I love how creamy and comforting this red lentil soup is, and how beautifully some vegetables sneak in there as well.
The way it smells in the kitchen while making this soup, takes me back to my trip to Istanbul. I visited Istanbul with my husband in 2011, and adored every part of it. The castles, the bazaars, the mosques, the food. Turkey has such a rich and diverse culture. There is so much to see and experience. We tried many different restaurants and dishes. There was this restaurant (don’t remember the name) which served traditional dishes from a specific region in Turkey. Even though it was far away from where we were staying, we would go there for the incredible food. One of the dishes that they served there was red lentil soup, which we always ordered as appetizer. Coming from India, I have had lentils (daal) in hundreds of variations, but the Turkish one was totally different from the Indian versions. There was some specific spice that gave it a distinct taste. The taste stayed with me, and when I decided to include soup in my meatless series I wanted to try making Turkish Lentil Soup.
I watched several recipes for Turkish lentil soup and followed some blog posts. I wanted to try the traditional version, but with some twist. I have this itch to give some personal touch to my recipes, so it can reflect my personality.
I tried adding red chili powder, but it didn’t go well. I felt it was too over powering for the otherwise delicate flavors. I tried replacing potatoes in the recipe for sweet potatoes. Didn’t like it as the soup came out too sweet for my taste.
I liked this version the best. The one I am sharing today, is creamy, somewhat tangy and a tad bit sweet. The unusual ingredient here is ajvar (which is a sweet pepper and aubergine based paste). It added the right amount of flavor and sweetness to the soup to balance the tanginess from the tomato paste without being too overpowering. For the spiciness, I make chili oil separately so I can add as much as I want on the top. For the kids, I can simply skip the chili oil and serve.
Where can I find the Ingredients?
Here is an overview of the ingredients.
As you can see, the ingredients list is not very extensive. However, it does require some specific ingredients that you might not find at the usual grocery store. Find the details below:
- Dried Mint: This is a critical ingredient for the recipe. I would not recommend substituting it with any other herb or with fresh mint, as that will change the flavor profile. You can find dried mint at any Turkish store (or oriental store).
- Ajvar: It’s a paste of sweet pepper and aubergine. It is widely available at Turkish and oriental stores. It has recently gained popularity and now I can also see it at usual grocery stores like Aldi, Rewe and Edeka. You can substitute it with Turkish pepper paste (refer to recipe below).
- Red Lentils: Due to the increasing popularity of lentils, the German grocery stores have started stocking them recently. I like to buy mine organic from Aldi. But you can find them at other grocery stores as well, or at Turkish and Indian grocery stores too.
- Spicy Paprika Powder: To make the chili topping, I like to use spicy paprika powder (Rosenscharf Paprika). You can find it at any well stocked grocery store in Germany like Rewe, Edeka or Hit. It has a slightly different flavor than red chili powder but if you cannot find spicy paprika powder easily, you may substitute it with red chili podwder (refer to recipe below).
- Tomato Paste: It’s a concentrated form of tomato puree. I like using it as it does not splatter like tomato puree while cooking, and you can add water as required. You can find it at any usual grocery store in Germany (by the name Tomatenmark). However, you can substitute it with tomato puree without affecting the taste of the dish.
An easy tip to make the soup more nutritious
Traditionally, Turkish soup contains carrots and potatoes. Carrots are added for their taste and slight sweetness, while potatoes are added for creaminess. I really like the fact that there are these vegetables in my soup, which I can’t even notice when I am having it. Usually, the peels of the carrots and potatoes are taken off. But because the peels contains many vitamins and anti oxidants, I thought why not keep the peels on and see if it affects the taste or texture. To my delight, the soup with peels came out as creamy and delicious as the one without the peels. Keeping the peels on is a great way to keep the nutrients, without affecting the taste.
Note: If you are keeping the peels of carrots and potatoes on, I highly recommend to use organic produce to avoid exposure to pesticides and chemical treatments. Wash thoroughly with water.
Turkish Lentil Soup with Chili Oil
- 150 grams (3/4 cup) Red lentils
- 1 big onion
- 2 medium carrots
- 2 medium potatoes
- 3 Tbsp olive oil (separated)
- 1 Tbsp tomato paste (substitute 1/2 cup tomato puree)
- 2 Tbsp Ajvar (substitute 1 tsp Turkish pepper paste)
- 1 Tbsp dried mint
- 1½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp crushed black pepper
- 1 litre water
- 1 Tbsp butter (skip or use vegan butter for vegan version)
- 1 tsp spicy paprika powder (substitute: red chili powder)
- some fresh chopped parsley
- lemon juice
Preparation (5-7 minutes):
- Wash the lentils by rubbing gently between fingers and then draining the water. Repeat 3 times or until the water that comes out is not cloudy anymore. Then let the lentils soak for until needed.
- Peel and dice the onion. Keep the skin on for the carrots and potatoes if using organic. Slice the carrots thinly. Dice the potatoes. Keep aside.
Cooking (30 minutes):
- Put a medium sized pot on medium heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil. Once hot, add the diced onion and saute for 2-3 minutes, until translucent.
- Once the onion turns translucent, add the potatoes and carrots and saute for 2 minutes (until the vegetables turn glossy).
- Add the tomato paste, ajvar, dried mint, salt and pepper and saute for another 2 minutes on medium heat. If it starts to stick at the bottom, add little splashes of water. While it's saute'ing, put a litre of water to boil.
- Drain the lentils and add them to the pot. Also add the boiled water to the pot, then turn heat to low. Mix, then cover and let cook on low heat for 12-15 minutes or until your vegetables are tender.
- Once the vegetables are tender, turn off heat and add the butter. Use a stab mixer to make the soup smooth and creamy. If you don't have a stab mixer, you can use a blender after the pot cools down a bit (heat it up again after blending).
- Preparing the chili oil: Put a small pan (skillet) on medium heat and add the remaining 2 Tbsp of olive oil. Once it's a little hot add the paprika powder and give the pan a swirl to soak the paprika into the oil. Once the paprika sizzles, immediately take it off heat and transfer to a bowl.
- Pour the soup into a deep bowl. Add a teaspoon or two of chili oil (skip for kids). Sprinkle some chopped parsley and add a generous squeeze of lemon. My kids love some simit (Turkish sesame ring bread) along with the soup.