Spicy Lentil Soup is a filling, flavorful, vegetarian soup recipe with simple spices. A squeeze of lemon adds brightness to each bowl!

a white bowl of lentil soup with fresh lemon

I will admit that it took several nudges from my sister, while visiting her family in Egypt, for me to order a bowl of lentil soup.  I mean, lentil soup just honestly isn’t my thing.  Besides, I had already ordered a glass of fresh strawberry juice and some delicious looking shawarma (pretty much what we call gyros where I’m from), with meat sliced right from the rotating spit we sat next to.  I really didn’t see the need for any more food.

shawarma stand in egypt

But Cheryl wouldn’t let go of it, saying that lentil soup is a very typical, yet tasty Egyptian soup, and she really thought I would like it.

So I gave in and ordered a bowl.

a bowl of lentil soup, shawarma, and a glass of strawberry juice

And it was completely not what I had expected.  I was predicting bland, possibly something similar to watered down refried beans.  But what filled my mouth was definitely not boring.  It packed heat.  Beautifully balanced, earthy, spicy heat.  And the squeeze of lemon over the top was bright and tangy, the perfect contrast.

I really didn’t want to share, but I handed the spoon to Blake.  And he pushed back quite a bit of that bowl himself.  I’d say that’s quite a testimony right there.

So shortly after returning home, I got to work recreating that memorable soup we ate on that sunny Cairo street.  And here’s what I came up with.  If you are able to find red lentils, that is probably what was used in the soup we ordered that day.  I used what I could easily find, which was green lentils.  Besides that difference, I do believe I came very close to that original faraway bowl.

a white bowl of lentil soup with fresh lemon

Spicy Lentil Soup

Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes

Spicy Lentil Soup is a filling, flavorful, vegetarian soup recipe with simple spices. A squeeze of lemon adds brightness to each bowl!


  • 2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 large celery rib, diced
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large baking potato, peeled and chopped into 1/2" pieces
  • 1.5 c. red lentils
  • 2 qts. vegetable broth
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. ancho chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (add more or less, depending on your heat preference)
  • 1/4 tsp. turmeric
  • 2 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus additional lemon slices to serve alongside finished soup
  • kosher salt, as needed
  • plain Greek yogurt, optional garnish
  • chopped cilantro, optional garnish


  1. Heat a large saucepan or small stockpot over medium to medium-high heat. Once hot, add the oil. When oil starts to shimmer, stir in the onion, celery, and carrot. Cook for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in garlic and cook for 2 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Add the potato, lentils, and vegetable broth. Turn up heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Then turn heat down to medium-low and stir in cumin, ancho chili powder, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and turmeric. Cover and simmer until all the vegetables are very tender, about 40 to 50 minutes.
  2. Using an immersion blender, carefully puree the soup right in the pot, until no chunks of vegetables remain. Or carefully transfer hot soup, in batches, to a blender to blend until smooth - and then return the soup back to the pot. Stir in lemon juice. Taste test and season with salt, if needed.  
  3. To serve, ladle hot soup into individual bowls and serve with fresh lemon wedges to squeeze over the top. If desired, offer plain Greek yogurt and chopped cilantro for added flavors, plus warm pitas or flatbread for dipping.


from a farmgirl's dabbles

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 138Total Fat: 4gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 2mgSodium: 384mgCarbohydrates: 21gFiber: 5gSugar: 3gProtein: 6g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated by Nutritionix. I am not a nutritionist and cannot guarantee accuracy. If your health depends on nutrition information, please calculate again with your own favorite calculator.

Did you make this recipe?

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Would you like to see where we headed after our bowl of lentil soup that day?

Just keep reading!

two men carrying their daughters on their backs

This is how we traveled.  I call it the Egyptian Piggyback.  See my niece on the right, on Dave’s one shoulder?  I loved watching the Egyptian women carrying their children this way.  Only over one shoulder. Unlike our daughter on the left, with both legs wrapped around Blake’s neck.

the entrance to the Khan market

We were on our way to the Khan El Khalili, or simply, the Khan (market).  Established in the 14th century, this ancient market was a major hub for overland trade caravans from east to west.  The arch shown above is an entrance to Wakalat El-Ghouri, built in 1504 as a caravansaray, an inn for global merchants doing business at the market.

a street in the market

In the Cairo of today, the Khan caters to backpacking tourists and local Egyptians alike.  It was one of my favorite places for people watching and taking in the sights, smells, and sounds of life in this chaotically magnificent city.

a girl standing in the market

The canvas covered streets and narrow alleys snake in and out, showcasing a wide variety of Egyptian born wares.  There’s jewelry of fine gold and silver, a variety of pottery, copper items, perfume and incense, alabaster, and no shortage of kitschy souvenirs.  If you like to haggle, this is the spot for you!  Haggling is completely not my thing, though, so I was happy to have my sister at our side, who frequents the market and has befriended some of the shop owners.  And she can haggle in Arabic.  Very, very useful.

a clothing store

We saw clothing ranging from American jeans to traditional galabayas…

beaded costumes

to ornately beaded dance costumes that are so much a part of Egyptian custom.

a stand selling metal lamps

My eyes feasted on these beautiful metal lamps, sold at a number of different places throughout the Khan. Each time they caught my eye, I tried to imagine where one might hang in our own home, and how I could fit it into our returning flight’s baggage.

a stand selling spices

In the Middle Ages, spices originating in the East were traded through Cairo to the Europeans.  We saw many scenes such as this across the city.  Bountiful burlaps of herbs and spices for sale.

a stand selling different glasswares

This stall right here had to be our favorite stop.  Loaded with colorful recycled glass lamps, vases, and beads, this shop’s wares didn’t need to beg for our admiration.   We were already in love with this handiwork of Egypt.

flower shaped glass beads

These brilliant flower shaped beads held our attention for quite some time.

a man putting a necklace on a girl

We had a number of necklaces made for ourselves and for gifts to take back with us.

a girl wearing a blue and green flower necklace

So sweet…

a girl wearing a necklace

so simple.

a young boy selling pastries

And then, all too soon, our day was coming to an end.  But not before this boy’s sweet smile and gorgeous date and spice filled pastries stole my sister’s heart.  It’s a wonderful thing to eat what the locals eat.  It adds so much to the whole experience.  And so we happily munched on our fresh baked goodness as we headed out of the market.


If you would like to see more of our adventures in Egypt,
please visit here and here.


I’m linking up with:

Robyn at Add a Pinch for Mingle Monday.  Please be sure to check out her latest project called Go Savor, that highlights foods encountered near and far, from a walk down the street to a walk in a foreign land.

I’m also joining Soup-a-Palooza at TidyMom and Dine and Dish, sponsored by Bush’s Beans, Hip Hostess, Pillsbury and Westminster Crackers! ….. I’m including Chicken Tortilla Soup and this Spicy Egyptian Lentil Soup!!