This recipe, which I first developed for my book Simple Green Suppers, is fast to make and delivers great, earthy flavor —with a kick. If you’ve never cooked with red lentils, you’ll love how quickly they cook (they break down completely so are best for soups and curries) and how much body they add to a soup.  This recipe has layers of flavor (fresh garlic and ginger, then warm spices, and finally coconut milk, cilantro, and lime) and is vegetarian and vegan, as the cooking liquid is water, not stock.

An immersion blender is invaluable for whipping this into a smooth texture, but a regular blender will work, too.  Be sure to add plenty of lime juice. Garnish with toasted coconut, chopped peanuts or sliced almonds, croutons, or even a mound of cooked grains. The flavor deepens overnight.

Makes 6 to 7  cups, Serves 4

  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed or vegetable oil
  • 1 cup diced onion (about 1 medium onion)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh garlic
  • 1 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 large sweet potato (about 12 ounces), peeled and cut into small dice
  • ¾ cup red lentils
  • 6 cups water
  • ½ cup canned coconut milk (not lite), well-stirred
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • ½ lime, juiced
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped toasted almonds, toasted coconut, pita croutons, or other garnish you might like (optional)

1. In a medium Dutch oven or soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and ½ teaspoon of salt, stir, and cover the pot loosely. Cook, uncovering occasionally to stir, until the onions are translucent and starting to brown, about 5 to 6 minutes.

2. Add the garlic and fresh ginger and cook, stirring, until softened, about 30 seconds. Add the chili powder, turmeric, and ginger. Stir to combine. Add the tomato paste and stir, breaking apart as much as possible. Add the sweet potatoes, lentils, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and the 6 cups water. Stir well, bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cover the pot loosely. (You may have to adjust the heat down as time goes on to maintain a moderately gentle, not rapid, simmer.)

3. Cook until the sweet potatoes are quite tender, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let sit for 10 minutes.

4. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. (Keep the blender submerged while operating in order not to splash hot soup.) When the soup is smooth, well-combined, and a lighter orange color, add the coconut milk and puree again. Taste for salt and season with more if necessary. Add all of the cilantro and most of the lime juice and puree again until well combined. Taste again for salt and lime, adding more if needed.

5. Return the pot to the stove if necessary to rewarm gently. Serve   hot with any optional garnishes you like.