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Green Lentil Soup with Coconut Milk and Warm Spices

Friday marks the first day of autumn. Start the season off right with this heartwarming soup.

Autumn is the perfect time to make soups, bake cakes and pies and preserve what is left of the summer's bounty. Among all the lentil soups I've had in my short life, the one featured today is by far my favorite. Not only is it very fragrant and exotic in taste, it also comes together in the blink of an eye and feels like a warm blanket on a chilly night — perfect for the colder nights still to come.

The recipe calls for green lentils, also known as French lentils, or lentilles du Puy. You can use brown lentils instead; but what I love about French lentils is that they hold their shape very well, and even after they're cooked for more than 30 minutes, they maintain a meaty texture that brown lentils don't. Brown lentils tend to fall apart quite easily, so if you do use them, keep an eye on them while cooking.

This soup has an Indian/Thai delicacy to it, but the technique used to cook it is far simpler than what is common in those cuisines. The spices can be found whole at Indian grocery store in Farmington Hills; Whole Foods; or can be found ground at most major grocery stores.

I personally prefer this soup to be velvety. If you prefer a lighter soup, add more broth. The soup is delicious the day you make it, but it's even better on the second day after the spices have mingled.

I promise, once you make this delicate soup, you will find yourself making it over and over again this fall and even more during the cold winter months. But let's not think about winter yet! 

Green lentil soup with coconut milk and warm spices

Recipe adapted from Once Upon a Tart ... (Knopf, 2003)

  • 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • 1½ tsp. turmeric
  • 6 c. vegetable or chicken broth 
  • 1½ c. French green lentils, picked over for stones and other debris
  • 4 whole cardamom pods
  • ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 3 whole cloves
  • A pinch of grated nutmeg
  • A few grinds of black pepper
  • 1¼ c. coconut milk
  • ¼ tsp. fine salt, or more to taste

In a soup pot or Dutch oven, warm the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is translucent. Turn the heat down to medium and add the garlic, thyme, and turmeric. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is lightly browned and very soft.

Add the stock, spices and the lentils. Bring to a simmer and cook for 25-30 minutes, or until the lentils are soft and tender.

Add the coconut milk and stir well. Cook for about 15 minutes to blend the flavors. Taste, and adjust the salt as necessary. Serve with crusty bread and hot sauce or freshly squeezed lime juice, if desired.

Local shopping spots

  • French lentils: It's not a sale item, but French lentils can be found at in West Bloomfield for $2.99 per pound.
  • Chicken broth:  in Farmington Hills and West Bloomfield has a sale on all varieties of 32-oz. Pacific Natural Foods Organic brand broth ($3.69). Whole Foods also offers an online-only, printable coupon for $1 off any one variety of Imagine brand chicken broth. in West Bloomfield has a sale on Pacific Organic brand chicken broth (32 ounces for $2.99).
  • Onions: has a sale on sweet onions (99 cents per pound).
Timothy Rath (Editor) September 22, 2011 at 04:53 PM
I'm making this tomorrow — just as soon as I can run out and find cardamom pods. I'm excited to publish this, and to read it, because I grew up believing that lentils needed to be soaked overnight. However, the soup that I'm accustomed to making does not much look like this soup. I'm excited — looks delicious.
Warda Bouguettaya September 23, 2011 at 12:23 PM
Thank you, Tim! Looking forward to hearing your feedback on the soup. My mother also used to soak lentils overnight. It is one of those things you learn after you get your own place...like green beans aren't supposed to be eaten brown ;) But I've learned many other things from her, so I'm very grateful.
Timothy Rath (Editor) September 30, 2011 at 12:35 AM
I finally found some time and made this for dinner. It really does not disappoint! Indeed, I appreciate the texture of the lentils and while the soup is a little more thin than I would have preferred, it tastes creamier than I was expecting. Definitely fits the description of "warm" — good for a rainy night like tonight. Warda, I will let this sit tonight and I'm looking forward to having delicious leftovers tomorrow — as well as working my way through the other dinners you've posted. Thank you!

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