I improvise variations on this lentil soup all the time, but I finally wrote down this particular version to share with you... a snapshot in time of an ever-evolving recipe of mine.
The impetus for posting it on the blog this week was that, a few days ago in my Instagram Stories, I shared photos of this soup in progress, and I received several requests for it.
I also particularly loved the combination of ingredients I threw in this time, and it's perfect for winter, so it felt like a good time to share it with you.
In addition to recipe requests, I also received a few questions about the Instant Pot, so I'll begin with a brief review of this handy little appliance.
One quick note: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, which means I receive a tiny commission if you purchase through them, at no additional charge to you. Thank you in advance for your support, it contributes to making all of this possible.
If somehow you haven't already heard the buzz, the Instant Pot is a self-sufficient electric pressure cooker. I really love mine. It lets me cook dry beans from scratch easily and entirely unattended.
Even better, it allows me to prep a weeknight dinner in minutes (as I'll show you below) and squeeze in a walk or run outdoors while it cooks. It'll even keep the food warm until we're ready to eat.
I do wholeheartedly recommend it for its simplicity, reliability, versatility and speed. Also, it's really not a big investment. It's currently available for just under $80 on Amazon.
While I can't promise that if you buy one, you'll use it all the time (that's entirely up to you), I will tell you that there are tons of Instant Pot cookbooks, online resources, and social media groups dedicated to this little machine and how to use it. The Instant Pot has a cult-like following and recipes abound, pretty much everywhere. So if you do take the plunge, you won't be at a loss for things to make in it.
And you can start with this lentil soup recipe! It's whole-food plant-based (vegan) and gluten-free. Oh, and it's delicious, warming and comforting.
See below for instructions on how to make this soup in a regular soup pot on the stove, too, if you prefer.
See below for more detailed notes on special ingredients.
1. Before you begin, pass your lentils through a quick visual inspection to make sure there are no little stones in their midst.
To do this, pour little piles of the lentils into one hand, and slowly let them fall into a measuring cup while watching for anything unusual. Discard anything that's not a lentil. Once you've got the quantity you need, transfer the lentils to a small bowl for rinsing.
In my experience, finding a stone is much less common when using split lentils than with whole lentils, but I do find one occasionally, which can be a hazard to your teeth, so it's always a good idea to sort them before you cook with them.
2. Once you've got your measured quantities in small bowls, rinse the lentils by soaking them briefly in water.
When you cover dry lentils in water, often you'll see that the water gets sudsy, as shown in the photo above.
This is because nature coats lentils, beans and other seeds in a substance called saponins, an enzyme inhibitor that prevents them from germinating too early in the ground. The word saponin is related to the word soap, hence the resulting suds. We want to wash those away so they won't interfere with our digestive enzymes. Continue rinsing the lentils until the rinse water runs clear. Then drain them.
3. Measure out the brown rice and give that a quick soak and rinse, as well. Set aside.
4. Peel your onion and carrots, and wash all your veggies.
5. Dice half the red onion and half the red bell pepper. Chop the carrots and celery into half-inch pieces. When you're done, they'll look something like this:
6. Turn on your Instant Pot by pressing the Sauté button. Heat the olive oil until it becomes fragrant, and then add the onions. Sprinkle with just a little bit of sea salt, and stir until they begin to soften.
7. Add the rest of the vegetables. Stir to combine, and continue stirring occasionally until the rest of the veggies also begin to soften and the onions begin to brown, about 3-4 minutes.
8. Add the vegetable stock and 4 cups of water to the pot.
9. Add the drained lentils and brown rice to the pot, too.
10. Give it all a quick stir.
11. Add the spices: garlic powder, curry powder, Umami Seasoning Blend, black pepper and sea salt. Give it all one more stir.
12. Place the lid on the machine, turn it until it locks into place (you'll hear an R2D2-like electronic chime), and set the valve on top of the lid to the middle position. The label says "Sealing." That's what we want.
In order to switch functions on the Instant Pot from Sauté to Pressure Cooking mode, you need to hit Cancel first. This stops the sauté, and prepares the appliance for setting a new function.
Next, we'll turn on the Pressure Cooking mode and set the time. The buttons may be labeled differently depending on the model you have. On my Instant Pot, the button says "Manual." On newer models it may say "Pressure Cook." Press that, and then use the plus or minus arrows to set the time to 12 minutes.
Then, let the machine be. In a few seconds, it will begin beeping to indicate that cooking has begun. It will take some time to come to pressure, and then once it does, it will begin counting down the minutes from 12 to done.
When the machine beeps that time is up, don't feel like you need to rush over and attend to it. It will continue to keep the soup warm until you're ready to eat it, and the pressure will slowly vent naturally.
If you'd like to eat it right away, you'll need to open the valve carefully. Grab a dish rag and cover one hand with it, then use your covered hand to slide the valve to the left or right (either way, it doesn't matter which). Be sure that you're not standing directly over it, or holding a child near it when you do this, because steam will come spouting straight up from the valve, especially if you release it right after it finishes cooking.
Even if some time has elapsed since the pressure cooking ended, you may still need to release the steam valve first before you turn open the lid. Always release the valve carefully. There's no need to be afraid, but you do want to pay attention and be careful when you do it.
Then, turn the lid open -- you'll be greeted by that same cute electronic chime -- and set the lid aside. Give the soup a stir with a ladle, taste it (careful, it'll be hot!), adjust the seasoning to your liking if necessary, and serve it whenever you're ready.
You can leave the Instant Pot on until you're finished serving the soup. It will keep your food warm even if the lid is off.
You will need to manually turn the pot off by hitting Cancel when you're finished with it.
And there you have it... Your meal is all ready to serve and enjoy! This tastes amazing with a side of toasted sourdough, by the way.
Traditional stovetop soup pot instructions are below.
Carrots are an excellent source of Vitamins A, C and K.
Celery is a good source of Vitamins A, K and folate.
Bell peppers are very rich in Vitamins A, C, E, B6 and folate
Lentils are an excellent source of plant-based protein and iron, two of the nutrients many people believe to be "hard to get" on a plant-based diet (which is, of course, a myth). They also bring in a good amount of potassium, Vitamin B6 and magnesium.
Brown rice offers protein and fiber, magnesium, Vitamin B6 and iron. It's also gluten-free.
Curry powder is heavy on turmeric, a spice lauded as a "superfood" for its extremely high antioxidant content. Its most active compound, curcumin, shows amazing promise in helping to prevent heart disease, Alzheimer's and cancer. Antioxidants counteract DNA damage, reduce inflammation in the body, and diminish the effects of aging.
This recipe may include some ingredients that are new to you. If so, here's a little guide.
Moong dal is another name for split mung beans. When split, the green skins come off the mung beans, leaving behind a golden yellow lentil. For this reason, sometimes they are labeled "golden petite lentils". You can find them at a local Asian/Indian market, in the Indian aisle (and occasionally in the bulk bins) of well-stocked healthy grocery stores such as WholeFoods or Wegman's, or online at Amazon.
Urad dal is split black lentils. Much like stated above, the black lentils are white on the inside and shed their black skins when split, so these lentils are white. You can find them in similar grocery stores as for moong dal, and also on Amazon.
Brown basmati rice is a light, longer-grain brown rice, and should not be difficult to find. Trader Joe's carries it, as do most mainstream supermarkets. If you live in a location where you just can't find it in a store, you can order it online, too.
Trader Joe's Multipurpose Umami Seasoning Blend is an amazing addition to soups and stews. If you don't live near a Trader Joe's, there are people who sell their products on Amazon, so you can order them, but be aware it will cost a lot more that way than it does in the store. You can definitely make this soup without it. But if you can get your hands on some, I highly recommend adding it.
1. Sort, rinse and drain the lentils. Rinse and drain the brown rice, too.
2. Dice the half onion and half bell pepper. Chop the carrots and celery.
3. In a soup pot on the stove, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.
4. Add the diced onions, sprinkle with sea salt, and stir occasionally until they begin to soften.
5. Add the chopped carrots, celery, and bell pepper. Stir occasionally until all the veggies are softening and the onions begin to brown, about 3-4 minutes.
6. Add the vegetable stock and water to the pot. Bring to a boil.
7. Add the brown rice. Cover the pot, turn the heat to low, and let it simmer for 25 minutes.
8. Add the rinsed, drained lentils to the pot, as well as the curry powder, garlic powder, Umami Seasoning, black pepper and sea salt. Return to a boil and simmer for an additional 20 minutes.
9. Taste the soup to make sure the lentils and rice are cooked to your liking. Adjust the salt if you need more.
Serve and enjoy!