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Lentil Soup

Lentil Soup
T. Susan Chang for NPR /

This is hearty, filling soup. If you like a thicker soup, you can puree a quarter or a third of the finished soup and return it to the pot for 5 minutes of simmering. If you decide to use the ham (and it's a fine addition if you do), get good-quality Virginia ham and be sure to have it cut at least 1/4 inch thick — fine shreds of ham don't hold up in flavor the way thick chunks do.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, finely chopped

1 meaty ham bone (optional)

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

1/2 pound green lentils (they're brownish green)

1/4 cup tomato paste or 1 cup chopped canned tomatoes (fire-roasted tomatoes are particularly good if you can get them)

4 cups chicken stock

4 to 6 cups water

1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped

1 thick slice of Virginia ham (1/4 inch to 1/2 inch), finely diced (optional)


Black pepper

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add the onions, celery and ham bone (if using) with a bit of salt. Cook over low to medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are translucent, about 8 minutes.

Add the rosemary, lentils, tomato paste or chopped tomatoes and cook, stirring, for a few minutes until well-combined and aromatic.

Add chicken stock and 2 or 3 cups of water (enough so the soup can boil freely around the lentils). Simmer the soup, uncovered, for about 45 minutes, adding water as necessary. Finally, add the carrots and simmer an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until the carrots are just tender and the lentils are falling apart. Add the diced ham, if using, and taste for seasoning. Serve.

If you're using the diced ham, you may wish to caramelize it to boost its flavor before adding. To do so, coat a skillet (large enough to accommodate the ham without crowding) with a thin layer of olive oil, and place it over high heat. When very hot, add the ham and saute briefly until browned on all sides.

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