Whenever I want nutritious comfort food in a hurry, I reach for the red lentils to make a quick harissa lentil soup. This flavour-packed Moroccan-style red lentil soup with harissa is my favourite pantry-friendly dinner that I rustle up when I only have 30 minutes to cook.
I love the sweet, earthy red lentils with a fiery harissa flavour boost. And to complete the meal, top the red lentil soup with yoghurt and a quick cilantro salsa (or pesto) for a fresh, zesty kick.
The result is a delicious, easy, pantry-friendly meal sure to become a go-to in your winter weeknight repertoire.
Why you’ll love this recipe
This harissa red lentil soup is full of spicy flavour – perfect for warming up on a chilly day. But there’s even more to love about this pantry-friendly recipe:
- It’s easy & quick: This harissa red lentil soup is a straightforward recipe that comes together in less than 30 minutes. It’s a one-pot main dish – perfect for healthy convenience meals!
- It’s flavourful: The combination of spices and rose harissa creates an aromatic and flavourful soup.
- It’s vegan & gluten-free: This Moroccan-inspired soup is naturally vegan and gluten-free and easy to serve any crowd.
- It’s versatile: Add some cooked chickpeas or canned white beans to the soup for an extra boost of protein. Or try some cooked barley or quinoa for an even heartier meal.
What is rose harissa?
Harissa is a fragrant North African red pepper and chilli paste flavoured with toasted spices and garlic. Include rose petals and/or rose water, and you have rose harissa paste – my favourite. It adds a subtle floral hum to the fiery and fragrant harissa.
It is the magic ingredient that adds loads of flavour to this Moroccan lentil soup.
You can buy rose harissa ready-made or make your own rose harissa at home. The flavour and levels of chilli heat differ across shop-bought brands. So, you may need to adjust the spiciness depending on the ingredients in your chosen brand of rose harissa paste.
Ingredients and substitutes
This simple vegan lentil soup is full of flavour and takes no time at all to assemble. And with a quick and easy coriander salsa to top it off, it becomes a complete meal.
- Olive oil: I use a good-quality extra virgin olive, but you can use your preferred cooking oil.
- Aromatic vegetables: Onion, garlic, and chilli are the main aromatics in the soup base. But you can also add finely chopped celery stalks, carrots, or any other vegetables you have on hand.
- Spices: This recipe calls for ground cumin, ground coriander, ground cinnamon, and ground turmeric. Substitute any one of these for ground ginger. Or use a pre-made spice blend like Ras el Hanout instead.
- Harissa: Rose harissa is a fragrant and flavourful Middle Eastern paste with just the right amount of heat for and a gorgeous floral fragrance. You can also use normal harissa, or smoked harissa paste. And if you don’t have any harissa, try any of these harissa substitutes.
- Tomato paste: It adds a deepness to the tomato flavour. But, depending on your type of harissa, you may choose to omit the tomato paste – some shop-bought harissa pastes already contain a lot of tomatoes.
- Tomatoes: I use canned whole tomatoes in juice or canned crushed tomatoes. You can also use fresh diced tomatoes when they’re in season.
- Red lentils: Split red lentils cook quickly and are perfect for this simple soup. But you can also use green or brown lentils – they’ll just take a little longer to cook.
- Vegetable stock: Use a good-quality store-bought or homemade vegetable broth.
Add freshness with a cilantro salsa
The zesty cilantro salsa (coriander leaf salsa) adds a fresh and spicy kick with a good hit of acidity. But if you don’t have fresh cilantro on hand, skip the salsa and serve the harissa soup with fresh lemon wedges instead.
This salsa makes use of the soft cilantro stems in addition to the leaves. It means more flavour and less waste!
You can even make this salsa with only stems if you plan on using the leaves in a different dish. You can refrigerate leftover salsa in a sealed glass jar and add it to any dish in need of some magic. Keep the salsa in the fridge for up to 5 days.
You can swap the chopped cilantro for fresh parsley if you’re not on team cilantro.
What to serve with lentil harissa soup
Moroccan red lentil soup is a flavourful, hearty, and nourishing meal. Serve it simply with a generous dollop of Greek or coconut yoghurt, freshly ground black pepper, and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive for a quick weeknight meal.
Or if you have the time, add a few side dishes to turn into a midweek feast.
Bread: Let’s face it, the time-honoured tradition of mopping up the last bit of soup with a piece of bread never gets old. Try a loaf of crusty sourdough, a traditional Moroccan bread (khobz), or quick and easy yoghurt flatbread.
A mezze spread: Serve the lentil and harissa soup with a small mezze platter featuring Middle Eastern dips and sauces like lemony hummus, Persian yoghurt and cucumber sauce (mast-o khiar), and zhoug sauce (spicy cilantro sauce). Place a little mezze on your plate, scoop up some with pita bread, and then alternate with spoonfuls of your hearty red lentil soup.
Grains: This harissa lentil soup is thick enough (almost like a red lentil stew) to scoop over cooked grains. Light and fluffy couscous is a natural pairing for the Moroccan flavours. But I love to serve it with cooked barley (see how to cook barley) tossed with loads of chopped fresh herbs.
Add vegetables: Turn leftovers into a main course with canned chickpeas and extra vegetables like cubed butternut squash and sweet potato. And most certainly serve this with a cooked grain.
Make a big batch of harissa red lentil soup and store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. And let me know how you served your soup in the comments below!
Frequently asked questions
Rose harissa is a rose-infused variation of the traditional harissa paste. While both feature a base of red peppers, spices, and garlic, rose harissa also incorporates rose petals or rose water for a fragrant twist.
Yes, you can substitute harissa for rose harissa in most recipes (certainly in this one). However, you’ll miss the subtle floral notes unique to rose harissa. Add a splash of rose water to regular harissa as a creative workaround.
No, you don’t need to soak red lentils before cooking them. Red lentils have a softer texture and cook relatively quickly compared to other lentil types. But you can give them a rinse before cooking.
Harissa Red Lentil Soup with Cilantro Salsa
- Mortar and pestle – optional
Red Lentil Soup
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, roughly chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 red chilli, sliced (optional)
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 2 to 3 tablespoons rose harissa, see notes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 can (14.5 ounces) whole tomatoes in juice
- 1 cup red lentils
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- kosher salt, to taste
Spicy Coriander Salsa
- 1 large handful fresh cilantro, leaves and soft stems roughly chopped
- 1 to 2 green chillies, thinly sliced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
- 1 lemon, zest and juice
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Greek yoghurt, or coconut yoghurt for vegan
- black pepper, to taste
- flatbread (optional)
- Heat a medium-sized soup pot or Dutch oven on medium heat. Once hot, add the olive oil and onions to fry for a few minutes. Stir often until the onions are soft. It should take about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and chilli – if using. Cook for another 3 minutes until the garlic becomes fragrant, stirring from time to time.
- Add the cumin, coriander, turmeric and cinnamon. Fry for another 2 minutes, stirring to coat the onions with the spices.
- Now add 2 tablespoons each of harissa and tomato paste. Add the red lentils and stir through for a minute or so.
- Add the tinned tomatoes with their juice. And use your spatula to break them apart in the pot. Then add your stock and a teaspoon of salt and bring it to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium and allow to simmer gently, uncovered, for 20 minutes, or until the red lentils are soft and just starting to disintegrate.
- While the soup is simmering, make the coriander salsa. Place the coriander, chillies and garlic in your mortar with the coarse sea salt. Bash and grind the mix with your pestle until you have a rough paste. (If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, finely chop the ingredients and add to a bowl.) Stir in the lemon juice, lemon zest and extra virgin olive oil. Have a taste and adjust to your liking. If you want it hotter, add another green chilli. You want it to be zingy, zesty and savoury.
- Try the soup and add salt to taste. Add another tablespoon of harissa if needed – I always do.
- Divide the soup between 4 bowls. Place a tablespoon of yoghurt (vegan or otherwise) in each and gently swirl through the soup. Drizzle with a generous helping of coriander salsa and top with a generous grind of black pepper. Serve with flatbread or toasted sourdough.
- I use homemade rose harissa paste. It is fragrant and flavourful with just the right amount of heat for me. If you don’t have rose harissa, use normal harissa and add a splash of rose water (if you have). Just a teaspoon or less, if you’re using concentrated, rose water like Nielsen Massey. See harissa substitute for more options.
- Different harissa paste brands have different levels of spiciness. That’s why it’s best to start with 2 tablespoons at the start of cooking. Add another tablespoon of the harissa when you taste the soup at the end of cooking and feel a bit more heat is welcome. I always add that extra tablespoon.
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