Indian Lentil Soup with Fresh Fenugreek & Harissa Spiced Tomatoes

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All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012

Yeah – it’s 95 degrees outside here today – and so, of course, I decide to make comfort food.  Still, this comes together very easily & is very flavorful – and makes a big pot that you can serve – or freeze for another day.  Like – an actually cold day when eating a nice thick bowl of hot lentil soup would sound appealing, perhaps.

My first note on this recipe is that you should not be thrown by the fresh fenugreek or the harissa.  You can use chili powder instead of harissa & I will get into the fenugreek thing below.  Basically – fenugreek in all forms – is optional in this recipe.    I just liked the exotic title those two ingredients presented.


I made this because I had a bunch of fresh fenugreek from my Indian market & wanted to use it before it got more wilted than it had already become.  Fenugreek looks like this


photo credit

And here is what I found online about it:

Fenugreek leaves  = holba = methi leaves   Pronunciation:  FEHN-yoo-greek   Notes:   This mildly bitter herb is believed to have medicinal properties.   Dried leaves, either whole or ground, are called kasuri methi, and they’re a good substitute for fresh.  Look for fresh or dried leaves in Indian markets.  Substitutes:  celery leaves.

I also saw someone suggest watercress as a substitute.  Watercress sounded closer to me.  Anyway – don’t be thrown by its inclusion here.  If you cannot find it – blow it off.  There is plenty of other flavor going on here.  Also – I used lots more carrots than your typical lentil soup recipe – basically to make it more filling for fewer calories.  And – I used ghee (clarified butter) but you can use olive oil, vegetable oil or a mix of these with butter.  Also – I used MASOOR DAL here –


masoor dal = masar dal  = mussoor dal = masur dal = pink lentil   Notes:   These are skinned and split masoor lentils.  They’re salmon-colored, cook quickly, and turn golden and mushy when cooked.   Substitutes:  red lentils OR yellow lentils OR green lentils (hold their shape better when cooked)  

but any lentil will do.  Also – I use a lot of spice – more than most other recipes you will find.  Feel free to start with less & add more to your own taste.



Indian Lentil Soup with Fresh Fenugreek & Tomatoes


2 1/2 cups lentils

1 medium onion – diced

8 carrots – sliced

3 celery stalks – sliced

3 inch piece of fresh ginger – peeled & diced fine – or several TBS of jarred minced ginger

2 tomatoes diced

2 large jalapenos – seeded & diced (less or none if you don’t like spicy food)

1 bunch fresh fenugreek (optional) – leaves removed & chopped (alternative – use celery leaves or watercress – or none of them)

6 garlic cloves (or less) – diced fine

2 tsp salt

1 TBS ground pepper

2 TBS curry powder (I used red curry powder but any variation is fine)

1 TBS turmeric

1 TBS Harissa (spicy!) or 1 TBS ground red chili powder (or less if you hate spice)

3 TBS Ghee or oil or butter or combination

1 tsp asafetida (optional) or 1 tsp either garlic or onion powder or a combo

1 TBS cumin SEEDS

1 TBS fenugreek SEEDS (optional)

1 tsp harissa OR 1 tsp red chili powder (yes, in addition)

fresh cilantro



Rinse the lentils pick out any bits or twigs or foreign matter you may see.   I used 7 cups of water to my 2.5 cups lentils – but you might be using a lentil that needs more – or less.  Just add water as needed to keep them covered in moisture.  Bring to a boil then lower the flame, add the chopped FRESH fenugreek leaves (or watercress or celery leaves) – if using – cover & simmer for as long as your lentil packaging suggests for doneness.  Stir occasionally & be sure your water doesn’t boil away.

While the lentils simmer – chop & dice & prepare all the ingredients that require that.

Heat 3 TBS of ghee or oil or butter & add onion, garlic, ginger, celery, jalapenos, curry powder, turmeric & 1 TBS harissa or red chili powder.  Stir for a minute then add carrots.  Stir another minute.  Add all this to your simmering lentils and return the empty pan to the heat.  Add 2 more TBS of ghee (or oil or butter) and when hot add the cumin seeds & the asafetida & fenugreek SEEDS (if using) and 1 tsp of additional harissa/red chili powder (if using).  Once the cumin starts popping (this happens pretty fast – less than a minute) – add the chopped tomatoes.  Be careful – as the oil will spit at you when you add the wet tomatoes.  Saute these for 2-3 minutes – until the tomatoes soften.  Add all this to the simmering lentils.


Add the S&P (more or less to taste).

Simmer just until the carrots & lentils are tender.  Add more water if needed throughout this recipe or cook off broth you feel may be in excess.  Serve with fresh chopped cilantro.



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