Moroccan Lentil Soup

“Every cuisine has its characteristic ‘flavor principle,’ Rozin contends, whether it is tomato-lemon-oregano in Greece; lime-chili in Mexico; onion-lard-paprika in Hungary, or, in Samin’s Moroccan dish, cumin-coriander-cinnamon-ginger-onion-fruit. (And in America?).   Well, we do have Heinz ketchup, a flavor principle in a bottle that kids, or their parents, use to domesticate every imaginable kind of food. We also now have the familiar salty-umami taste of fast food, which I would guess is based on salt, soy oil, and MSG.”

Author: Michael Pollan

Moroccan Lentil soup 2I can honestly say that I haven’t made any recipes by Diana Henry and what a great opportunity to test drive a few thanks to the cooking club assignment this week. Moroccan lentil soup sounds fantastic for the first recipe this day. I’ve had several versions of Moroccan soups and the blend of spices might be a little overwhelming for some, but I happened to have all of the ingredients for a small batch of ras el hanout to keep in a sealed ball jar on the spice shelf. There are several recipes online, but I don’t have the need for a whole jar that you can also buy so I mixed my own.

The soup is easy to prepare and has a quick cooking time of 30-45 minutes so it is a perfect weeknight soup and salad dinner. While I have added the recipe to the post as well as a link, I must say that I did stray a bit adding in a diced carrot, a bit of paprika, and a bit of fresh ginger minced, about 1/2 teaspoon. As it turned out I also finished off just under 14 ounces of whole tomatoes for the crushed ones called for in the recipe. Just mash them up and add them to the pot they totally melt down anyway. I had strained them, but ended up using some of the juice so as not to waste it. My lentils were more orange than red and took a bit longer to cook so keep an eye on the liquid level and add more broth as needed to get the consistency that you like as this is a thick soup in the end.  For me I added a fried dried pepper for a bit of heat.

Italian chips

To go with the soup, I made a beautiful salad featuring a few fresh figs, cool cucumbers, heirloom grape tomatoes, a mix of lettuces and a simple muscat orange champagne vinaigrette. Add a small stack of grilled pita…delicious dinner and now I can’t wait to try another Diana Henry recipe.

Morrocan Salad 3
Moroccan Lentil Soup adapted from Diana Henry

For the lentil soup:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander
*1 carrot, small dice
*1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled, minced
*optional pinches of paprika
2 teaspoons ras el hanout (store-bought or homemade)
1 1/2 cups red lentils
One 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes
4 1/2 cups homemade chicken stock, canned chicken broth, vegetable stock, or water, or more as needed
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 tablespoons cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped, plus extra to garnish
For the chile-fried onions
2 onions, very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 fresh chile, seeded and finely chopped
Juice from 1/2 small lemon
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Greek yogurt, for serving


1. Heat the oil in a heavy pan and sauté the onion and celery until soft but not colored. Add the garlic and spices and cook for 1 minute, then add the ras el hanout, lentils, tomatoes, and stock or water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the lentils break down and sort of become a purée. The mixture will be quite thick—more dal-like than soup-y. If you prefer a thinner consistency, add more stock or water as necessary. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the chopped cilantro.

Make the chile-fried onions
2. Quickly fry the sliced onions in a skillet slicked with the olive oil over medium-high heat until golden brown and crisp at the edges. Add the cinnamon, sugar, and chile and stir once. Cook just until the sugar has dissolved. Immediately (and carefully) add the lemon juice (you may need to dodge some spatters) and season with salt and pepper.
3. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and add a dollop of yogurt and the chile-fried onions. Garnish with cilantro.