Make Ahead

Tri-Colored Lentil Soup

January 28, 2010
4 Ratings
  • Serves 8
Author Notes

This vegetarian soup is more like a robust stew. It has plenty of flavor—you don’t need any stock which is fine because that makes it fit the new, healthy and clean eating program you’ve probably resolved to take up in the new year. Don’t get too excited about the red lentils, they turn brownish when they are cooked but they’re fun to use nevertheless. I like to use Le Puy green lentils because they hold their shape—they are available at Whole Foods. You can substitute plain ol’ green lentils if you wish. If you can find red chard it will add some color to the soup, along with the greens. This is one of those nothing-too-fancy winter staples that you will want to have on the stove during a snow storm, or tuck in your freezer for a rainy day. - Sally —Sally

Test Kitchen Notes

This soup turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It started off well with sauteed onions and garlic and toasted spices. The three-colored legumes were really pretty. Everything was going well until I added 12 cups of water, which turned the soup watery and diluted the spices and aromatics. I was pretty certain I was going to have to throw the whole thing away till I added in the chard and the lemon and zest. The soup was transformed. The lemon and chard turned it from a watery pot of beans to a sublime, light, lemony vegetable soup -- perfect for spring, cleansing even. I suggest that you add less water--start with 8 cups instead of 12 -- and increase the spices and aromatics, especially if you like thick lentil soup. (You can add more water later if you need it.) Don't skimp on the greens or the lemon -- they really make the soup extraordinary. - drbabs —drbabs

What You'll Need
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
  • 2 stalks celery, cut in small dice
  • 2 carrots, cut in small dice
  • 1 cup green lentils
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1 cup yellow split peas
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard (Ruby or green)
  • 1 lemon, finely grated zest and juice
  • 2 to 3 rounds of pita bread
  1. In a large (6 quart) pot, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the garlic, onions, cumin, thyme, coriander, salt and cayenne pepper. Cook until the onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the celery and carrots and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the lentils and the 12 cups of water and simmer for 45 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, separate the chard stems from the leaves: stack the chard and slice along either side of the stems. Cut across the stems to make 3/8-inch wide slices. Add the stems to the soup and cook for 10 more minutes.
  3. Stack the leaves and cut them in 1-inch ribbons. Add them to the soup with the lemon zest and juice. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the leaves are wilted. Taste and add more salt if needed. Crumble some toasted pita on top of each soup bowl for garnish.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Emily
  • ReinaDelAjo
  • SavorLife
  • Pat E. in SLO
    Pat E. in SLO
  • Sally
I am a home cook,author of a couple of cookbooks and mother. I write for the Boston Globe from time to time. My "kid" just left for college and comes home for cooking lessons. Too bad he was completely uninterested in the process (except when he was little and gingerbread was involved) until now. Without Mom to cook, he's very, very hungry. But it's fun to keep bonding over the stove. I blog about food and life at

6 Reviews

Emily January 10, 2014
Oh how I loved this. I skipped the celery and thyme because they aren't my favorites, upped the other spices a tad, and also used around 5 c water and 3 c homemade stock that had some jalapeno in it. I'm calling it stoplight soup because of the vibrant colors - I used one yellow and one red carrot - and because if someone told me this was ready on the stove, I'd want to run red lights to get home!
ReinaDelAjo December 17, 2011
Thanks drbabs for suggesting using less water, it definitely kept it at a thicker more hearty consistency. I tweaked the recipe by adding 1 teaspoon of pimenton de la vera (essentially spanish smoked paprika) and let me tell you, that really made the flavors more intensely delicious! The lemon is definitely a necessary touch. I definitely see myself trying this out again using different ingredients. I'm already thinking about how I'll use kale instead of swiss chard. Thanks for a great recipe!
SavorLife October 30, 2011
This makes a big batch of soup. I am going to freeze 1/2 for later. I sub'd Costco's gourmet bean blend for the lentils (it contains beans, peas and lentils). I had to soak the beans for 4 hrs and increase the cooking time to 90 minutes. It turned out great. 12 cups of water was the perfect amount given the increased cooking time.
Pat E. May 25, 2011
Yum! Great versatile recipe. Used what I had.... leeks, spinach, barley instead of split peas, some homemade broth and some poached chicken that needed to be used...some chili flakes and parsley. Tossed the whole thing over toasted croutons and topped with cheese...wonderful dinner and seductive lunch I will probably eat before 10:30 tomorrow. Thanks for the inspiration.
Sally April 17, 2011
Thanks DRBABS for the feedback. I revisited this recently (before I read your comments) and didn't have a problem with it being watery, but to be on the safe side, you probably ought to cut back to 8 cups of water to start with. It thickens A LOT as it sits--so the next day it is very thick. In fact, even with 12 cups of water, I needed to thin it a little more once it had been in the fridge overnight. If my family wants a little meat, I sometimes add some cooked chicken sausage (Spinach and feta sausages from whole foods) and maybe even a garnish of feta cheese.
FoodieGoesHealthy March 25, 2011
Sounds delicious. Would love to try this. I have some red chard sitting in my refrigerator right now, and have been contemplating what to make with it. And it's raining today! Thanks for the recipe.