That said, while our priority was definitely on trying as many new dishes as possible during our trip, there was one familiar dish consistently present on every menu that I couldn’t help but order at least once a day — a cozy small bowl of Turkish lentil soup.
You all already know that I adore a good bowl of lentil soup. But I especially fell in love with the Turkish version during this trip because it was so light and simple. By contrast to many other lentil soups that I have tried (or made) in the past, Turkish lentil soup is generally super-smooth and brothy, it’s lightly seasoned with just a few simple spices, and it’s served up with fresh herbs and lemon wedges, plus an occasional sprinkle of Aleppo pepper or pepper oil for some extra heat. This lentil soup was always served as an appetizer in Istanbul, often with some freshly-baked lavash on the side. And it was always so lovely and delicious.
So of course, I asked our servers a million questions so that I could learn how to make it at home! Turns out, it’s incredibly simple to whip up in less than 30 minutes, it’s naturally gluten-free and vegan, and it’s nice and healthy, which we especially appreciate this time of year. We’ve been loving this lentil soup served with just a simple side salad, plus maybe some lavash or bread to go with it. And in my opinion, the lemon and fresh herb (either mint or cilantro) toppings are essential, so be sure to pick them up while you’re grocery shopping for this recipe too.
Alright, let’s make some healthy lentil soup!
Turkish Lentil Soup Ingredients:
To make this traditional Turkish lentil soup (mercimek çorbası), you will need the following ingredients:
Veggies: This lentil soup recipe is made with a simple base of onion (white or yellow), carrot, and a small potato (I used a Yukon gold).
Stock: Either vegetable or chicken stock — whichever you prefer.
Red lentils: Which cook quickly and break down well in this soup.
Tomato paste: Most of the lentil soups we tried in Turkey were also made with tomato paste, which adds some great flavor and makes the soup more of an orange (versus light yellow) color.
Seasonings: A mix of ground cumin, sea salt, black pepper, and Aleppo pepper. (That said, if you don’t have Aleppo pepper on hand, you can substitute sweet or smoked paprika, plus a hint of cayenne.)
Fresh lemon wedges and fresh mint: Lots of freshly-squeezed lemon juice is essential to brighten up this soup. Restaurants also tended to sprinkle the soup with either fresh mint or cilantro, which I love.
How To Make Turkish Lentil Soup:
To make this Turkish lentil soup recipe, simply…
Sauté the veggies. Sauté some diced onion and carrot in olive oil until softened. Then stir in the tomato paste, cumin and Aleppo pepper, and sauté a bit longer to bring out their flavors.
Simmer. Then add in the stock, red lentils, and potato. And simmer the soup until the lentils are tender, about 15 minutes.
Purée (optional). My preference is to use an immersion blender to purée the soup right there in the stockpot until it is completely smooth. Or if you don’t have an immersion blender, you can transfer the soup in two batches to a traditional blender and purée until completely smooth. (As always, though, be very careful when blending hot liquids in a traditional blender, as they expand when blended. I recommend dividing the soup in half and blending in two separate batches, and tenting the cap of the blender lid so that hot air can escape as needed.)
Season. As always, don’t forget to taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.
Serve. Then serve it up nice and warm, sprinkled with chopped fresh herbs and and some generous squeezes of fresh lemon juice.
Feel free to get creative and customize this Turkish lentil soup recipe however you prefer! For example, feel free to…
Make a chili sauce drizzle: Some of the lentil soups we tried in Istanbul were drizzled with chili oil, which was delicious. To make it, simply melt a few tablespoons of butter (or olive oil), stir in a teaspoon or two of Aleppo chilis until combined, then drizzle over the soup in serving bowls.
Add garlic: Garlic doesn’t seem to be as traditional in authentic Turkish lentil soup, but I like adding an extra clove or two (pressed or minced) to the veggie sauté for extra flavor.
Omit the potato: Some places told us that they thickened their soup with a roux instead of a potato, which you are welcome to do instead if you would like to omit the potato.
Make it vegan: Just opt to use olive oil, and vegetable stock instead of chicken stock, and you’re good to go!
More Healthy Soup Recipes:
Looking for more healthy soup recipes to make this time of year? Here are a few of my faves!
1 small Yukon gold potato, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
fine sea salt and freshly-cracked black pepper, to taste
fresh lemon wedges and chopped fresh herbs (cilantro and/or mint), for serving
Sauté the veggies. Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onion and carrot, and sauté for 5 minutes until softened, stirring occasionally. Stir in the tomato paste, cumin and Aleppo pepper. Sauté for 1 more minute, stirring occasionally.
Simmer. Add the stock, red lentils, potato, and stir to combine. Continue cooking until the soup reaches a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low to maintain the simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes or until the lentils are tender.
Purée (optional). If you would like to purée the soup, use an immersion blender to purée until completely smooth. Or transfer the soup to a traditional blender (I recommend doing this in two batches, so as not to overfill the blender), and carefully purée* until smooth.
Season. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve. Serve warm, garnished with chopped fresh herbs and fresh lemon wedges for squeezing. (The lemon juice is essential, in my opinion, so be sure to add a good squeeze!)
Aleppo pepper substitute: Feel free to instead substitute 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika plus a pinch of cayenne, if you do not have Aleppo pepper.
Traditional blender note: As always, be very careful if using a traditional blender. Hot liquids expand when blended, so it’s important not to overfill the blender (I recommend no more than half full) and to always keep the cap on the blender lid slightly tented open, so that hot air can escape.
Storage: Any leftovers can be stored in sealed containers in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or in the freeze for up to 3 months.