The Only Lentil Soup Recipe You’ll Ever Need!
I consider myself something of a soup aficionado. Up until a couple of years ago, though, lentil soup wasn’t really on my radar. I gravitate towards cozy, hearty soups, stews & chilis like Hearty Minestrone Soup or Mom’s Creamy Chicken Wild Rice Soup. In comparison, lentil soup always seemed like underwhelming diet food – terribly bland & boring, know what I mean?
I stand before you today, a changed woman, happily admitting that BOY, was I wrong! And if you have similar suspicions about lentil soup, trust that you’re in good hands here. This recipe ticks all the boxes: a healthy soup that is plant-based but also hearty, boldly spiced without necessarily being curried, & healthy but also rich in flavor.
I’ve been making this hearty soup nonstop ever since first throwing it together last fall because we’re obsessed with it. Even Chris, a non-soup lover & self-proclaimed meat enthusiast, loves this lentil soup. It’s truly that good!
Vegan Lentil Soup Recipe Highlights
This vegan lentil soup is the ultimate comfort food meal! You’ll love it because it’s…
VEGGIE-POWERED. You’ll find all the standard soup veggies here, plus some extra veggie goodness from hearty butternut squash & nutrient-dense kale.
PLANT-BASED GOODNESS. Naturally vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free & gluten-free, plus each bowl is filled with 10 grams of protein thanks to the plant-based power of lentils.
PERFECT FOR WEEKNIGHTS. A one-pot wonder that simmers up in about 35 minutes, plus it’s slow cooker- & Instant Pot-friendly!
COZY + BRIGHT. The perfect marriage I look for in any good bowl of soup, this recipe is both cozy & bright. It’s the kind of meal that’ll warm you up from the inside out & its flavors taste like the feeling you get when the sun shines on your face on a cold winter day.
Honestly, it’s kind of magical!✨ ♡ Read on to learn more about this Vegan Lentil Soup recipe, or jump straight to the recipe card & get cooking!
The best healthy soups start with wholesome, hearty ingredients, & that’s exactly where we begin with this recipe. The ingredients list here is a little lengthy, but this vegan lentil soup is made mostly with soup season staples that are likely already in your pantry or fridge.
Note: Full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.
So, what does lentil soup have in it? You will need…
- Lentils – Of course! I like to use brown lentils or green lentils in this soup recipe, since they hold their shape nicely & have great texture once cooked. Each is an excellent source of fiber & plant-based protein.
- Mirepoix – The trusty combination of carrots, celery & onion. Especially during the winter months & especially when I’m cooking plant-based recipes, I like to beef up my mirepoix with other hearty vegetables. That’s exactly what you’ll find in this recipe, with the addition of butternut squash, though sweet potato would be an awesome addition, too!
- Shredded kale – helps pack an extra nutritious punch (a few handfuls of spinach would work great too, if that’s what you have on hand!).
- Aromatics – A simple combination of cumin, paprika, turmeric, & cayenne pepper help ensure this lentil soup isn’t lacking in flavor.
- Lemon juice – And lots of it, to brighten up the flavor of the soup, bringing both the veggies & aromatics to life.
- Crushed tomatoes – Which create a beautifully velvety body. If you can find them, use fire-roasted crushed tomatoes for even better flavor.
- Vegetable broth – Always use the highest quality you can find, especially for vegetarian & vegan soups!
Best Lentils for Soup
You might be wondering which lentil is best for soup? The best lentils to use in this lentil soup are brown lentils or green lentils, which both hold their shape nicely once cooked & won’t lead to a mushy lentil soup (because who wants that?!). Brown lentils are mild in flavor, while green lentils are a little nutty. Pick what you love!
I don’t suggest using yellow or red lentils in this lentil soup recipe. Since they cook faster than brown & green lentils, they disintegrate & lose their texture in the final soup. It’s not especially pleasant (speaking from experience!).
How to Make Lentil Soup
One of the things to love about this recipe is the fact that it’s incredibly easy to make. Aside from some chopping & stirring, the stove does most of the work. What’s not to love about a one-pot wonder!?
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Cook the aromatics. Start by softening the mirepoix to draw out the flavor of these base veggies. Add in garlic, tomato paste & a number of spices & cook for another couple of minutes. Why? ⇢ Cooking a few extra minutes allows the aromatic flavors to bloom which yields a mega flavor base for this lentil soup.
Build the soup. Add in the rest of the soup ingredients – lentils, butternut squash, crushed tomatoes, stock, etc. – & stir to combine. Easy as that.
Simmer. Bring the soup up to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer & pop a lid on the pot, only partially covering it to allow some steam to escape. Simmer for 25-30 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Tip! ⇢ Lentils should be cooked and tender but still maintain their shape, reducing the heat allows them to cook gently without becoming mushy.
Blend the soup. Transfer to a stand blender or use an immersion blender to partially blend the soup. Why? ⇢ This is totally optional step, but it creates a creamy texture (sans dairy) that’s really good.
Finishing touches. Toss in a couple handfuls of hearty kale (or another green you love) & squeeze in some fresh lemon juice. Why? ⇢ These additions add the ultimate bright flavor & freshness!
Easy Recipe Variations
Spices ⇢ Swap sweet paprika for smoked paprika for a subtle smokiness. Or for an easy flavor update, swap the cumin, turmeric, and ground black pepper for your favorite curry powder.
Butternut squash ⇢ Sweet potatoes work great too if that’s what you have on hand!
Kale ⇢ Feel free to swap shredded kale for another leafy green like spinach, arugula, or Swiss chard.
Alternate Cooking Methods
Crockpot or Slow Cooker Lentil Soup
You can absolutely make this lentil soup in a slow cooker or Crock Pot! I suggest cooking the aromatics & blooming the spices, which helps maximize their flavor, before assembling the soup in your slow cooker. If your slow cooker has a “brown/saute” feature, even better – you can make this recipe start-to-finish in the slow cooker. Check the Recipe Notes, below, for full slow cooker instructions.
Instant Pot Lentil Soup
This lentil soup recipe can be easily adapted for the Instant Pot. Use the Instant Pot’s “brown/saute” feature to cook the aromatics & blooming the spices, which helps maximize their flavor, before assembling the soup in the Instant Pot & sealing the pot to pressure cook. Check the Recipe Notes, below, for full Instant Pot instructions.
Storage & Freezing
Great news, this vegan lentil soup is incredibly make ahead-friendly & freezer-friendly…it’s the kind of thing that tastes even better the day after it’s made. How long does lentil soup last? ⇢ Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. See the Recipe Notes, below, for full storage & reheating instructions.
Can you freeze lentil soup? ⇢ Yes! This lentil soup is also very freezer-friendly. Leftovers will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months. See the Recipe Notes, below, for full freezing instructions.
I like to think this soup is pretty perfect as-is, but a few extra carbs never hurt anyone, especially when it comes to soup!
I suggest serving this soup alongside some crusty toasted bread for the coziest vibes or with your favorite crackers to add some extra texture. If keeping your soup vegan & lactose-free is not of concern to you, a little bit of grated parmesan sprinkled over top is really nice, too. You can also always top with some fresh thyme leaves or fresh parsley for a pretty presentation.
Magic Toasted Breadcrumbs. ⇢ If you really want to take your lentil soup to the next level, try some of my Magic Toasted Breadcrumbs(pictured). These breadcrumbs add texture, flavor, & roasty-toasty goodness to every bite. Plus, they couldn’t be easier to make:
- Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a small skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add in 2 cloves garlic (finely chopped), stirring immediately to help the garlic sizzle in the oil. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add 1 cup panko breadcrumbs to the skillet, tossing to coat in the garlic oil. Season with ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Reduce heat to medium-low & cook, stirring & tossing often, until the breadcrumbs are toasty & golden brown, 4-5 minutes.
- Remove from the heat & finish, as desired, with lemon zest or finely chopped fresh herbs.
Spoon ’em over your soup & dive on in…
Do you have to soak lentils before making soup?
This recipe does not require soaking the lentils beforehand – it’s one less step & because the recipe is fairly inactive once all the components come together we just let the stovetop do the work & allow the lentils to cook perfectly in the soup mixture.
Can you overcook lentils in soup? Will lentils make soup mushy?
Lentils run the risk of overcooking, which will lead to a mushy lentil texture – no good! Be sure to reduce the heat to low while the lentil soup simmers, cooking just until they’re tender but still maintain their shape.
Is lentil soup a carb or a protein? Is lentil soup really good for you?
It’s actually both & it totally is! Lentils are naturally a high source of plant-based protein while also being a complex carbohydrate & high source of fiber too. Total feel-good comfort food!
How long does lentil soup last?
Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, making this soup the perfect make-ahead meal!
Can you freeze lentil soup?
You bet! This recipe is very freezer-friendly. Store leftovers in the freezer for up to 3 months. Be sure to see the Recipe Notes, below, for full freezing instructions.
I can’t wait for you to try this Damn Good Vegan Lentil Soup recipe. We are obsessed with it here at the PWWB House, & I know you will be too.
If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know!: Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE seeing your PWWB creations! Happy cooking! ♡
More Recipes Like This:
Vegetarian & Plant-Based Soups, Stews, & Chilis
While I’m something of a soup aficionado, it wasn’t until just a couple of years ago that lentil soup fell on my radar. It always struck me as boring, bland diet food – what’s the fun in that?! – but, feeling up for a challenge, I eventually decided to see if I could make a version to win over even the biggest lentil soup skeptic.
Enter: this Damn Good Vegan Lentil Soup recipe, which simmers lentils with an abundance of good-for-you veggies, a flavorful blend of spices, & plenty of lemon juice for light + bright flavor. It’s plant-based but also hearty, boldly spiced without necessarily being curried, & healthy but also rich in flavor.
As far as lentils go, be sure to use brown or green lentils, which both hold their shape nicely & won’t disintegrate into mush as the soup simmers. I like to bulk up the soup with butternut squash & kale, though sweet potatoes & another leafy green are great substitutes.
Be sure to check the Recipe Notes, below, for meal prep & freezer instructions, & the blog post, above, for details on the pictured ✨Magic Toasted Breadcrumbs✨. I have a feeling you’re going to love this cozy soup just as much as we do! Happy cooking! ♡
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 medium carrots, diced
- 1–2 ribs celery, diced
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- 4–5 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
- 1 heaping tablespoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 ¼ cup brown or green lentils (see Recipe Notes, below)
- ½ medium butternut squash, diced into ½-inch cubes (approx. 4 cups or 20 ounces)
- two 14-ounce cans crushed fire-roasted tomatoes
- 8 cups vegetable broth or stock
- 2 cups packed shredded kale (or 5 oz baby kale)
- 2 lemons, juiced
- for serving, as desired: an extra swoosh of olive oil, a generous spoonful of toasted breadcrumbs, & toasty buttered bread, etc.
- Cook the aromatics: Add the olive oil to a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven (at least 5-qt capacity) over medium heat. Once hot, add in the carrot, celery, & onion. Season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Stir to combine. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the veggies have softened slightly, 5-6 minutes.
- Bloom the spices: Add the garlic, cumin, paprika, turmeric, ground black pepper, & cayenne pepper. Stir to combine. Cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.
- Build the lentil soup: Add the bay leaves, lentils, butternut squash, fire-roasted tomatoes, seasoning with 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Stir to combine. Add the vegetable broth/stock. Give one last stir, increasing heat to medium-high. Bring the soup to a boil.
- Simmer: Reduce heat to low to maintain a gentle & steady simmer. Partially cover the pot (place the lid on the put such that it’s just partially covered, allowing some steam to escape as the soup cooks) & simmer for 25-30 minutes, until the lentils are tender but maintain their shape.
- Finishing touches: Once the lentils are tender, finish the soup. It’s optional, but if you love a creamier lentil soup, transfer ⅓ of the soup to a blender & carefully blend smooth. (Alternately, you could use an immersion blender to partially blend the soup right in the pot.) Stir the blended soup back into the pot. Add the shredded kale & lemon juice into the soup, stirring to combine. Remove from the heat. Cover to steam for 4-5 minutes, until the kale is softened. Taste & season with additional salt or ground black pepper as desired.
- Serve immediately! I like topping a bowl of lentil soup with an extra swoosh of olive oil, some finely chopped fresh herbs, & toasted breadcrumbs. Enjoy!
- Best lentils to use: I suggest using brown lentils or green lentils in this lentil soup since they both hold their shape & texture nicely once cooked. For similar reasons, I do not suggest using red or yellow lentils – they cook faster than brown & green lentils, so they’ll disintegrate & lose their texture by the time the soup finishes simmering.
- Lentils prep: Unlike many other dried legumes, there’s no need to soak lentils prior to cooking them. To prep, simply sift through your lentils to pick out any small rocks or pebbles (which sometimes sneak their way into the mix) & rinse well to remove any dirt or debris from the surface.
- Storage: To store, transfer cooled lentil soup to an airtight container & store in the refrigerator. Leftover lentil soup will keep for up to 5 days. Reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave until warmed through.
- Freezing: This lentil soup is very freezer-friendly! To freeze, transfer cooled lentil soup to an airtight freezer container. (These are my absolute favorite!) Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight & reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave until warmed through.
- Alternate cooking methods:
- Slow Cooker or Crockpot Lentil Soup: Prep the mirepoix according to Steps 1-2, above. Transfer the spiced mirepoix mixture to the slow cooker, along with the remaining ingredients as directed in Step 3. Slow cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 6-7 hours, stirring occasionally. Finish the lentil soup as directed in Step 5, which you can do right in your slow cooker. If your slow cooker has a searing/browning feature, you can use it to cook the entire lentil soup recipe (Steps 1-5) in the slow cooker.
- Instant Pot Lentil Soup: Use the Instant Pot’s “Sauté” setting to cook the recipe according to Steps 1-2, above. Build the soup in the Instant Pot according to Step 3, then cover & seal. Cook on manual high pressure for 15 minutes. Allow the pressure cooker to naturally release pressure for 10 minutes before carefully flicking the valve to its “venting” position to vent out any residual pressure in the pot. If the soup seems a little too liquidy, feel free to turn on the Sauté setting again, letting the sauce simmer down a little before finishing as directed in Steps 5.
- 20-Minute Meal Prep: Most of the active prep time involved with this recipe is chopping up the veggies. With just a little prep, you can cut down on all active prep the night you want to throw it together. Pick & choose from the list below, or do it all & all you have to do at dinnertime is get cooking – easy!
- Mirepoix: Peel & dice 3 medium carrots & 1 large yellow onion. Dice 1-2 ribs of celery. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. (10 minutes active time)
- Butternut squash: Peel, deseed & dice 1 medium butternut squash into 1/2-inch cubes & store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. You will use half of the butternut squash (~4 cups) in this lentil soup; use the other half in another recipe you love (this Vegan Red Curry & these Vegetarian Skillet Enchiladas are PWWB community faves). (10 minutes active time)
Keywords: easy, healthy, hearty, winter, fall, vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free, gluten-free, plant-based, meal pep, freezer friendly
Recipe by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Eat Love Eat