This authentic Middle Eastern lentil soup recipe requires just a few ingredients, and minimal prep resulting in the most creamy and flavourful soup! I’ve included instructions for making this lentil soup using red lentils in the Instant Pot and on the stovetop.
Why Lentil soup is important in Middle Eastern cuisine
This Arabic lentil soup, often called "Shorbat Adas" in Arabic, reminds me of Ramadan, a holy month when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Once it's time to break the fast, lentil soup is the first thing that's consumed in order to hydrate the body and prime the digestive system.
In fact, one of the core spices used in traditional middle eastern lentil soup is cumin. Cumin is known to aid with digestion, which is helpful when Arabs are fasting all day and about to feast.
The traditional Arabic style soup is actually completely vegan, and is always made with red lentils, as opposed to green or brown. Red lentils create the right creamy consistency, since they melt away when cooked.
Red lentils are also great for digestion, they're packed with protein and Iron along with other 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.
Lentil soup is consumed all across the middle east, and dare I say, it's one of the most well know middle eastern recipes. However, it's not the only Ramadan soup. Countries like Morocco enjoy breaking their fast with Harira soup, which is another delicious and hydrating alternative. I also often serve cauliflower soup for a nice change.
The key components of middle eastern style lentil soup
This soup is simple, and its simplicity is what makes it delicious. The base is made from onions and optional vegetables like potato and carrot. Then the red lentils are cooked in water with the rest of the vegetables until soft.
The soup is typically consumed either chunky or blended. My mom always left it chunky.
One of the key traditional steps that my mom always does is to heat about ¼ cup of oil with more softened onions and splash it on top of the soup at the end. It did make it extra delicious, but I skip this step to avoid the extra oil.
Lentils can also be cooked much faster using a pressure cooker, which is my preferred method of cooking. Using the instant pot, this recipe's cook time is 30 minutes. However, I include instructions for stove top cooking too.
Step by Step video for Lentil Soup
Ingredients you'll need to make this Arabic lentil soup
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.
These are the only 2 spices you'll need. The vegetables and lentils will be adding so much more flavour.
When it comes to vegetables, the usual ones used are onions, carrots, and potatoes. Carrots and potatoes are optional but they add great depth and more nutrients.
However, the onions are one of the key ingredients, so I suggest you don't skip them. In fact, you can even add more if you like.
Step by Step instructions for stove top and instant pot
Step 1: 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.
Step 2: Add the vegetable oil to your pot and heat it. If you're using the instant pot, do this step using the "SAUTE" function. Cook the onions and potatoes (and carrots if using) 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.
Step 3: Add the washed and drained lentils and all the water and chicken broth. 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.
Step 4: Taste and adjust for seasoning. Blend the soup using an immersion blender straight in the pot. If you don't have an immersion blender, transfer to a blender and blend until smooth. You can also leave it chunky.
Recipe Notes and substitutions
You can skip the potatoes and/or the carrots in this recipe. They're great to throw in if you have them for extra creaminess, but if not, it'll still be delicious.
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. My husband is not very partial to cumin so it's always a battle between us.
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
You can easily refrigerate any leftovers on an airtight container and re-heat the next day. I also love to make a large batch of this soup because it freezes so well. To freeze the soup:
- 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 the lentil soup out and allow it to thaw overnight in the fridge or the same day on the counter
Lentil soup tends to thicken a lot when stored in the fridge or freezer. Therefore, follow these instructions to re-heat it:
- 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. You may need to use a few splashes of water to adjust the consistency.
TIP: When re-heating the soup, the secret is to use a whisk so you end up with a smooth consistency and it will taste as good as new.
Lentil soup can be stored in the freezer up to a month.
What to serve with lentil soup!
This middle eastern style lentil soup is typically served as an appetizer course before a main meal. But it is hearty enough to be a lunch on its own.
The traditional way of serving it is with lemon wedges for squeezing, as well as crispy pita chips on top to add texture.
For more soup and stew recipes, check out:
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Middle Eastern Lentil Soup (Instant Pot or Stovetop)
- 2 onions diced
- 1 potato diced
- 1 carrot diced (optional)
- 2 cups red split lentils
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon salt plus more per preference
- 1.5 teaspoon cumin powder
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 1 teaspoon black pepper more or less per preference
- 8-10 cups water or chicken stock
- 1 chicken stock cube if using water
- 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