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Leila Abu-Saba’s Egyptian Red Lentil Soup

From the book One Big Table by
Serves 6 to 8


Leila Abu-Saba’s father is a first-generation Lebanese Christian who came to the United States to study at Virginia Tech; her mother is a Southerner and the daughter of a Methodist minister. “My parents were progressive, cosmopolitan people,” says Ms. Abu-Saba, who studies environmental issues and policy. “I inherited a little of their talent for trading worldviews and recipes.” She first tasted this soup in the home of an Egyptian Muslim during Ramadan, the month-long Islamic observance dedicated to purification through prayer and self-sacrifice; observant celebrants also fast from sunrise to sunset. The evening meal often includes humble but satisfying soups like this one.


2 Tbsp. plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
7 cups homemade vegetable or chicken broth or low-sodium store-bought vegetable or chicken broth, plus more as needed
cups red lentils
1 tsp. cumin seeds
½ tsp. ground turmeric
cup chopped cilantro
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
~ Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, for garnish
~ Toasted pita-bread wedges, for serving
~ Lemon wedges, for serving


  1. In a Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook about 4 minutes, until soft. Stir in the broth and lentils, bring to a simmer, and cook about 30 minutes, until the lentils dissolve, adding more broth as needed.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat the remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and turmeric and cook about 1 minute, until aromatic.
  3. Before serving, stir the spices, cilantro, and lemon juice into the soup. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, and serve with pita and lemon wedges.

This content is from the book One Big Table by Molly O’Neill.

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