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Pumpkin Lentil Soup

My mom makes two kinds of delicious lentil soup. One is a recipe from a now-defunct Middle Eastern restaurant that is rich in cumin and the other has rice and the golden earthiness from turmeric. I played around with both of these dishes. Because I had bought 14 sugar pumpkins and roasted them to make my own purée (try it once for the experience), I stirred pumpkin into the soup. The pumpkin is only subtly sweet and lends a creaminess that you don’t often find in most lentil soups. I also added a few pinches of warm spices and cooked black rice for that full-on harvest look and taste!

If you use canned pumpkin for this, make sure that it is just pumpkin and NOT pie filling.

½ cup black rice

1-1/4 cups water

1 garlic clove, peeled and minced

Pinch of salt and pepper

1 cup red lentils

1 TBS olive oil

½ large onion, peeled and chopped in medium dice

2 stalks celery (include the leaves if you have them), chopped in medium dice

1 carrot, chopped in medium dice (peeled or not peeled; your preference)

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced

2 cups pumpkin purée OR 1 15-oz can of pumpkin

1 tsp salt or to taste

1 tsp black pepper or to taste

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp ground cumin

½ tsp sweet paprika

1/8 – ¼ tsp red pepper flakes

1/8 tsp ground cloves

1/8 tsp pumpkin pie spice

6 cups low-sodium or homemade vegetable stock

Zest of one lemon

Juice of ½ lemon or to taste

Make the black rice:

Black rice is a medium-grain rice that turns almost purple when cooked. The ratio of black rice to liquid is 1:2. It should also be rinsed several times before using and it is often soaked anywhere from an hour to overnight before cooking. While I rinse the rice, I don’t soak it. I just add a bit more water or broth while it cooks. Do whatever works for you: if you soak the rice or not, it can still take over 30 minutes to cook.

Place the rice in a sieve and rinse several times under cold water until the water runs clear. Add the rice, water, minced garlic, salt, and pepper to a pot. Stir gently.

Cover the pot and heat it on medium-high heat. Bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to low. Cook the rice covered for 30 - 35 minutes or until most of the water is absorbed. Remove from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Remove the lid and fluff with a fork.

Make the lentil soup:

Spread the lentils onto a plate and pick out any debris you may find. Don’t skip this step; I have found tiny pebbles and even a piece of hard plastic.

Place the lentils into a sieve and rinse under cold water. Shake the sieve to remove excess water and set aside.

Heat a large pot on medium. Add the olive oil. Add the onion, celery, and carrots. Cook for 2 minutes or until the onions are translucent. Add the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds taking care not to burn the garlic.

Stir the salt, pepper, and all of the spices into the vegetables. Cook for one minute. Add the vegetable stock, pumpkin, and cleaned lentils and stir until well-combined.

Partially cover the soup with a lid. Bring the soup to a boil. Remove the lid and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 20 - 25 minutes or until the lentils are tender and the soup is thickened. Add the cooked black rice and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat and stir in the lemon zest and juice. Allow the soup to stand for 5 minutes and then serve.

Makes 4 large servings or 6 – 8 small ones.

Don’t Freak Out!

1) Don’t have black rice? Use your favorite rice instead. You can even find precooked rice at the market or leftover plain white rice from a Chinese or Thai restaurant. Just add 1-1/2 to 2 cups of cooked rice to the soup. You can also add 1 cup of cooked wild rice, bulgur (wheat—NOT gluten-free) or millet instead. I don’t recommend, however, adding instant rice to the soup—it’ll be too mushy.

2) Try garnishing this soup with toasted pumpkin seeds, a dollop of sour cream, crumbled feta cheese, or fresh chives and parsley. Warm pita bread or grilled cheese or quesadillas made with pepper jack cheese would make great dippers for this. Also, try washing down this soup with apple cider (hard or otherwise).

3) Make it meaty. Substitute chicken, turkey, or pork stock or broth for the vegetable stock. Garnish each bowl with a few slices of cooked spicy pork sausage or chicken-and-apple sausage. Of course, there's can always add bacon!

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