Turkish red lentil soup

It’s been a WordPress-heavy week for me: I’ve spent most of the last three days at work doing various things on the work blog, and tomorrow’s going to be another day spent editing posts and uploading photos. Add to that Monday night spent writing and all of the administrative blog things I need to do (I’m super behind on responding to comments ?), plus this post, and it was getting to be a lot.

I wanted to do something a little different and shorter than normal. So enter my first recipe!

A love affair begins

I lived in Istanbul, Turkey, for half a year during college, and honestly it’s the city that most feels like home to me. And because it’s me and we all know I love food, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that a not-insignificant part of why I love Turkey so much is the food.

Y’all, Turkish food is SO GOOD.

There are a bunch of small, cafeteria-style restaurants in Istanbul where they have a few pre-made options; you pick what you want and they’ll scoop it out onto a plate for you. As a relatively broke college student (even though the exchange rate was pretty great), I usually limited myself to two dishes, but invariably one of them ended up being mercimek çorbası, or red lentil soup. I don’t know what it is about this dish, but I am almost always in the mood for it.

Once I got back to the US, I made it my mission to figure out how to recreate the soup for myself—especially since Turkish restaurants here tend to be expensive! This recipe is the result.

A note on ingredients/an announcement

Everything here is pretty standard (although I do have to make a trip to Whole Foods for the red lentils because my regular grocery store doesn’t have them), except for the red pepper paste. I’ve looked but can’t really find it anywhere. So I have to rely on Amazon for it.

That above link is an affiliate link. Yes, I’ve finally joined the Amazon affiliate club, which means if you click on that link and then order something, I’ll get a few cents. I’ve been considering this for a while, and as I was paying to renew my domain name a few days ago, I started thinking it might be time. I’m certainly not expecting to be able to quit my job and live off of blog income (although if y’all want to make that happen for me, I’m not going to complain!), but I’ve decided to go ahead and put up affiliate links because it would be nice to have my hosting fees covered. I’m a FIRE blogger trying to consume less and reduce her own spending, so I promise I’m not going to spam everyone with links to useless shit!

Official language for butt-covering purposes: “We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.”

Anyway, back to the pepper paste. First off, make sure it’s regular spicy pepper paste, not the sweet version of it. That would certainly change the taste of the soup! The paste is definitely on the pricey side, but it’s what makes this recipe work. I’ve tried to recreate it but it doesn’t come out the same, so I’m willing to splurge a bit for this.

I can’t find pepper paste in a small container and unfortunately this recipe only needs a very small portion. It’ll keep pretty well in the fridge, but it won’t last forever. So either make a bunch of soup frequently, or scoop it out into little portions and freeze them until you need more pepper paste, which is something I should’ve done with my last jar so I didn’t have to buy this one. Every time I make this soup I think I should find something else to make that uses red pepper paste, so perhaps I’ll eventually get around to that.

And finally, the recipe

I told the Budget Epicurean that I’d send this recipe her way, but I only had a vague write-up of the directions in a Pages document (yes, I’m a Mac user) which wasn’t helpful either for sending or consulting while cooking. So here it is, in a format that’s actually conducive to cooking!

I’m not going to lie, there’s a bit of ego going into this post. I use the Paprika app on my phone (not an affiliate link. Also go download it, it is worth every penny!) for my recipes, which pulls the disparate parts out of recipes posted online and puts them into a nice, easy-to-follow format. Writing the recipe out like this in a post means I’ll be able to have a recipe in my app that’s from reachingforfi.com! 😉

How does one take a picture of soup? Obviously I’m not going to become a food blogger anytime soon

Turkish red lentil soup


Olive oil
1 medium onion
2 small potatoes
2 small/medium carrots
2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups red lentils
1-2 tbsp tomato paste
2-3 tbsp red pepper paste
Dash of parsley
Dash of basil
Dash of pepper
Dash of salt
1 bay leaf
Dash of cinnamon
1/4-1/3 cup cooked rice
Dried mint (to serve)


Dice the onion, potatoes, carrots, and as much garlic as you like. There should be enough vegetables to cover the bottom of the pot you’re using. Sauté them in olive oil.

When the veggies get a little soft, add around two quarts of chicken or vegetable stock and bring to a slow boil.

Add two cups of washed red (not green) lentils. You can add a bit more if you want the soup to be thicker.

Then add 1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste and 2-3 tablespoons of red pepper paste. You may want to vary the amounts depending on taste. At this point, I usually add a few spices: I tend to use parsley, basil, pepper, salt, and a bay leaf. The secret ingredient is a teeny dash of cinnamon (trust me on this). You can add whatever spices you like—not too much though! The red pepper is already a strong taste.

Mix well so that there are no clumps of tomato/pepper paste stuck to the bottom.

Once well-mixed, lower the heat to a low bubbly simmer and cook for a bit, stirring occasionally. After stirring in the pastes you only really need to cook the soup until the lentils are soft enough to eat, about twenty minutes. But most soups are best when they are cooked for a long time on lowish heat. If you find that it’s cooking down too much, you can always add a bit more stock.

Lastly, add some (fully cooked) rice, probably no more than 1/4-1/3 of a cup (preferably short grain, but it doesn’t really matter), depending on how thick you want it to be. It’s also common to use bulgur wheat. In Turkey, the lentil soup is often blended before the rice is added, but this step is optional and just makes the soup less chunky.

Red pepper lentil soup is usually served with dried mint and a little bit of extra virgin olive oil on top and a slice of lemon on the side.

12 Replies to “Turkish red lentil soup”

  1. OMG This sounds amazing and magically I actually have every ingredient in my house right now! (Ummm… IF I can sub Thai red chili paste + cayenne? I’ll let you know what that’s like) Right down to the lemon slices and fresh basil/parsley! I know what I’m doing this weekend. <3 it

    1. I definitely want to know how subbing red chili paste goes! And go swing by my parents’ to help yourself to some of their red pepper paste 😉

  2. This sounds so good! I actually have no idea if our local store sells red lentils, but I’m guessing not. Since I’m never in the vicinity of a Whole Foods, maybe I’ll order some off Amazon. I’ve been wanting to work more lentils into our dinners lately, so this sounds perfect!

    1. Hah so that depends on a lot of things (like how hungry I am and if I fill up my bowl again right after I make it ?). I’d say somewhere in the 6-8 servings range? I tend to double the veggies and keep the broth amount the same so I usually end up with a pretty thick soup and I want to say that’s about 6 servings. You can always add more broth if you want to make it last longer!

    1. It’s so good for cold weather—I made another batch last week and was enjoying it during what was hopefully our last bits of winter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *