ORIGINS: The Turks love their red lentils, using it mainly in recipes such as vegan köftesi (meatballs) and soup, according to Somer Sivrioğlu and David Dale’s book Anatolia: Adventures in Turkish Cooking. Most Turkish recipes for red lentil soup, kırmızı mercimek çorbası, call for it to be pureed into a smooth consistency before serving, and topped with a drizzle of spiced olive oil or butter. One lazy day, I made the recipe without either of those steps, and the soup was still so good that I tend to do it this way for a lighter meal with less cleanup. (Don’t worry, a more traditional Turkish soup recipe is forthcoming if you would like a heartier version.)
Oil-Free Turkish Lentil Soup (Instant Pot or Slow Cooker)
- 1/2 cup red lentils 100 g
- 1/3 cup okara 70 g *optional; see Notes
- 1 medium onion, sliced 200 g
- 1 medium carrot, diced 90 g
- 1 small potato, diced 70 g
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp urfa biber + more to taste; see Notes for substitutions
- 1 tsp salt 6 g
- 3 cups water 720 mL
- 2 tbsp lemon juice from ½ lemon
- pul biber or red pepper flakes
- fresh parsley
- fresh mint or dried mint
- lemon slices
- Add red lentils, okara, onion, carrot, potato, cumin, urfa biber, salt, and water to the inner pot of the Instant Pot or slow cooker.
- For Instant Pot: use Pressure Cook setting on High mode for 15 minutes, followed by a full natural release (15–20 minutes).
- For slow cooker: slow cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours.
- After cooking, stir in lemon juice. Check the consistency and add more water if you'd like a thinner soup.
What the heck is okara?! It’s the leftover solid sediment from making your own soy milk. It contains quite a bit of nutrients, including protein, so rather than throwing it out I’ve been experimenting with adding it to recipes. It does have a rather distinct “soy” flavour and can be quite gritty, so it doesn’t always work in recipes, but luckily it does well in this red lentil soup, where you won’t taste it at all. Be sure not to add more than the 1/3 cup I specify in the recipe, though, otherwise, the grittiness will become noticeable. And obviously, this is an entirely optional ingredient. It’s a great way to use up your okara if you have some on hand but otherwise omit it.
For the urfa biber: you can substitute coarsely cracked black pepper instead, though I would start with 1/2 tsp if you’re not a fan of spice because black pepper is hotter than urfa biber.
This soup is wonderful on its own as a light meal. But it can also be paired with a salad or a couple slices of fresh bread, such as this 45-minute soda bread.
Where to Find Turkish Spices and Substitutes
I get my cumin, Aleppo pepper*, dried mint, and urfa biber all from the Silk Road Spice Merchant. I absolutely love this company (not sponsored!). Their spices are really fresh and they also offer free shipping within Canada with an order minimum. You are also likely to find the first three spices at a well-stocked supermarket, although I haven’t yet seen urfa biber for sale anywhere in my usual grocery stores.
Aleppo pepper is interchangeable with pul biber, which is its Turkish name. Syrian Aleppo chili is no longer so common these days as the country continues to recover from the Syrian Civil War, but Turkish growers also produce this pepper, so you should still be able to source it, at the very least from online stores like Silk Road Spices or Penzey’s if not in your local stores. If you don’t have Aleppo pepper available, no worries, just leave it out. To add a bit of spice, you can sprinkle in some red pepper flakes instead.
Nutrition, Cost, and Emissions Information
Each bowl of Turkish-style red lentil soup is 320 cal, costs $0.57, and releases 273 gCO2e of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
Calculation for full recipe as written (2 servings):
Feel free to contact me for sources on the nutritional and carbon emissions information presented here. Note that I am not a nutritionist and guidelines on this page are provided for informational purposes only.