Red Lentil Soup with Coconut & Curry

The pantry, a source of angst for some, can certainly be a life saver – and so can a few hearty, long-lasting fall/winter vegetables on the counter or tucked away in the fridge. When January rolls around, I like to take stock of what’s around and what needs to be used up soon, and a jar of orange lentils kept staring me smack dab in the face! Merry and bright, they seemed to shout out “Make soup, make soup!”

Red Lentil Soup with Coconut & Curry
Red Lentil Soup with Coconut
& Curry

I had a soup like this years ago in a cafe and fell in love – I knew it had curry, coconut and lime, and I’ve played with it over the years. What I discovered is that it is versatile, can take a variety of changes and it’s a great rainy day, back pocket, pantry soup! It fits all the hallmarks of what I look for in a great frugal recipe: it’s healthy, delicious, easy, fast, cheap plus it’s comforting with just a touch of easy elegance. That it can be cobbled together from what’s in the pantry and usually in my fridge? Bonus!

The spicing and flavoring is easily customized to your taste. Use a curry paste or a curry powder (home-made or not.) Add as much or as little as desired, start with a tablespoon or so and add more if you wish. After the soup has simmered for a while, give it a little taste test. Remember, a can of coconut milk will be added later, which will mellow out the flavors, adjust the spices if desired.

When it’s a lazy winter day like today, I’ll pull out my blender or spice grinder and whiz up about a 1/2 tablespoon each of coriander, cumin seeds, a pod of cardamom, and then add anywhere from a teaspoon to a tablespoon of red pepper flakes. (Keeping whole spices in your cupboard is a great frugal strategy, not just a “foodie” thing to do as they can be kept around for a good amount of time while still keeping their flavors.) I don’t even bother to toast the spices as they’ll be toasted in the fat from the coconut milk.

Let’s talk about the coconut milk. This is an ingredient that is almost always in my pantry – once it’s settled on the shelf for a while, some of the creamy oils in the coconut milk will rise to the top, which is great thing – you’ll use that white, congealed mass to cook your onions, garlic and spices in. No added or commercial oils needed here.

The vegetables in this soup can be easily varied. I like to use tomatoes for two reasons: their lovely hue and healthy lycopene. The sweet potatoes and carrots add lovely body, but one or the other could easily be omitted and more or less of the other added. Peppers, mild or hot can be added to the soup, in any color, variation or heat level desired – green ones will change the color of the soup. I think a few parsnips or a rutabaga would be a lovely, if non-traditional, addition. Really, the sky’s the limit here.

I puree this soup, which is an added step, but the time involved is offset by the fact that everything is simply roughly chunked and the soup is on the stove in minutes. That lets me get away with leaving the healthy peels on while still having a lovely soup. If you wish, cut your vegetables in reasonable pieces and serve as a chunky stew of lentils and veggies.

While I always serve this soup with lime (the citrus helps make the iron in the lentils more available for us to use) I also like to add a bit of a garnish, if I’m feeling fancy. A little coconut milk saved back and swirled in, a dab of yogurt, a swirl of red chili oil, or a little cilantro lime oil, mixed in the blender.

Left over, the soup will very likely need to be thinned out a bit – but it also makes a lovely dip. Try serving it with Elaine’s Nut & Seed Crackers, either with the soup or as a dip.

Nut & Seed Crackers - using left over Lentil Soup as a Dip
Nut & Seed Crackers – using left over Lentil Soup as a Dip

Red Lentil Soup with Coconut & Curry

  • Servings: 8 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • a few tablespoons of the creamy coconut fats from top of can
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chunked
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled & smashed
  • 1″ piece ginger, peeled & cut into small chunks
  • 1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste or curry powder (see note)
  • 1 medium sweet potato or 1/2 large, peeled if desired, cut in chunks
  • 2 medium carrots, peel on, cut in chunks
  • 4 cups stock (vegetable or chicken) or water
  • 1 1/2 cups dried red lentils
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
After simmering,:
  • 1 can light coconut milk
  • salt to taste or additional fish sauce
  • lime for garnish

In a Dutch oven, heat several tablespoons of the congealed coconut milk from the top of the can. Add onions, and cook until onions have softened, stirring now and then, about eight minutes. Add curry powder, paste or ground spices and cook, stirring until fragrant, about one minute. Add garlic and ginger and stir in.

Add 4 cups water or broth, lentils, carrots, sweet potatoes, fish sauce and lime juice. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer, partially covered, until lentils and vegetables are tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Taste and adjust any seasonings as desired after the soup has cooked for several minutes. The soup will be very thick towards the end of cooking time – make sure to check it and stir if necessary to prevent scorching.

Stir in coconut milk and puree soup in batches until velvety and smooth. If desired, add a bit more fish sauce or a little salt.

Serve warm or cold with lime, and/or garnish, below. Soup will thicken upon standing, so add a little water if reheating.


  • Blend your own spices: 1/2 tablespoon each of coriander, cumin seeds, a pod of cardamom, and then add anywhere from a teaspoon to a tablespoon of red pepper flakes.
  • To make Vegetarian, omit the fish sauce and use a substitute or just a little salt.

from the kitchen of

Garnish of Cilantro Lime Oil:

This little “garnish” is a simple, versatile way to pack in a bit of flavor and brightness to a dish. Think about using any citrus and a variety of herbs to compliment a number of dishes! Soups, drizzled over croutons, used as a cooking oil, dip bread in it…the sky’s the limit.

Cilantro Lime Oil
Cilantro Lime Oil

In a blender, add a small handful of cilantro or cilantro and parsley, a little garlic, and juice of 1/2 of a lime. Pulse. Add two to three tablespoons of olive oil, enough to thin to desired consistency and whir until cilantro is in small bits. Feel free to make more!

Feel free to add a few red pepper flakes or spice this up in any way you wish.

13 thoughts on “Red Lentil Soup with Coconut & Curry”

    1. Thanks! I love ALL lentils, I think. These are not as “Earthy” tasting. My son wouldn’t try it (he’s in his early 20’s and stopped by) looked at both the crackers on the counter and the soup on the stove and mumbled something about “more of your healthy crap…” as he rooted through the fridge! More for me! 🙂

        1. Well, if he can get past the color, which I think is lovely, he’d probably eat this! 🙂 I know my son would have liked it because he loves other dishes that have these curry/lime flavors.

  1. Yum, this lentil soup looks amazing! I love all the ingredients you’ve used, and I like the idea of cleaning out the pantry every so often. I have all the ingredients for this, so I’ll thank you for sharing your recipe 🙂

  2. What a pretty bowl of lentil soup. My own version, with green lentils is very tasty but I can’t say that it’s particularly pleasing aesthetically. I’ll have to get a package of red lentils and give it a try.

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