East Indian Red Lentil Soup with Sweet Potato

Red Lentil Sweet Potato Soup II SpiritedCook.com

Click here to watch me make this soup on the WCSH6 207 show.

Vegetarian, can be Vegan

I don’t know about you, but during this past New England winter I needed soupy sustenance to make it through the snow, ice, and general drudge of schlepping around in it.  Also, now that we have a home in the White Mountains, soup has become a major food group.  I find that I have more time to cook when I am there, and after snowshoeing or XC skiing, coming home to something already prepared, just needing to be heated up, is sooooo great.  Since I suspect March and April to be damp, muddy, and as this weekend will prove, rainy — well, soup is still de rigueur.

This delicious and comforting Indian soup or dal, is one that I have been making since the good ol’ 90’s from the wonderful cookbook, Cooking at the Natural Cafe in Santa Fe by Lynn Walters.  You know what I love about it? (besides that it’s really tasty, full of fiber and rings my Indian cuisine chimes)  Three things to be exact – one, it uses water as a base, no need for stock (yay!), two, it doesn’t take forever because the red lentils and garnet yam are simmering away while you are making the tarka (that’s the mixture in the skillet), and three, it can be frozen.  Use a bigger pot and make a double batch!  I do, most of the time — divide the extra servings into freezer ziplock bags, lay them flat in the freezer, label and stack.  So easy. Remember, no labeling equals UFOs (Unidentified Frozen Objects) so be sure to label!  To the original recipe, I added cubed garnet yam as I love their sweet taste and silky texture.  Garnet yams are sweet potatoes or sweet potatoes are yams – I can never remember which is which.  But if you don’t have access to garnet yams, an ordinary sweet potato will certainly do.   And if you’re not a fan, leave it out.  The soup will be fine.

I like it a little zippier and sturdier than the original recipe, so I upped the spices, but it is still not too spicy.  Fiddle with it and make it yours – find your own heat level.   Add a touch of coconut milk for extra creamy yumminess.  I use full fat coconut milk because in my opinion, the low-fat version is ghastly.  Also, if you haven’t worked with red lentils before, note that they go from this lovely salmon pink to a very unattractive band-aid color.


Don’t worry though, the tomato-onion-turmeric mixture will give it plenty of color and liven things up.

Red Lentil Sweet Potato Soup II SpiritedCook.com

If you make it ahead of time, you might find that upon reheating, it needs to be thinned a bit with additional water.  Or, keep it thick and serve it stew-style over basmati rice with a spoonful of yogurt.

I love adaptable recipes, don’t you?  What have you been adapting lately?  Let me know in the comments!



5.0 from 2 reviews
East Indian Red Lentil Soup with Sweet Potatoes
Cook time
Total time
Perfect for a cold winter's day! A hearty, satisfying soup that can be made in 40 minutes. Leave out the yogurt to keep it vegan. And as with many soups like this one, tastes even better the next day. Doubles easily and can be frozen.
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 6 servings
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 ¼ cup red lentils
  • 1 large garnet yam (about 1 ¼ - ½ lbs.), peeled and cubed
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced or pressed
  • 1 tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger
  • 1 large jalapeno, seeded, membranes removed, and finely diced (or ¼ to ½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper)
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ¾ teaspoon cumin seed
  • 2 large tomatoes, diced or 14-ounce can diced tomatoes with juices
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt, divided
  • ¼ - ½ cup canned full fat unsweetened coconut milk, well stirred
  • 2 – 4 tablespoons minced cilantro, plus additional for garnish
  • Optional garnish: plain Greek yogurt
  1. In a large saucepan, bring water to boil. Rinse lentils in a fine mesh strainer, then add to the water, stir to combine and bring to a boil. If they foam, skim off as much foam as possible. Reduce the heat to medium or medium-low, adjusting heat as necessary to maintain a good simmer, and simmer for 15 minutes.
  2. Add cubed sweet potato and continue to simmer for another 15 minutes until lentils are very soft, have broken apart, and a fork can easily pierce a sweet potato cube.
  3. While the lentils are simmering, heat a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat for 1 minute, add coconut oil, heat until melted, reduce heat to medium, add onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, jalapeno, turmeric and cumin seed, and cook for 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and ¾ teaspoon salt, stir to combine and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until tomatoes have softened.
  4. Once lentils and sweet potatoes have finished cooking, add tomato mixture, plus remaining ½ to ¾ teaspoon salt, minced cilantro, and coconut milk to the cooked lentil mixture and heat gently for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to combine. Taste, and adjust seasonings accordingly. To serve, garnish with a sprinkle of additional minced cilantro, and a spoonful of yogurt.
Adapted from Cooking From The Natural Cafe in Santa Fe, by Lynn Walters,The Crossing Press, 1992

Increase the lentils to 1 ½ cups if you would like the soup to be thick and stew-like from the start!



Published on March 30, 2014
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  1. Love this Barbara. Love your writing style! It’s just like talking with you! Love your honesty and sense of humor! Can’t wait to try this recipe!

  2. Thanks Bonnie! I really appreciate your words as a newbie blogger– it was slightly scary, but I decided to take the leap TODAY! Cheers!

  3. Jean Ginn Marvin says:

    This sounds awesome! Can’t wait to try it!
    Your new blog is looks amazing! Congratulations!

  4. Debbie Gendron says:

    Love that your blog is up and running!
    The boys love it when I make Dal and they
    Love the Red Lentil Soup I make! Sounds similar to yours Barb….going to try next!
    I must of got my love for cooking from you!

    • Barbara says:

      Thanks Debbie! I love this recipe, and the garnet yams give it an extra touch. It’s so sweet of you to say that, I am really glad you love to cook! Will be posting lots of recipes from when the boys were young, if you think of any that you like, let me know and I’ll dig it out!

  5. Barbara, the site is awesome! Congratulations, and thank you for sharing this recipe, it sounds fabulous and I love the use of the yams!

    • Barbara says:

      Thanks Amy! I am looking forward to posting more of my fave recipes! And starting a travel section! If only there were more hours in the week!

  6. Colleen Taintor says:

    We enjoyed this soup recipe over the weekend – delicious, hearty enough for a main course and really nice blend of flavors! Thank you, thank you! I’ll try some more of your recipes and stay in touch!

    • Thanks Colleen! So glad you and your family enjoyed it. Sign up for my newsletter in the upper right corner of the home page so you will get all future recipes to your inbox! Cheers!

  7. I saw you on TV on the 207 Kitchen and made the Red Lentil soup the next day. It was very hearty and perfect on a cold winter day. A great blend of flavors!! Thanks Barbara :)

  8. Barb, this soup was fabulous! Made two batches and I’m so glad. I used canned tomatoes w/ jalepenos and ran it thru my bullet to make smooth as I’m not a chunky tomato lover. Also squeezed in the juice of one lime. Great recipe and can’t wait for company to show up as this will be on the menu.
    Did you used to teach at whip and spoon? I swear I took classes from u in the past!

    • Hi Hollie,

      Yes, I did teach at the Whip & Spoon for a little over 10 years, during the 90s. I’m glad you took some of those classes! Awesome–thanks for stopping by – great to make the lentil soup smooth too — I have some in my freezer right now! Cheers!

      • I knew I recognized you and the name. I’m still cooking after all these years and so glad I saw you on 207 the other night. Can’t wait to try your other stuff!

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