The Best Red Lentil Soup

Red Lentil Soup is about to become your new favorite! It’s made with easy pantry ingredients, but has a remarkably complex flavor that makes it taste like it came from a restaurant.

red lentil soup served with naan bread.

Why You’ll Love It

It’s quick to prepare. Red lentils are one of the faster cooking varieties of lentils, becoming tender in as little as 15 minutes. If you choose to use red split lentils, you can lower the simmer time to just 5-7 minutes.

It’s nourishing. Lentils are an excellent source of fiber, iron, and protein, providing essential and non-essential amino acids that the body needs to build protein. 

It’s allergy friendly. This recipe is naturally vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free. The addition of coconut milk at the end gives this soup a nice dairy-free creaminess, but you could replace that with cashew cream or your favorite non-dairy milk, if you prefer. 

It’s made in 1 pot. This soup simmers together in one pot in just about 30 minutes, for a super-easy meal. The lentils will naturally thicken this soup as it cooks, giving it a creamy consistency you’ll love. No immersion blender required!

Ingredients You’ll Need

red lentil soup ingredients labeled in glass bowls.

What’s in red lentil soup? 

  • Red lentils
  • Yellow onion
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Garlic cloves
  • Lemon juice
  • Spices

This soup recipe is made simpler by calling for water instead of vegetable broth, in case that’s not an ingredient you keep on hand. The soup develops plenty of flavor without it!

However, if you prefer to use veggie broth, just cut-back on the salt that this recipe calls for, since the broth will add extra sodium, too. 

How to Make the Best Red Lentil Soup

1. Saute the veggies. 

Pour the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat, then saute the onion, carrots, and celery until the onions are soft and translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes. 

Add in the garlic, tomato paste, ground cumin, and cayenne pepper (if using), and stir briefly to bring out the flavor of the spices. 

ingredients added to large white soup pot.

2. Simmer. 

Pour the water into the pot, and scrape the bottom of the pot with the spatula, to make sure no spices are stuck to the bottom. Add in the dry red lentils and salt, then bring the liquid to a boil over high heat. Stir well as the water heats up, to make sure the lentils don’t stick to the bottom of the pot.

As soon as the liquid is boiling, lower the heat and cover the pot with a lid. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and cook until the lentils are very tender, about 15 minutes. 

thickened red lentil soup in pot with coconut milk and cilantro added in.

3. Enjoy!

When the lentils are tender, remove the lid and add in the coconut milk, chopped cilantro, and lemon juice. Stir until the cilantro has wilted, and adjust any seasoning to taste, adding more salt or a pinch of ground black pepper, if needed.

Ladle the warm soup into bowls, and garnish with extra fresh cilantro. Leftover soup can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. 

spoon lifting up the red lentil soup from a black bowl.

Common Questions & Substitutions

Can I use a different kind of lentil? If you don’t have red lentils on hand, you can use another variety, but the cooking time will need to be longer, and the texture will change. Red lentils practically dissolve as they cook, while other lentils will hold their shape better, so the soup won’t turn out as creamy. Green and brown lentils may require up to 30 minutes of cooking to become as tender, so just let them simmer longer. You can blend 2 cups of the soup when they are done cooking, if you are looking for a more creamy texture. 

Can I use the Instant Pot? Yes, you can cook this in the Instant Pot! Saute the veggies and spices as directed, and be sure to scrape the bottom of the pot well when you add in the water, so nothing is stuck to the bottom. Once you add the lentils and salt, secure the lid of the pressure cooker, and turn the steam valve to “sealing.” Cook at high pressure for 10 minutes, then let the pressure naturally release for 10 more minutes, so the soup won’t spew out of the steam valve when you release the pressure. When it’s safe to remove the lid, stir in the coconut milk, lemon juice, and cilantro. 

What if I don’t like cilantro? The cilantro adds a uniquely fresh flavor to this soup, but if you don’t like it, you can add in chopped spinach or fresh parsley, instead. Keep in mind that the parsley will also change the flavor, so make sure you like it before adding it in! 

Don’t have tomato paste on hand? Try adding in a 14.5-ounce can of crushed or diced tomatoes, instead.

Don’t like spice? You can omit the cayenne pepper entirely! Or, for a slightly more mild flavor, try adding in a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, instead. 

Wondering what to do with leftover tomato paste? You can drop the tomato paste by the tablespoon on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Freeze the pan on a flat shelf in your freezer until it’s hard, about 1 hour, then transfer the tomato paste balls to an airtight container. They will keep well for up to 6 months, and you can grab a tablespoon of frozen tomato paste to use in recipes whenever you need one.

Looking for more lentil recipes? Try Lentil Bolognese, Vegan Meatloaf, or even Healthy Burgers for a sneaky serving!

red lentil soup on ladle.
red lentil soup served with naan bread.

Red Lentil Soup

Red Lentil Soup is made with easy pantry ingredients, and tastes like it came from a restaurant! It cooks in just about 30 minutes, for a fast weeknight meal.

Prep Time: 10 mins

Cook Time: 25 mins

Total Time: 35 mins

Servings: 6


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion (about 1 cup chopped)
  • 2 carrots , chopped
  • 2 celery stalks , chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves , minced
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • pinch cayenne pepper (optional; omit if you don’t like spice)
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 cup dry red lentils
  • 1 ½ to 2 teaspoons fine sea salt (I use Real Salt brand)
  • ½ cup canned coconut milk
  • cup fresh cilantro , chopped
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice


  • Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat, and saute the onion, carrots and celery until they are soft, about 8 to 10 minutes.

  • Add in the garlic, cumin, cayenne (if using), and tomato paste, and stir briefly, about 1 minute. Keep in mind the cayenne will make this soup spicy, so leave it out if you prefer something more mild.

  • Add in the water, lentils, and 1 ½ teaspoons of salt. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and cover. Simmer until the lentils have expanded and are tender, about 15 minutes.

  • Once the lentils are tender, stir in the coconut milk, cilantro, and lemon juice. Adjust seasoning to taste, adding more salt and some freshly ground pepper, if desired. Serve warm right away, with extra fresh cilantro on top, if you like.

  • Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. This soup will thicken in the fridge, but it will thin out again when it’s heated. You can always add an extra splash of water, if needed, to thin it to a consistency you like again.


Nutrition information is for 1 of 6 servings, or roughly 1 1/4 cups of soup. This information is automatically calculated, and is just an estimate, not a guarantee.
See the Substitutions section in the post above, if you need extra tips!


Calories: 206kcal, Carbohydrates: 26g, Protein: 9g, Fat: 8g, Saturated Fat: 5g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 2g, Sodium: 710mg, Potassium: 608mg, Fiber: 11g, Sugar: 5g, Vitamin A: 3708IU, Vitamin C: 9mg, Calcium: 59mg, Iron: 4mg

If you try this red lentil soup recipe, please leave a comment and star rating below letting me know how you like it.

Rebecca R. Ammons

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