Red Lentil Soup is about to become your new favorite! It’s made with easy pantry ingredients, but has a remarkably complex flavor that makes it taste like it came from a restaurant.
Why You’ll Love It
It’s quick to prepare. Red lentils are one of the faster cooking varieties of lentils, becoming tender in as little as 15 minutes. If you choose to use red split lentils, you can lower the simmer time to just 5-7 minutes.
It’s nourishing. Lentils are an excellent source of fiber, iron, and protein, providing essential and non-essential amino acids that the body needs to build protein.
It’s allergy friendly. This recipe is naturally vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free. The addition of coconut milk at the end gives this soup a nice dairy-free creaminess, but you could replace that with cashew cream or your favorite non-dairy milk, if you prefer.
It’s made in 1 pot. This soup simmers together in one pot in just about 30 minutes, for a super-easy meal. The lentils will naturally thicken this soup as it cooks, giving it a creamy consistency you’ll love. No immersion blender required!
Ingredients You’ll Need
What’s in red lentil soup?
- Red lentils
- Yellow onion
- Garlic cloves
- Lemon juice
This soup recipe is made simpler by calling for water instead of vegetable broth, in case that’s not an ingredient you keep on hand. The soup develops plenty of flavor without it!
However, if you prefer to use veggie broth, just cut-back on the salt that this recipe calls for, since the broth will add extra sodium, too.
How to Make the Best Red Lentil Soup
1. Saute the veggies.
Pour the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat, then saute the onion, carrots, and celery until the onions are soft and translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Add in the garlic, tomato paste, ground cumin, and cayenne pepper (if using), and stir briefly to bring out the flavor of the spices.
Pour the water into the pot, and scrape the bottom of the pot with the spatula, to make sure no spices are stuck to the bottom. Add in the dry red lentils and salt, then bring the liquid to a boil over high heat. Stir well as the water heats up, to make sure the lentils don’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
As soon as the liquid is boiling, lower the heat and cover the pot with a lid. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and cook until the lentils are very tender, about 15 minutes.
When the lentils are tender, remove the lid and add in the coconut milk, chopped cilantro, and lemon juice. Stir until the cilantro has wilted, and adjust any seasoning to taste, adding more salt or a pinch of ground black pepper, if needed.
Ladle the warm soup into bowls, and garnish with extra fresh cilantro. Leftover soup can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Common Questions & Substitutions
Can I use a different kind of lentil? If you don’t have red lentils on hand, you can use another variety, but the cooking time will need to be longer, and the texture will change. Red lentils practically dissolve as they cook, while other lentils will hold their shape better, so the soup won’t turn out as creamy. Green and brown lentils may require up to 30 minutes of cooking to become as tender, so just let them simmer longer. You can blend 2 cups of the soup when they are done cooking, if you are looking for a more creamy texture.
Can I use the Instant Pot? Yes, you can cook this in the Instant Pot! Saute the veggies and spices as directed, and be sure to scrape the bottom of the pot well when you add in the water, so nothing is stuck to the bottom. Once you add the lentils and salt, secure the lid of the pressure cooker, and turn the steam valve to “sealing.” Cook at high pressure for 10 minutes, then let the pressure naturally release for 10 more minutes, so the soup won’t spew out of the steam valve when you release the pressure. When it’s safe to remove the lid, stir in the coconut milk, lemon juice, and cilantro.
What if I don’t like cilantro? The cilantro adds a uniquely fresh flavor to this soup, but if you don’t like it, you can add in chopped spinach or fresh parsley, instead. Keep in mind that the parsley will also change the flavor, so make sure you like it before adding it in!
Don’t have tomato paste on hand? Try adding in a 14.5-ounce can of crushed or diced tomatoes, instead.
Don’t like spice? You can omit the cayenne pepper entirely! Or, for a slightly more mild flavor, try adding in a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, instead.
Wondering what to do with leftover tomato paste? You can drop the tomato paste by the tablespoon on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Freeze the pan on a flat shelf in your freezer until it’s hard, about 1 hour, then transfer the tomato paste balls to an airtight container. They will keep well for up to 6 months, and you can grab a tablespoon of frozen tomato paste to use in recipes whenever you need one.
Looking for more lentil recipes? Try Lentil Bolognese, Vegan Meatloaf, or even Healthy Burgers for a sneaky serving!
Red Lentil Soup
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 yellow onion (about 1 cup chopped)
- 2 carrots , chopped
- 2 celery stalks , chopped
- 3 garlic cloves , minced
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- pinch cayenne pepper (optional; omit if you don't like spice)
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 5 cups water
- 1 cup dry red lentils
- 1 ½ to 2 teaspoons fine sea salt (I use Real Salt brand)
- ½ cup canned coconut milk
- ⅓ cup fresh cilantro , chopped
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat, and saute the onion, carrots and celery until they are soft, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Add in the garlic, cumin, cayenne (if using), and tomato paste, and stir briefly, about 1 minute. Keep in mind the cayenne will make this soup spicy, so leave it out if you prefer something more mild.
- Add in the water, lentils, and 1 ½ teaspoons of salt. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and cover. Simmer until the lentils have expanded and are tender, about 15 minutes.
- Once the lentils are tender, stir in the coconut milk, cilantro, and lemon juice. Adjust seasoning to taste, adding more salt and some freshly ground pepper, if desired. Serve warm right away, with extra fresh cilantro on top, if you like.
- Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. This soup will thicken in the fridge, but it will thin out again when it's heated. You can always add an extra splash of water, if needed, to thin it to a consistency you like again.
If you try this red lentil soup recipe, please leave a comment and star rating below letting me know how you like it.
Questions and Reviews
Am I able to use another milk besides coconut milk?
Yes, I think any other milk would work! It just won’t be quite as creamy with something like almond milk or oat milk.
Easy to make, nutritious and delicious! Need I write more?! Thanks for a wonderful tasting soup, Megan.
This sounds lovely. I do get confused when a recipe calls for coconut milk. Do you mean the coconut milk drink? Or canned coconut milk? Thanks for the clarification.
I used full-fat canned coconut milk in this recipe, but you can use the boxed drink version for a less-creamy result.
If trying this in the instant pot, how long would you estimate and on which setting?
I would cook it for 10 minutes at high pressure (I use the manual or pressure cook button) and then let it naturally release for 10 minutes before moving the steam release valve to venting to release the rest of the pressure.
I usually cook lentil soup for 10 to 15 minutes at high pressure (depending on how soft you want the veggies) with a 10 minute natural release after that.
Made this last night and it’s so good! Only change that I made was I used the whole can of tomato paste, because I didn’t want to store it. My husband didn’t mind the extra tomato flavor. Thanks so much for another hit! This one will be added to our weekly rotation this winter.
When I don’t need the whole can of tomato paste, I measure out 1 Tbls “blobs” & put on wax lined cookie sheet & put in the freezer. When frozen I put them in freezer bag & save for next use. Many recipes call for 1-4 TBLS & it is good to have them in the freezer.
This is brilliant! Thanks for the tip! I love all your recipes; can’t wait to give this one a try!
Great, simple recipe. My 8 year old loved it too and asked for a second helping!
I’m so glad to hear that, Alex! Thanks for letting me know.
Easy, quick and very tasty! I reduced the salt to 1 teaspoon after reading some of the other comments and it tasted right to me. I also served it with cauliflower rice to make it extra hearty. This will be in my fall/winter soup rotation for sure!
Wow, this is the best red lentil soup I’ve ever tasted! I used your suggestion and swapped almond milk for the coconut milk, because that’s what I had.
This red lentil soup is delish. Thanks for sharing!
Your recipes are all great and easy!
Like the soup, just need to season better only because seemed bland, blended for my toddler .
Seriously perfect! No additions needed! I almost proposed to Meghan, but then i remembered i was happily married and she gives of her recipes freely!
Way too much sodium! I’m going to leave out most of the salt and hope it tastes okay.
I delete salt in all recipes
I just made this. Delicious! I didn’t use the coconut milk and also added 2 sausages. It’s a perfect soup that give you opportunity to make some personal changes. My husband loved it.
What can I do in place of tomato paste? The only ingredient I don’t have
Maybe add some tomato sauce or pureed canned tomatoes to taste?
What if i am allergic to tomatoes, should I replace the tomato paste with something else or leave it out completely?
I would just try it without the tomato paste and see how you like it! You can always add a little extra lemon juice at the end, if it needs a flavor boost.
Delicious and simple to make.
I omitted celery and coconut milk. I added about 1 teaspoon of Trader Joe’s Onion Salt after it was cooked. I ate it with warm Naan bread and olive oil.
Due to my special diet and coronavirus lack off canned goods in store, I Can’t find tomato paste at store as I need a no salt added what can I use to substitute? No salt added tomato sauce, no salt added crushed or diced tomatoes.
Please help as would like to make this recipe. 👍
I think the tomato sauce would be most similar. You might want to add a little more of it to taste, since it’s not as concentrated as tomato paste. Hope you enjoy the soup!
Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. Oh no just realized we don’t have tomato sauce. Might just have to wait til stores have more canned goods to try this recipe. We only have diced and crushed tomatoes no salt added and marinara sauce no salt added in our pantry. By the way absolutely love and use regularly your IP cookbook. Do you think you will release anymore IP printed cookbooks?
Made the soup today with no adjustments. It is delicious!
I love this soup and all your recipes. I don’t have cilantro today.Do you think I can use fresh parsley instead? Or should I just leave the green out? It’s chilly so feel like making soup.
I think parsley might be too overpowering in flavor, so I’d just leave it out! It’s still delicious without it.
I tried this one for my 6 years old kid, and he loved it ❤.
I ate from it too, and it was delicious 😋.
But I made some changes 😇
I added one butternut squash (I chopped it in small pieces and saute it with the onion, carrots and celery, in the 1st step).
Also, instead of 1/2 cup coconut milk, I just put 2 tablespoons of it.
and of course I didn’t make it spicy, since it’s for my kid.
Thanks alot, this is the 2nd recipe I tried from your website and it’s perfectly delicious 😋
Is there an Instant Pot version of this?
I think you could cook this in the Instant Pot for 10 minutes at high pressure, with a 10-minute natural release after that. Hope you love it!
Would this work without the tomato paste? I avoid tomatoes for inflammatory reasons. Looks like such a yummy soup though! I’m a huge fan of all of your recipes.
Sure, I bet it would still be delicious without the tomato paste!
This is so delicious!!! The changes I made were using bone broth instead of water, added about a tsp of smokey paprika, about a tsp of spanish reserve vinegar and baby spinach to wilt at the end. Started with less salt and less coconut milk. And for the boyfriend who thinks he needs a “protein” I added some Mexican chorizo since I had some. Amazing!!! Thx Megan!!!
I make a lot of lentil soups. This one is hands down the BEST! Thanks for another great recipe, Megan!! I made mine in the instant pot. 12 minutes with 10 minute natural release. Besides that I followed the recipe to a “T”.
I’m so glad you love it! Thanks for sharing the Instant Pot timing, too!
Super yummy! I used brown lentils by mistake but it was still ok. And didn’t add the coconut milk because it was low on salt already. I used Tamari on my own bowl of soup.
It would have been glorious exactly to your recipe but I’m a sucker for anything spicy so I added a tbsp of Harissa paste along with the coconut milk. Perfection!!
A keeper! Easy to make. Delicious. I cut the cayenne pepper in half.Also started with just 1 teaspoon of salt. At end, added a few shakes of Spike (no salt spice mix) & just a tad more salt, along with a few grinds of pepper. I’ve made this twice now, and know that I will be making it again!
The best food (really!) I’ve ever made and eat.
I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Deea!
Very delicious! I made the butter chicken and the lentils too, perfect Indian dinner 🥘
So much flavor. I followed your IP instructions, hemp milk (water and hemp seeds in the vitamix) I didn’t have any tomato paste so I used a 15 oz can of fire roasted tomatoes.
Simple, delicious, and perfect for cooking for anyone with a variety of food restrictions!
Delicious. I made only half of the recipe because it was just for me and at end didn’t use the coconut milk. But it was perfect and super easy to make.. Thanks Megan
This soup is a hit! It’s fast, easy, and the cayenne pepper gives it a kick, so be careful if you don’t like hot! I think it’s perfect.
This is my go to soup to meal prep and freeze. It heats bak up really well, and is so flavorful and delicious on a cold winter day!
This is one of my favorite recipes from Detoxinista. We make it weekly! I’ve also made it multiple times for friends and family and they ALL ask for the recipe or the leftovers!! Definitely a winner in our house.
Yum! Creamy! So good!
Yum! We really enjoyed this soup! Had some cornbread with it.
A staple in our house now. So yummy and easy.
Thank you for sharing this delish and healthy recipe! My hubby is out of town, and making a dish for one can be so daunting…I mean, I ALMOST ordered an entire pizza for just me tonight. BUT instead, I quickly whipped up this meal, and I’m grateful I’ll have dinner tonight and leftovers! I did juice half a lemon and add it for some freshness, and it was perfect! Thank you for keeping me off the ‘za and onto something healthier and still enticing! 🙂
This is my favorite red lentil recipe I have found since I’ve been vegan! Love it! Bold and smooth.
This soup is so delicious. I omitted salt and coconut milk because I’m always trying to reduce sodium and fat intake. I didn’t miss them at all. I have made this soup many times now.
This is soup has quickly become a family favorite. I’ve made it once a week for a month now. So easy and quick and made with basic pantry staples. Shhh… I will admit that I usually taste and add an extra tablespoon of brown sugar at the end of prep. Thank you Megan Gilmore for another vegan home run!
Very flavorful! For Instantpot version, cook on high for 10m plus 10m natural release, reduce water to 3 cups, stir in coconut milk after cooking is done. I included the juice of 1 small lemon at the end to brighten up the flavors.
I also reduced the cumin to 2 tsp because I felt like 1 tb might be too much.
Just finished making this and it is delicious! I followed the recipe, except I used lite coconut milk (canned). I think I will serve it on brown rice because I have some cooked in the fridge. Will definitely be making this often this fall and winter.
I made it again! Still the best food ever!
Love this soup! So delicious and wonderfully simple ingredients.
Made this tonight & both of us loved it. Used more spices as we like spicy food; added 1/2 red bell pepper, 2 small Russet potatoes & 1 can of chickpeas + more liquid. Used 1/2 organic chicken broth & 1/2 water along with 1/2 cup of heavy cream as we’re out of coconut milk. It was delicious & I’ll definitely be making it again. It’s another recipe that can easily be changed & have other veggies added to it depending what’s in season. TY for another super recipe!
This turned out great! The only change was to add a little acid (lemon juice or ACV)
I think using chicken or veggie stock would add more flavor as we felt our soup was a little bland. We served over rice and added sauteed roasted red pepper sausages – and it was delicious! Turned out great 🙂
Thoughts on leaving out/replacing cilantro?
Delicious! I used an immersion blender when all ingredients were tender. Very creamy and delicious! It’ll be a regular in our home!
This was perfect- comforting and delicious. I omitted cilantro and didn’t even miss it. Thank you!
Just made this, really good, full of flavour. Think aubergine would be a good fit in this so shall try a version and include some of that. Nice one Megan!
This soup is DELICIOUS! and HEALTHY! and EASY!! What more could we ask for! Except one thing: What is that bread you have pictured with it? Is it a tortilla? A piece of socca?? Inquiring minds want to know! 🙂
It’s naan bread! But not homemade– my kids love the frozen kind from Trader Joe’s, so I usually have it on hand for dipping.
Tasty soup. I substituted veggie broth for 1/2 of the water. Great dinner for the first cold night in. Colorado. I will double it next time!! Another winner.