Despite the plant-based health benefits of lentils, I never gave them a second thought…until I discovered this lentil soup. I love it because you can customize it to your liking plus it freezes and scales well, making it a perfect recipe for batch cooking. If you discovered a long-lost bag of dried lentils or beans in your cupboard, you’ll want to use them up by making this aromatic soup!
Before going to the grocery store these days, I dredge out the stragglers from the pantry. I find odds and ends — an errant sweet potato, a can of chicken noodle soup, stale bread crumbs. Most of these ingredients require little thought to consume or throw away. But whenever I reach in and a bag of beans saunters out, I freeze.
Pulses. Lentils. Legumes. No matter what you call them, these edible multi-colored pebbles terrify me.
I always think they’re going to take forever to cook and still remain chewy and tough (one time, I cooked split pea soup for 3 days, and the peas still hadn’t softened!). I used to think that the only thing beans are good for is American-style chili (which I don’t care for but I cook a few times a year because I’m married to an American).
However, due to our latest avoidance of the supermarket, beans have weaseled another way onto my dinner menu.
What started as a sharp dislike has transformed into a grudging appreciation of lentils and beans. Yes, they take a looooooong time to cook (without a pressure cooker). But I’ve discovered that lentil soup is worth making because of its taste, scalability, and flexibility. If you feel overwhelmed by the idea of cooking beans and lentils, I think you’ll love this lentil soup. Let’s learn how we can make it work for you.
Why make lentil soup
Lentil soup with sausage is a classic. It’s delicious, no doubt. The sausage adds a blast of umami and is packed with protein. The lentils offer plant-based protein, plenty of fiber, and a firm-yet-tender texture that adds toothy interest to your soup.
There are plenty of reasons you’ll love this lentil soup. First, it’s a “recipe template”, which means you can customize the dish to your tastebuds and the ingredients you have on hand. Second, lentil soup freezes very well. Third, you can make a vat of lentil soup. That means you can scale up lentil soup to 3x or even 5x. It’s the promise of cook once and eat three times that keeps me returning to this recipe.
Let’s learn how to customize lentil soup based on your pantry. Read to the end for ideas on how to freeze leftovers for a rainy day.
What ingredients do you need for lentil soup?
Here are the components of lentil soup:
- Aromatics: Onions, carrots, celery, ginger, garlic, bell peppers/capsicum, shiitake mushrooms
- Legumes: Beans, lentils, pulses. Pick a type of lentil or bean that doesn’t get mushy, such as green lentils rather than red lentils.
- Strongly flavored protein (optional): Sausages (meat-based or vegan sausages), flavored tofu, bacon
- Herbs and spices: Cumin, paprika, curry powder, bay leaves, thyme, savory, rosemary, chipotle, peppercorns, herbes de provence
- Vegetables: kale, spinach, potatoes, green beans
- Toppings: lemon juice, grated cheese, yogurt, crème fraîche
You’re welcome to substitute within each component by using what you’ve got in your pantry and the ingredients you love.
For example, I rarely have celery in the fridge because I only ever use 1 to 2 stalks, and the rest gets moldy and goes to waste. In my lentil soup, I skipped celery but added garlic, which is not traditionally in a mirepoix. I also used sweet peppers (similar to bell peppers/capsicum) because they were sitting in my fridge.
You can substitute lentils for other kinds of legumes. I tried making the soup with dried black beans. While it tasted different and the color was a stark contrast, black bean soup following the same recipe template was just as tasty as lentil soup.
When it comes to herbs and spices, I don’t have a fixed mix of spices. I use what’s in my pantry based on the mood I’m in (dried chili peppers if I want it spicy) or ingredients I want to get rid of (like the leftover bag of chipotle peppers). I always have bay leaves, peppercorns, and dried herbs like thyme and rosemary around, so I added those. I wrapped them in a spice sachet to save time.
RELATED: Looking for another soup that freezes well? Check out Chas’ French Onion Soup
Tips for success
Lentil soup is an excellent recipe to cook when you’re working from home (WFH). The process takes several hours for the lentils and beans to cook until tender. But there are long periods in between when you don’t need to attend to the soup, making it ideal for a WFH day.
After experimenting with lentil soup, here are the ways I boost the flavor and spruce up the leftovers.
- If adding potatoes: Cook the peeled and quartered potatoes after the soup has finished cooking and the lentils are tender. Potatoes typically require 20 to 30 minutes of cooking time. If you put them in at the same time as the stock, this may cause the potatoes to overcook and disintegrate. Turn up the heat to medium-high when the lentils are cooked through and add the potatoes. Cook until the potatoes are tender.
- If adding fresh greens like kale and spinach: Like the potatoes, you want to avoid mushy and yellowed greens. Add the washed green vegetables after the lentils are tender. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook kale for 10 to 15 minutes if you like it soft and less if you want the kale to remain crunchy. Cook spinach for 2 to 3 minutes or up to 5 minutes if you like it soft.
- Allow the lentil soup to rest: Like curry, lentil soup tastes better overnight after the flavors have melded. I typically cook the soup in the morning and serve it for dinner. I freeze half of the leftovers and enjoy the soup the next day when the flavors have developed further. You can also start cooking the lentil soup after work knowing it won’t be ready until the next day. By the time you’re ready to serve it, it will have rested. I reboil it on the stove to make sure it’s safe to eat if I leave the soup on the stove overnight.
- Toppings: Toppings are crucial for sprucing up the leftovers, especially if you’re not freezing extras. Get creative about the toppings you can add to make the dish taste like new, including different kinds of hard cheeses (Gouda, Cheddar, Parmigiano-Reggiano) and fresh herbs (cilantro, basil, green onions). Remember it’s not only about new flavors but also textures. Get creative about adding chopped nuts, toasted seeds, and croutons.
Lentil soup with vegetables and sausages
- Mixing Bowl
- spice sachets
- Chopping Board
- Soup Pot
- 1 lb (500 g) lentils, green lentils or substitute with other dried beans
- 2 tablespoon (30 ml) canola oil
- 3 large (750 g) onion, scale up or down if you want more or less "oniony" flavor
- 1 lb (500 g) Carrots
- ½ lb (250 g) Bell Peppers, optional
- 5 cloves (5 cloves) garlic
- 5 whole (5 whole) Sausages, meat or vegan, cooked or raw are OK
- 32 fl. oz. (1 L) Chicken broth, substitute with vegetable stock or your favorite stock
- 2 tablespoons (30 g) Tomato Paste, optional, substitute with a can of diced or whole tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon (15 g) Salt, to taste
- 5 pieces (5 pieces) Bay Leaves, dried or fresh
- 5 sprigs (5 sprigs) thyme, dried or fresh
- 15 (15 ) Peppercorns, about 1 pinch
- 1 piece (1 piece) chipotle, optional, substitute with whatever spices you want
- Gather the ingredients.
- Cover the lentils with water in a mixing bowl and soak for at least 2 hours. You can soak the lentils overnight if you remember. I read that you don't need to soak green lentils but I've never tried cooking without soaking.
- While the lentils are soaking, prepare your spice sachet. Wrap your spices in a neat package.
- Chop the carrots, onions, garlic, (if using) bell peppers/capsicum, celery, and other aromatics and vegetables you want to add to the soup. You can slice the vegetables into relatively large pieces if you are short on time.
- Heat the oil in a big soup pot on high heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes. Keep stirring to avoid burning the onions.
- Add the chopped carrots, bell peppers, garlic, celery, and all remaining aromatics or vegetables (except tender greens) to the soup pot. Cook for 3 minutes while stirring with your spatula or wooden spoon to avoid burning the vegetables.
- If adding sausages, make a well in the soup pot by pushing aside the vegetables. Add the sausages and brown them on the outside for 3 to 5 minutes. I like to cut up the sausages, especially if they are raw, with a pair of scissors to allow the flavors to blend better.
- Add the lentils and (if using) the tomato paste to the soup pot.
- Add the broth, salt, and spice sachet to the soup pot. Fill the carton of broth with water and add to the soup pot. Keep adding water until the lentils are fully covered with liquid (you could end up adding as much as 1 to 2 L of water). Allow the soup to come to the boil. Turn the heat to low to simmer once the soup has boiled. Stir to mix. A simmer looks like small bubbles coming to the surface periodically but there is no active boiling happening. Simmer for 3 to 4 hours on low. After 3 hours of simmer, eat a lentil. If its texture still tastes tough, cook for another 30 minutes. Keep testing in 30-minute increments until the lentils taste tender.
- When your lentils are tender, you can add potatoes or green vegetables to cook. Once everything is cooked, your lentil soup is ready to serve. Enjoy!
How to freeze lentil soup
Wait for the soup to fully cool. You can fill plastic containers with lentil soup for freezing. I like reusing plastic yogurt containers that have a clear lid. Feel free to label and date if you need a reminder. Leave some headroom to allow the soup to expand when frozen, meaning don’t fill the container to the brim.
Lentil soup has lasted as long as 3 to 4 months in my freezer without any problems. Defrost the lentil soup in the fridge overnight or leave it in the sink for faster defrosting. I like to reheat the soup on the stove before serving. It reassures me that it is safe to eat and gives me a chance to add fresh greens like spinach to the soup.