Spicy, Brothy Lentil Soup


I have told this story so many times that if you know me, you’ve definitely heard it before. But it was one of my very first a-ha moments about cooking, a Joy-as-a-cook creation story, so I’m telling it again. Anyway. Years ago, my sister dated a chef. A really good chef. It was during my “I must be a size 4 or life isn’t worth living” period, so I was very regimented about what I ate. Jill and her chef-boyfriend, on the other hand, ate out almost every night at some of the best restaurants in town. I was totally fascinated by this food-centric life even though it scared me. During this time, I ate Amy’s Organic canned lentil soup almost everyday.

Looking back, I can hardly believe it. I remember well the soup’s insipid muddy flavor. One day, I was cracking a can open in front of Jill’s chef-boyfriend, and he said, “Do you have any idea how easy it would be to make ‘Joy’s organic lentil soup’ and how much better it would taste?”

Well, no. I then had no better an idea how to make lentil soup than I do now how to build a speedboat engine. He briefly described the very simple steps involved in making lentil soup. Later, I jotted these basic instructions down in my notebook. Essentially, the steps were: chop up some onions, carrots, and celery and fry in oil until soft. Add water and lentils and cook until the lentils are tender. Season well with salt and pepper, blend if desired, topped with an optional squeeze of lemon juice. I didn’t really believe that this easy procedure would yield a better bowl of lunch than my Amy’s Organic can.

But, duh, he was right, I was wrong, and I’ve never besmirched my pantry with canned lentil soup again. Over the years, I’ve made this soup dozens of ways. In Almost Meatless, the lentil soup has an Italian accent. This recipe is vaguely, I don’t know, Spanish. It was based on the leftover chorizo, celery, and jalapenos I had lingering in the fridge.

Spicy, Brothy Lentil Soup

I don’t know how much it makes. I broke the large Pyrex pitcher I always measure soup in while making this.

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 1/2 ounces (two links) cured chorizo, cubed

2 medium celery stalks, diced

1 cup diced onions

3 jalapenos, one of them seeded, minced, divided

1 teaspoon salt

3 garlic cloves

8 cups chicken stock or water

1 cup brown or green lentils

Add the oil to a soup pot over medium heat. Fry the chorizo, stirring occasionally, until much of the fat has rendered, the oil is orange, and the chorizo bits are crisp.


That oil is now infused with a lot of the chorizo’s spices. Remove and reserve the chorizo bits, and add the celery, onion, two-thirds of the jalapeno, and the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very soft, about 20 minutes.


I saved a bit of the jalapeno because as it cooks, the heat dwindles, and I wanted to soup to have a little fresh chili bite. When the vegetables are good and soft, add the remaining jalapeno and garlic, and cook for only a minute. Add the broth and lentils. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and put a lid on your pot. Cook over low heat for 30 minutes. Stir in the reserved chorizo bits and cook and until those are hot.

Ladle the soup into bowls, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, and serve with a lot of good fresh bread. Cross canned lentil soup off your shopping list for the rest of your life.

15 Responses to Spicy, Brothy Lentil Soup

  1. kim January 14, 2010 at 11:33 am #

    This sounds yummy. I love chorizo, but I am thinking about doing this with a seasoned chicken sausage. Thanks!
    Sorry for your rough day in the kitchen. Couches are great comforts!

  2. maggie January 14, 2010 at 11:45 am #

    So sorry about the pyrex…but the soup looks lovely. And I have lentils in the cupboard.

  3. helen January 14, 2010 at 12:20 pm #

    I am TOTALLY making this soup.
    Thanks for your encouragement & sharing this recipe Joy :)

    Why have you not bought a new large Pyrex pitcher ?
    Do you not want to replace the old, broken one ?
    Too sentimental… like when a pet dies you just can’t bear to get a new one -
    not right away at least???……..

  4. ML January 14, 2010 at 3:55 pm #

    I’m so glad you posted this! I have been eating Amy’s Lentil Soup every week for months now. I’m definitely switching over immediately.

    • Joy January 14, 2010 at 4:06 pm #

      The other thing is that that’s a pretty expensive can of soup. Homemade lentil soup costs pennies to make.

  5. VIK January 14, 2010 at 6:09 pm #

    Lentils, like beans, are the other thing I have never been able to cook properly.

    Me and dried legumes have issues, but the black bean post has inspired me. Now I just need to be home and conscious for 3 hours.

    • Joy January 14, 2010 at 6:11 pm #

      Yeah, I know that this is an issue for a lot of people. Working from home makes time a luxury I have.

  6. carosail January 14, 2010 at 8:12 pm #

    What type of lentils do you use? Dried or canned? I’m so unfamiliar with beans I honestly have no idea what to do with a bean recipe, much as I would love to incorporate them into our weekly menu. If I buy a bag of dried lentils, can I just put them in the broth or do I have to do the soak overnight thing first? Or I can I just put a can of lentils in?

  7. Brigid Kaelin January 14, 2010 at 8:51 pm #

    I love that you can find leftovers and create something magical and totally different from them. I can’t wait until I am able to do that with any confidence.

  8. dan.call January 14, 2010 at 11:30 pm #


    I’ve never seen canned lentils, just dried ones. Lentils are so small that they don’t require soaking, they cook quickly enough if you just add them during cooking.

  9. VIK January 15, 2010 at 10:19 am #

    I actually think the overnight soak idea might just be for people like me – off course, I soak them “over the work day” … maybe that’s why my legumes are angry. They’re nocturnal.

  10. Julie January 17, 2010 at 12:06 pm #

    I bought all the ingredients for this but will be using some turkey/chicken sausage because I didn’t feel like making the trek to Whole Foods (about 20-25 min drive) for meat. I have a totally unrelated question: do you have any egg poaching tips? Mine never seem to work out. Last night’s got all stuck to the bottom of the pan. Used an All Clad large skillet with ?2-3 inch sides.

    • Joy January 17, 2010 at 4:41 pm #

      I once read somewhere that Julia Child suggested boiling an egg in the shell for 10 seconds before breaking into a cup and and tipping it into the hot water. I have tried it and I do think it helps. Tara, my coauthor on Almost Meatless, tried the method herself and thought it made no difference. Some people add vinegar to the water to help the whites coagulate. Some people swirl the water into a whirlpool to help the egg fold over itself. I think more than anything else it takes practice and willingness to mess up a lot before you get the hang out it.

  11. kickpleat February 1, 2010 at 3:00 pm #

    I love lentil soup and have always made it vegetarian, but with chorizo it sounds perfect.


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