Turkish Red Lentil Soup

Soup (çorba in Turkish) is a staple item in Turkish cuisine, eaten in various regions of the country, among all social classes, and at all stages in life. Turkish soups are generally based on legumes or wheat. The most popular soup consists of pureed lentils with vegetables. 

Soup is eaten for a variety of reasons in Turkey. Ottoman sultans were known to enjoy soup before meals to aid in digestion and stimulate the appetite, a practice that many Turkish people continue to this day. Soup is also eaten for economic reasons, because it is inexpensive and full of nutrients. In Istanbul, for about the equivalent of one U.S. dollar, you can buy a generous bowl of soup with plenty of fresh bread to dip into it. Some Turkish people even consume soup for breakfast. As in many cultures around the world, soup is also believed to have healing properties. 

As the weather gets colder, making a large batch of Turkish red lentil soup is a satisfying and easy way to add more vegetables into your diet. By making this soup on your own, you can control the sodium level. It freezes extremely well, and can be reheated in just a few minutes. While the soup is sometimes made with just lentils, I have included a recipe for one that includes a variety of vegetables. This means that if you are missing one of the ingredients in my recipe, you can still make the soup and substitute in what you have on hand. 

Turkish Red Lentil Soup (Sebzeli Mercimek Çorbası)

Recipe developed by Brittany Peterson

Serves 8-10

For soup:
1 leek, white part, sliced (can substitute with 1 onion)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 potato, peeled and cubed
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 large tomatoes
1 red or green pepper, chopped
2 cups red lentils
6 cups water (more if you prefer thinner soup)
½ tablespoon salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Toppings, optional:
Butter with red pepper flakes
Dried mint


  1. Heat olive oil in a large soup pot. Add leek and garlic, sauté.
  2. Add carrots and potato and cook for about 3-5 minutes.
  3. Add tomato and red pepper and cook for another 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add lentils, water, salt, and pepper and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook, covered, for about 20 minutes until the lentils are softened and falling apart.
  5. Use an immersion blender to blend the soup together into a homogenous mixture. If you do not have an immersion blender, you can put the soup into a regular blender in 3-4 batches to blend together.
  6. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
  7. For topping, heat some butter and mix in red pepper flakes. Drizzle over soup and serve with a lemon wedge to squeeze over the top. You can also add dried mint.

Cooking Note

  • If you wish to freeze this soup, you can use less water to prepare it (~3-4 cups) and freeze it as a concentrated mixture. When reheating, simply add water to adjust the consistency.
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Brittany Peterson
Brittany Peterson, MS, RDN, is a supermarket dietitian based in New Jersey.