Whenever I want nutritious comfort food in a hurry – I reach for red lentils. To me, it is the ultimate healthy convenience food – straight from the pantry, quick to cook and packed with flavour. And what’s even better than red lentils? Spicy red lentils! I love the sweet and earthy red lentils with the fiery kick of chilli. And this harissa red lentil soup is no exception. A Moroccan-inspired, flavour-packed, nutritious soup that is quick and easy to cook with mostly pantry ingredients? I’m all in!

Bowls of bright red lentil soup viewed from above on a dark grey background.

What is rose harissa?

This Moroccan-inspired red lentil soup owes its spiciness to the rose harissa paste. 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. You can buy it 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 for harissa and red lentil soup arranged in glass bowls.

Add freshness with a coriander salsa

The zesty coriander salsa adds a fresh and spicy kick with a good hit of acidity. But if you don’t have fresh coriander/cilantro on hand, skip the salsa and add a squeeze of lemon juice with some grated lemon zest after dishing up the soup. I love the different layers of chilli heat, citrusy acidity and cooling yoghurt with the comforting harissa and lentil soup. But if you don’t share my love of – read obsession with – spicy food, you can skip the green chilli in the salsa.

A rinsed bunch of coriander with garlic, green chilli and a lemon.

This salsa makes use of the soft coriander/cilantro stems in addition to the leaves. This 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.

Making the coriander salsa could not be easier. Place the chopped coriander, chillies and garlic in a mortar with the coarse sea salt. Bash and grind the mix into a rough paste with your pestle. I prefer to use a mortar and pestle, but you can finely chop everything by hand if you don’t have one. Or blitz the ingredients with an immersion blender for a smooth, green sauce.

Stir in the lemon juice, lemon zest and extra virgin olive oil. Have a taste and adjust the salsa to your liking. If you want it hotter, add another green chilli. I love it nice and zingy, zesty and savoury to go with the earthy, fragrant flavours of the harissa red lentil soup.

Close-up of a bowl of red lentil soup with a flatbread in the background.

Harissa red lentil soup – tips & substitutes

Can I use normal harissa instead of rose harissa?

Definitely! If you don’t like the subtle floral notes of rose harissa, you can substitute the same amount of normal harissa. Adjust the quantities depending on how spicy your preferred brand of harissa is. Harissa paste can vary considerably between brands. You can also add a splash of rose water to shop-bought harissa paste to make on-the-spot rose harissa or create a rose harissa substitute that suits your pantry.

Can I make it less spicy?

Sure! I love the fiery heat of this soup with the earthy lentil flavour, cooling yoghurt and fresh, spicy coriander salsa. But I know that not everyone shares my love of fiery foods. Omit the red chilli in the soup and reduce the harissa you add at the beginning of the cook. You can stir more harissa paste into the soup at the end of cooking after the final tasting. Also, make the zesty salsa without green chillies and put some sliced green chillies on the side when serving – if the thought of more chillies makes you nervous.

I don’t have vegetable stock. What can I use instead?

You can use any mild stock you have on hand. You can even use water. Just double the quantities of garlic and onion at the start of the recipe if you choose to use water.

Can I use brown or green lentils instead of red lentils?

Unfortunately, this is where the flexibility of the soup ends. Red lentils cook faster and have a different flavour and texture altogether. So rather wait until you have stocked up on red lentils.

How can I bulk up the harissa red lentil soup recipe?

This recipe serves 4 people comfortably. And you can double the recipe to feed a crowd if you have a large enough pot. It also does well with some green leafy veg you may have lurking in the fridge – like baby spinach or kale – stirred through at the end of cooking until just wilted. You can even add chickpeas or butter beans. Just drain a tin of chickpeas or butter beans and stir through for 5 minutes at the end of cooking.

Can I make the soup and salsa ahead of time?

You can make the red lentil soup ahead and store it in a sealed container in the fridge for 3 days before reheating thoroughly. Add a splash of water if the soup is too thick. The salsa can also be made ahead, but it may lose its vibrant green colour. Just store both in separate containers. Leftover soup can be frozen and will keep for roughly 3 months in the freezer.

How to serve this Moroccan lentil soup?

I love to serve this soup with quick yoghurt flatbreads that can be made before or while the soup is simmering. But any bread that you already have in the house will work to dip or scoop up the thick soup.

A bowl of red lentil soup with yoghurt and green chilli salsa and a gold spoon.

Harissa Red Lentil Soup with Coriander Salsa

5 from 6 votes

This soup is the ultimate emergency comfort food: A fiery, flavour-packed, nutritious soup that is quick and easy to cook, made with mostly pantry ingredients. Rose harissa adds a fragrant, floral note to the earthy red lentils soup.
Top the soup with soothing yoghurt (choose plant-based if necessary) and a zesty coriander/cilantro salsa – that adds a cheeky extra chilli kick.
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 35 mins
Course Soup
Cuisine Moroccan
Servings 4 people


  • 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 turmeric
  • 2–3 tablespoons rose harissa, see notes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tin (400 grams) whole tomatoes in juice
  • 1 cup (200 grams) red lentils
  • 1 litre vegetable stock

Spicy Coriander Salsa

  • 1 large handful (about 20 grams) fresh coriander leaves and stems, chopped
  • 1–2 green chillies, chopped (deseeded if you prefer less heat)
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled, bashed and chopped
  • ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

To Serve

  • thick yoghurt, vegan if required (optional)
  • black pepper
  • flatbreads


  • Heat a medium-sized pot or saucepan over medium-high 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 four 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 a good crack of black pepper. Serve with flatbreads or toasted sourdough.


  • I use homemade rose harissa paste. It is fragrant and flavourful with just the right amount of heat for me. 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. If you don’t have rose harissa, you can also add a splash of rose water to the soup. Just a teaspoon or less if you’re using concentrated rose water like Nielsen Massey.
  • 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 three. 
  • Or if you want more heat, add red chilli.


I would love to see! Tag @non_guilty_pleasures on Instagram and use the hashtag #nonguiltypleasuresrecipe

Enjoyed this Moroccan-inspired red lentil soup?

Why not try more rose harissa recipes? Or make your own rose harissa paste at home!

  • Roasted red pepper sauce with white beans in a serving bowl with toppings and a silver vintage serving spoon
    Roasted Red Pepper Sauce with White Beans
  • Shaped harissa butter on a small plate sliced with a knife.
    Harissa Butter (Spicy Compound Butter)
  • Harissa shakshuka with whole eggs and egg yolk and feta in a cast iron skillet viewed from above.
    Shakshuka With Feta (and Rose Harissa)