Red Pepper Lentil Soup with Cumin and Black Pepper

Adapted from The Zuni Café Cookbook

My good friend AJ introduced me to the wonder that is Judy Rodger’s cooking. Such a treat! This soup, from the cookbook bearing the name of her delightful San Francisco restaurant, is both flavorful and versatile. If you happen to be in the Bay Area, a visit to her restaurant is a must. This soup is also easy to prepare – perfect for a busy fall evening when you need dinner in a half hour. Add a chunk of warm crusty bread and a green salad and…dinner is served.

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup finely diced sweet red pepper
  • ½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 large carrot, finely diced
  • 2 celery stalks, finely diced
  • ¼ cup finely diced yellow onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed and roughly chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig fresh Italian parsley, chopped (leaves and stem)
  • 1 cup dark lentils (black beluga or French green)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup vegetable juice or chicken stock
  • ½-1 teaspoon salt*
  • In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the diced pepper and cook until it begins to soften and color slightly, about 5 minutes.
  • Crush the peppercorns roughly and add to the peppers along with the cumin. Cook for another minute, until fragrant. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, carrot, celery, onion, garlic, bay leaf, parsley, water and vegetable juice or chicken stock. If you are using dried lentils, add them at this time. Bring the soup to a simmer and allow it to cook uncovered for 15 minutes, until the lentils and vegetables are soft. (If you are using cooked lentils, let the vegetable mixture simmer uncovered for 10 minutes to soften the vegetables, then add the cooked lentils until heated through). Turn off the heat, cover and allow to rest for 5 minutes to let the flavors meld and the lentils soften a bit more. Taste the soup at this time and add the salt if necessary. Remove the bay leaf.
  • One of the lovely things about this soup is that you can serve it as is or you can puree it. Both ways are delicious, so it’s up to you. If you decide to puree the soup, add it in small batches to a blender and pulse until the consistency is to your liking. If you find that it’s too thick, you can add a little more water, stock or vegetable juice to thin it. I like to use an immersion blender, which allows you to easily blend it to the desired consistency. Serve immediately and enjoy.
  • Quick Tips
  • 1. The black peppercorns give this soup a distinct flavor. Crushing them more finely distributes the flavor a bit better. If you’d like a more subtle pepper flavor, cut the black peppercorns to ¼ teaspoon and crush them well. This is also a good tip to keep in mind for kids with spice-sensitive palates.
  • 2. I like to use precooked black beluga lentils (Trader Joe’s carries them on the shelf near the rice and pasta) to cut back on the preparation time. I don’t bother to measure these and just dump in the whole 8 oz. package. If you prefer to use dried lentils, pick them over well, rinse them and measure out 1 cup. You may need to add more liquid if they absorb the water/juice/stock quickly.
  • 3. Chicken stock can be used instead of or in combination with the water and vegetable juice. I’ve made several permutations and been happy with the results. Remember to adjust your salt according to the sodium content of the stock as well.
  • *Salt measurement will vary depending on the sodium content of the vegetable juice or chicken stock. Taste the soup before adding salt and add ½ teaspoon at a time until it’s to your liking.

Preparation time: 15 minute(s)

Cooking time: 35 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4

2 responses to “Red Pepper Lentil Soup with Cumin and Black Pepper”

  1. Royce says:

    This looks awesome! Thanks for posting another yummy veg recipe. I’ll probably avoid the peppercorns b/c of kids, but I often add some chopped spinach to my lentil soups, partly for the added iron but also for the added pop of color.

    • Alicia says:

      Yes, the pop of color should not be underestimated. And looking at this photo (which I took a while ago), I’m realizing it needs an update! :-)

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