, onions, carrots, olive oil

How do you make French Lentil Soup?

Now for the details… First, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Then add 1 medium onion and 2 large carrots that you have chopped up. Sauté, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes, until the onions and carrots begin to soften. Add about 2 teaspoons of chopped garlic and sauté for another minute.

sauteed onions and carrots in olive oil in large saucepan

Then add cumin and tomato paste and sauté for 90 seconds, stirring constantly, until tomato paste just begins to sizzle and brown.

chopped onions, carrots, and garlic sautéed with tomato paste and cumin

Turn heat down to medium. Add lentils, vegetable broth, 1 t. salt, pepper, and water, and simmer for 25-30 minutes, until lentils are tender. Skim off the foam on the top of the soup as it is cooking.

french lentil soup in saucepan

If you prefer a smoother texture for your soup, use an immersion blender to blend some of the soup. Or, put some of the soup into a blender and blend until smooth, then add back into soup pot. (Careful to let hot soup cool for a few minutes before blending). If you have let soup cool before blending, heat on stovetop again. Add spinach and stir until wilted. Stir in 1 T. lemon juice, taste, and add more lemon juice to taste. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

Note: some lentils take longer to cook than others. Check at 20 minutes, and then every 5 minutes after that. Lentils should be tender but still hold their shape.

What are Lentils du Puy?

Like many traditional French products, Lentils du Puy have been AOC-protected since 1996. As a result, only lentils grown in the area around Puy-en-Velay in the Auverne region can be certified as Lentils du Puy. This region of France is known for volcanic soil, which may add to the flinty, peppery flavor of the lentils. And, this region’s microclimate is perfect for lentils, as evidenced by the fact that lentils have been grown there for over 2000 years. 

Can you freeze lentil soup?

Yes, just make sure you cool your soup before freezing it. Kept in an air-tight container, lentil soup will keep for up to three months in the freezer. Defrost in the refrigerator for 24 hours when ready to eat. 

How long will French Lentil Soup keep in the fridge?

With no meat and no dairy, lentil soup keeps well in the refrigerator for 3-5 days. 

Are lentils good for you?

Yes! Lentils are high in fiber, and low in fat and calories. Lentils are also high in protein, making them particularly good for vegetarians and vegans. Finally, lentils are high in iron, potassium, folate, and magnesium, so they are a great addition to your diet. 

What should I serve with French Lentil Soup?

Lentil soup is one of my favorite weekday lunches—it travels well in a thermos to the office, and is excellent with a green salad on the side. It also makes a first course to a French menu, perhaps with salmon as the main course. And, for a superb late fall or mid-winter dinner, serve a big bowl of French lentil soup with some baguette toasts smeared with grainy mustard and topped with melted cheese. Lentil soup is so healthy, you deserve those cheesy toasts!

two bowls of french lentil soup with baguette toasts and ladle

If you enjoy this recipe, you might want to check out my other French-inspired dishes, such as Braised Leeks with Bacon, Green Bean Salad with Baked Goat Cheese, Classic Nicoise Salad, Easy Zucchini Gratin, and Salade de Tomates.  

French Lentil Soup

French Lentil Soup

Yield: Serves 4
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes

This creamy vegetarian/vegan french lentil soup is made with onions, carrots, lentils, and spinach. Healthy and filling—perfect for lunch or dinner!

Ingredients

  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 t. cumin powder
  • 1 T. tomato paste
  • 1.5 c. (290g) lentils du puy, rinsed and drained
  • 4 c. unsalted vegetable broth
  • 1-2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/4 t. freshly ground pepper
  • 1 c. water
  • 2 c. baby spinach
  • 1-2 T. lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, and add onion and carrots.
  2. Sauté, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes, until the onions and carrots begin to soften.
  3. Add garlic and sauté for another minute.
  4. Then add cumin and tomato paste and sauté for 90 seconds, stirring constantly, until tomato paste just begins to sizzle and brown.
  5. Turn down the heat slightly. Add lentils, vegetable broth, 1 t. salt, pepper, and water, and simmer for 25-30 minutes, until lentils are tender. Skim off the foam on the top of the soup as it is cooking.
  6. If you prefer a smoother texture for your soup, use an immersion blender to purée some of the soup. Or, put some of the soup into a blender and blend until smooth, then add back into soup pot. (Careful to let hot soup cool for a few minutes before blending).
  7. If your soup has cooled, re-heat it over medium heat. Add spinach and stir until wilted.
  8. Stir in 1 T. lemon juice, taste, and add more lemon juice to taste. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Notes

Some lentils take longer to cook than others. Check at 20 minutes, and then every 5 minutes after that until they are tender but still hold their shape.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 104 Total Fat: 7g Saturated Fat: 1g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 6g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 1863mg Carbohydrates: 9g Net Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 2g Sugar: 4g Sugar Alcohols: 0g Protein: 2g
Nutrition information is provided as a general reference for users courtesy of the online nutrition calculator Nutritionix.

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