Greek lentil soup

Lentil soup was one of the first Greek recipes that I learned to make after I met my husband.  After we were first married, we were living in a tiny cottage on a tiny Greek island, on the beach.  I know, right?  But aside from the amazing view and the breeze off the sea and the fact that there were only about six or seven other people living in the entire village, making it kind of ideal for newlyweds, the kitchen was, well, not.

The refrigerator came up to my upper thigh, and had no freezer at all.  On top of the fridge was a glorified toaster oven with two burners on top of it.  Above that was an exhaust fan that, due to the height of the fridge + oven, meant that you couldn’t stir anything while it was on the stove, because there was no space between the top of the pot and the exhaust fan.

There was also no counter space, at all.  There was a sink, but nothing else.  So I would balance my cutting board over the sink for counter space.  And when I wanted to stir a pot, I would take it down, put it in the sink, stir it, and put it back.

It was under these “romantic” conditions that I learned to make Greek lentil soup.  It is the perfect recipe for those looking to be more frugal in the kitchen, since it uses ingredients that are basically the cheapest of the cheap:  dried lentils, onion, carrots, plain tomato sauce.

In our little island cottage, I had one pot, and it was a conventional cooking pot.  You can certainly make lentil soup in a conventional pot, although I now only ever use a pressure cooker and would highly recommend that anyone trying to be frugal or who likes beans, lentils, and peas own a pressure cooker.  They save a great deal of money and an unreal amount of time.

Lentil soup is a great fall and winter soup, when carrots are plentiful and we all need something a little warm and spicy.

Lentils are a handy ingredient:  cheap, easy to store, long shelf-life, don’t need to be soaked before use, good for you.  Combined with something high in vitamin C, lentils have usable iron.  If you don’t like carrots, you could put some orange peel in this soup for vitamin C.

The soup is easy as can be:  saute some onions and garlic in a little olive oil in the bottom of the pressure cooker.  Throw in some carrots, lentils, and tomato sauce.

Add enough water to cover everything, plus another two cups (the more water, the more soup, but you don’t want to fill beyond the half-way point of your pressure cooker).

I call this Greek lentil soup, but the spices I use are a bit more Morrocan.  True Greek lentil soup would leave out all of these spices except the bay leaf.  You can experiment to see what you like.  The authentic Greek version is too bland for my taste.  I use a bay leaf, cumin, Spanish smoked paprika, hot paprika, and cinnamon.  Never put salt in a pressure cooker.

Stir and cover; bring the cooker up to pressure.  A pressure cooker works by increasing the boiling point of water.  In a conventional pot, water boils at 100 C (212 F) at sea level; in a pressure cooker, it boils at 121 C (250 F).  The higher temperature cooks food much faster.

About 15 minutes later…

After opening it up, add the salt, stir, and ladle into soup bowls.

I like to put a little bit of hot garlic olive oil in lentil soup.  I make my own, and I keep it in the fridge, where it partly solidifies – thus its murky appearance.  I do this to reduce the risk of botulism, a small but present risk in any garlic oil.

A tablespoon of olive oil and a few of strained plain Greek yogurt, a bit of bread, and we’re done!

Greek Lentil Soup

Serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, pressed
6 medium carrots, sliced into rounds
300g lentils, picked over for small stones
250g plain tomato sauce
1 bay leaf
2 tsp cumin, ground
1.5 tsp Spanish smoked paprika
1/2 tsp hot paprika
1/2 tsp cinnamon, ground
2 tsp salt
4 tbsp hot garlic olive oil (for serving)
1/4 cup Greek yogurt (for serving)

1. Heat olive oil in the bottom of a stainless steel pressure cooker over medium heat.  Saute onion and garlic for two minutes.  Add carrots, lentils, tomato sauce, and 4 cups water.  Stir; add all spices; stir again.

2.  Bring pressure cooker up to pressure and reduce heat to low.  Cook 15 minutes.  When pressure is released, open and add salt.  Stir and ladle into bowls.

3.  Drizzle 1 tbsp of garlic olive oil over each portion, and top with 2 tbsp Greek yogurt.

This post is linking up to:

                             homework Photobucket     A Delightsome Life Chic on a Shoestring Decorating The Shabby Nest

30 thoughts on “Greek lentil soup

  1. This looks delicious! I am curious about the Spanish smoked paprika. Have you sampled the paprika on it’s own? I’ve always found that paprika doesn’t inherently have a ton of flavor, but smoked paprika sounds to be a bit more flavorful. I love that this soup is topped with greek yogurt. My weakness 🙂

    • Hi Poppy! I don’t use “sweet paprika” ever, I just keep Spanish smoked and hot paprikas on hand. There apparently are many, many varieties of paprika out there. The Spanish smoked has a very strong smoky flavor that I haven’t found any substitute for. Hot paprika is a decent substitute for cayenne (which is hard to find in Greece) as it has a similar heat, although a somewhat different flavor. If you’ve never tried smoked paprika, you will be amazed at the difference with sweet (regular) paprika, which I also consider tasteless! Greek yogurt tops a LOT of things in this house LOL!

  2. This looks like such a great recipe! It’s funny; I was planning to put up a post today about my own experiment with Greek lentil soup yesterday. It’s only my second attempt, and it was a little bland for my taste both times. Thanks for the tips on how to spice it up!

  3. Now that is my kind of soup! I love lentils and recently made some soup:

    From September 2011 issue of Cooking Light
    Indian –Spiced Lentils and Lamb
    2 teaspoons olive oil
    6 oz. ground lamb (I used ground brisket)
    1 teaspoon red curry powder
    1 teaspoon ground cumin (I used a tablespoon)
    ½ teaspoon kosher salt
    ¼ teaspoon ground red pepper
    1 ½ cups of chopped onion
    ¾ cup of chopped carrots
    1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
    5 garlic cloves, minced
    1 tbs. tomato paste
    ¾ cup of brown lentils
    2 cups fat-free, lower sodium chicken broth
    1 cup water
    1 can light coconut milk
    1 (15 oz. can chopped tomatoes
    ¼ cup of fat free Greek yogurt
    ¼ cup of chopped cilantro

    1. Heat a saucepan over medium/high heat. Add oil to the pan; swirl. Add meat and next 4 ingredients (through red pepper); sauté 4 minutes, stirring to crumble. Add onion, carrot, and jalapeno; sauté 4 min. or until meat is browned. Add garlic; sauté one minute, stirring constantly. Stir in tomato paste; sauté about 30 seconds.
    2. Add lentils; sauté 30 sec. Stir in broth and next 3 ingredients (through tomatoes); bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for an hour or until the lentils are tender. Ladle about 1 cup of lentil soup into each bowl; top each serving with 1 tablespoon yogurt and 1 tablespoon cilantro.

    • Charlotte, that does sound good!! I love lamb, despite popular belief, it’s actually really rare in Greece (!!) They only really eat it for Easter. I think grinding it would be considered blasphemy lol. Indian food is a whole world that I haven’t explored very much, (well, the cooking of it. The eating of it is a different story!) and I would really like to try out some Indian recipes. Indian food actually has pretty similar ingredients to Greek food, with different spices, so I think it’s just a mental thing (fear of the unknown?) that’s kept me from cooking Indian food so far. This recipe is like an Indian chili in a way, isn’t it 🙂 Thanks for the recipe and the comment!!

    • Hi Alecia, it will turn out just the same on the stove. Lentils take about 45 minutes to cook on the stove, but because it’s a soup, I would probably let it go a full hour. The thing to watch with the stove is that the water doesn’t all cook off – most important – so you’ll need to keep an eye on it and periodically add more water, and that you don’t end up with watery soup – so you may need to cook it longer if you find that you’ve added too much water. Taste it after about 50 minutes to make sure the lentils are soft – they shouldn’t be mush but they should be soft when you bite into them. I’d still add the salt at the end doing it this way. I find that I usually add less salt if I do it at the end, and it’s harder to over-salt something, since you can taste it. If you salt in the beginning, you can’t taste it to make sure it’s right.

      You’re absolutely right about the crusty bread and goat cheese! Feta cheese (uncrumbled) works too as a side to this.

      Many Greeks also add a tbsp of red wine vinegar when serving. I don’t, but my husband does and it would be worth trying it to see if you like it that way 🙂

  4. This looks delicious! I’m going to pin it and try it. We are having a new soup recipe at our blog every Friday in February. We’d love to have you visit us. Today is Potato Corn Chowder…YUM!!!

    • Hi Tanya, I’m definitely going to try your potato corn chowder, it sounds delicious! I love soup, especially bisques. In the winter, I often make soup every day for a solid week before I even realize what I’ve done!

  5. Hi, there. Congrads on your blog. I loved your lentil soup with the yoghurt.Although I love both ingredients, I never thought of mixing them together. In which part of Greece they do this,I wonder? Bye.

    • Hi fruitandcake, thanks for visiting! I first saw yogurt on lentil soup in Thrace (northeastern Greece), and thought it was a great idea and had to try it – and it really works. It adds a lot to the overall soup. I used to eat this soup plain with a little feta cheese on the side – feta unfortunately became too expensive for us about 6 months ago but this makes a great frugal substitute and I actually prefer it now. If someone doesn’t like yogurt, they could leave it off, but might want to use less spice in that case.

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