Once I fell in love with a lentil soup, and it was all I could think about when pulses came to mind. Lemony and tangy, it was the antidote to the bleakest winter days, and the color of sunshine (from red lentils) to match its bright disposition.
Eventually, though, the obsession waned, and I remembered how deeply satisfying brown lentils could be. They can also be easier to find than red lentils.
Earthy and hearty, brown lentils keep their shape when gently simmered, which makes for a richly textured soup. And when puréed, they turn soft, plush and wonderfully smooth.
In this recipe, I’ve kept things minimal and straightforward. You’ll only need to chop one onion, sautéing it until well browned at the edges to maximize its sweetness. You’ll also have to grate (or press) some garlic, to be stirred in at the end for a pungent pop. But that’s it for the prep work.
Because the soup itself is so simple, using a good, intensely flavored broth is important. But even a bouillon cube will do in a pinch. Just don’t use water, which won’t provide any flavor to stand up to the lentils.
[For more on building soup from scratch, go to our How to Make Soup guide.]
You could serve the soup on its own, letting its inherent simplicity shine. But it works even better as the savory base for an array of garnishes — just a little something sliced, crumbled or dolloped for color and verve.
I love a combination of parsley and sliced radicchio or cabbage for crisp freshness — almost like serving your soup and salad together in the same bowl. But use whatever you have in the cupboard or refrigerator, as long as it adds a contrasting element — either in flavor or texture or both — to the softness of the soup.
Crumbled bacon, cheeses, sliced olives or avocado add richness. Tomatoes, pickled peppers or vegetables, citrus or yogurt lend a bit of zip. Spices give the soup depth, and heat if you go with chiles. And for crunch, try sesame seeds, nori seaweed or even flaky sea salt sprinkled on at the very last second, before it has a chance to submerge and melt.
Any of these garnishes will also work on a red lentil soup. Just choose the soup you love best, or at least the one you’ll love best for dinner tonight.