This Middle Eastern lentil soup recipe requires just a few ingredients, and not
too much prep for the most creamy and amazingly flavorful soup! I’ve included
instructions for making this lentil soup with red lentils in the Instant Pot and on
the stovetop. If you know anything about Middle Eastern food, then you know
that lentil soup is quite popular in every Arabic country.
Why this recipe works
This Arabic lentil soup reminds me of Ramadan, a holy month when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Once it's time to break our fast, this soup perfectly compliments any main dish! It's healthy and packed with nutrients. I actually make this all year long. It's one of my go-to recipes for meal planning because I can easily make a large batch, and its easy to store in the freezer. I also rotate this with cauliflower soup and roasted red pepper soup.
I learned this recipe from my mom, but I've made a few tweaks to it over the years, mainly to make it much easier to make using the Instant Pot. But if you don't have one, I also listed stove top directions. Traditionally, onions fried in oil are poured on top of the finished soup before serving. But to avoid the extra calories, I skip this step (but feel free to try it out!).
Ingredients you'll need
For this soup, we just need a few simple ingredients. In terms of spices, cumin is the star, adding a delicious nutty and warm flavour to the lentils. I also use a bit of turmeric to make it a vibrant yellow colour. That's the only 2 spices you'll need, mainly because the onions and other vegetables will also add so much flavour... don't skip the onions! In fact, you can even add more if you like. This soup is not meant to be overly spicy, as it is traditionally served to break the fast during Ramadan.
How to make this Arabic lentil soup two ways
You can make this soup on the stove top or using the instant pot. The advantage to using an Instant pot is that it cuts down the time the soup needs to boil, and it also cooks without releasing a lot of steam. Sometimes when I boil something for a while, I get annoyed by all the steam and have to turn on the overhead fan (yes I hate the noise!).
- Start by chopping the onions and potatoes. If you're going to blend the soup at the end for a smooth texture, don't worry about the size of the vegetables. But if you want to keep it chunky, then dice them into small cubes.
- Cook the onions and potatoes in the vegetable oil until they soften and start to caramelize. Then add in all the spices and continue to cook and toast the spices
- Add the washed and drained lentils and all the water. Mix well.
- If you're cooking on the stove top, cover and boil for 40-60 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Taste and adjust the water and salt half way through
- If you're using the Instant Pot, secure the lid and pressure cook for 15 minutes, then manually release the pressure.
- You can blend the soup using an immersion blender or regular blender, or keep it chunky - it's up to you!
Watch me make this recipe
Notes and substitutions
- You can totally skip the potatoes in this recipe. They're great to throw in if you have them for extra creaminess, but if not, don't worry - it'll still be delicious.
- If you have carrots lying around, you can add those in the same way we add the potatoes and onions.
- Whatever you do, don't skip the onions. They add an amazing depth of flavour. You can also add more than what the recipe calls for.
- You can adjust the level of liquid and the salt at the end. The recipe yields a lentil soup with a thick consistency because that's how I like it. If you like it thinner, add more water at the end.
- You can also add more spices to your taste or increase the amount of cumin used.
- If you don't own any type of blender, chop the vegetables finely and you can also serve the soup with a chunky consistency. It'll taste just the same!
How to freeze and re-heat lentil soup
I always make a large batch of this soup because it freezes so well, so why not save myself some time? After cooking, this is what I do:
- Allow the soup to cool completely on the counter
- Scoop the soup into freezer bags and add enough for one meal
- Close the bag, ensuring you get rid of all the air inside
- Flatten the bag so it takes up less space in your freezer, and you can stack them up easily
- Take out and allow it to thaw overnight in the fridge or the same day on the counter
- Heat it over the stove top in a pot and use a whisk to get rid of any lumps and make it super smooth again.
That's it! Really easy. The secret is to use a whisk when re-heating so you end up with a smooth consistency and it will taste as good as new. I usually leave them in the freezer up to a month (but they never last that long).
For more soup recipes, check out:
- Fall Sweet Potato and Carrot Curry Soup by my friend Areeba which looks incredible!
- Libyan Soup - Shorba by my friend Nadia who also discusses it's cultural and historical significance
- Instant Pot Roasted Red Pepper Soup
- Instant Pot Carrot Soup with Ginger by Sarah, which also is a must try!
If you tried these recipes, please consider leaving a star ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating in the recipe card below and/or a review in the comments section further down the page - I'd love to hear from you! You can also hop on over to Instagram and say hello!
Middle Eastern Lentil Soup (Instant Pot or Stovetop)
- 3 onions
- 2 small potatoes
- 3.5 cups red split lentils
- 5 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoon salt plus more per preference
- 2 teaspoon cumin powder
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 1 teaspoon black pepper more or less per preference
- 13 cups water approximately 3 liters
- Lemon juice optional
- Crunchy pita chips optional
- Start by peeling and chopping the onions and potatoes into large chunks. If you don't want to blend the soup at the end, then dice them into smaller cubes
- In the Instant Pot (I used 8Qt for this size - see notes), add the vegetable oil, potatoes, onions, and spices and cook for 5 minutes on saute mode. If using stove top, use a regular soup pot
- Add the lentils and water, mix well ensuring you scrape the bottom of the pot, and secure the instant pot lid. If using stove top, cover the pot
- If using Instant Pot, pressure cook for 15 minutes. The Instant Pot will take approximately 10-15 minutes to come to pressure
- If using stove top, allow it to boil for 40-60 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Adjust the liquid and salt half way through
- For the Instant Pot, manually release the pressure valve and blend the soup using a hand mixer
- For the stove top, you can leave it chunky or blend it as well
- Taste and adjust the salt and also the water. If you like it thinner, add more water and allow it to cook for a few more minutes on saute mode
- If you're making the crunchy pita topping, simply cut pita bread into small squares and fry on medium heat using 3-4 tablespoons of oil. Continue stirring until golden and crunchy
- Serve with a squeeze of lemon and crunchy pita on top
- If you don't have an Instant Pot, you can follow the directions and cook on the stove top instead of pressure cooking. Cook time will be closer to 40-60 minutes.
- I used an 8 Qt instant pot for this batch size. You can halve the recipe and use a 6 Qt instant pot
- You can skip adding the potatoes if you don't have any (but don't skip the onion!)
- You can also add carrots to this soup, the same way the potatoes and onions are added
- Adjust the thickness of the soup at the end by adding more water for a thinner soup or allow it to boil for a thicker soup. This recipe yields a thick consistency