This humble French Lentil Soup with Cilantro gets its rich flavor from deeply browned onions.
As the weather gets cooler, I crave lentil soups. I’m always on the lookout for a good recipe for lentil soup, especially one with a twist of flavor. I came across several interesting lentil soups, but the one in Suvir Saran’s American Masala cookbook sounded especially interesting. Suvir’s lentil soup recipe uses French lentils (firmer in texture than some lentils), toasted cumin seeds, red chilies and ground peppercorns. It also contains the anti-cancer spice, turmeric, prevalent in Indian cooking.
This soup is dark and luscious, though none of the ingredients on their own give that impression. The technique of deeply browning the onions was the secret to the beautiful color.
Here is the recipe for this hearty French lentil soup. I have substituted whole wheat Israeli couscous to make it a bit healthier. Brown rice would also be a nice healthy alternative.
French Lentil Soup with Cilantro
- 13 cups water
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon red pepper chili flakes
- ¼ teaspoon ground black peppercorns
- 1 large red onion, quartered and sliced
- 2 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 cups green French lentils
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ cup whole wheat Israeli couscous or brown rice
- chopped fresh cilantro, for serving
- fresh lemon wedges, for serving
- Place 1 cup of water next to the stovetop. Heat the oil with the cumin in a large soup pot over medium heat until cumin is browned, about 2 minutes. Add chili flakes and ground peppercorns, and cook for 30 seconds. Add the onion and salt, and cook until onion is deep browned and crispy, 15-20 minutes, adjusting the heat to medium-low as needed to prevent from burning. Stir often and splash with water, scraping browned bits from the bottom of the pot when the onions begin to stick.
- Add 2 cups of water along with the lentils and the turmeric to the pot and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 10 more cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes, stirring halfway through.
- Stir in the couscous and return the soup to a boil. Cook, partially covered, until the couscous is al dente. Cover the pot and turn off the heat. Let the lentil soup stand for 30 minute to 2 hours to thicken.
- Before serving, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning and serve sprinkled with chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lemon juice.
adapted from Suvir Saran's American Masala cookbook