red lentil and rice soup

The old story: I don't know if this is Armenian. Or Lebanese. Or a family tradition. Or just Isgouhi's invention (dr bob's mother-in-law). Whoever is responsible, this is a darn good soup, to use an awful(ly) American expression, and easy too. Unfortunately when we make it, it's never exactly like when she does. Must be the mother/mother-in-law curse.

The new story: We've learned a bit about the Armenian-Turkish origin of the soup and simply must have add more to this inadequate lead-in story. Fortunately Ani has become an expert in producing this soup when we are in need of liquid comfort food, usually in the colder months of the year, but good anytime. Bob's favorite soup growing up was Campbell's bean (with bacon) soup, which like all the daily Campbell's soup lunches of his childhood, carried a semi-lethal dose of salt that bob somehow miraculously survived. This has that same beany feel to it, but the red lentils disintegrate quickly to make a thick version that is creamy without having to be blended. The rice still retains its presence a bit to give the impression of something small but lumpy in the mix, as does bulgur if one decides to upgrade the grainy component to something more nutritiously rewarding than white rice. We cannot recommend this soup highly enough. It is on our short list of regular favorite dishes.


namesake stuff
1 c cracked red lentils (washed)
1/2 c white rice or big bulgur
optional: 1 heaping t sweet red pepper paste
other stuff
1 large onion, quartered
2 1/4 qts water
1 t salt
1/2 stick (= 4 T) butter
some small pieces of bread (at least a slice worth)
2 lemons, juice of
red pepper powder, cumin to taste (optional)


  1. First you have to seek out the red lentils in an Armenian or Lebanese or Middle East specialty store, now also conveniently available at the local branch of the national natural Whole Foods supermarket chain. They look just like green split peas except they are a reddish orange color (putting split peas in orange dye is not an acceptable substitute). If you are lucky enough to score a bag, don't forget it in the closet like we did for so long. We have Isgouhi. You don't.
  2. So get started by rinsing the lentils. About six times or so until the rinsing water is clean. It helps to have a rice rinser, but you can probably manage this without.
  3. Then put them with the rice, quartered onion, and water into the pressure cooker and boil about 10 minutes uncovered.
  4. Skim off as much of the white foam on the surface as possible. (Unlike beer, this soup shouldn't have a head). Then add the optional red pepper paste if you've got it, close the pressure cooker, bring it to full steam and let'er go for 5 minutes, then lower for 10 minutes (adjust to your particular pressure cooker). Open and add salt to taste.
  5. In a saucepan brown the pieces of bread (pita, American, whatever, cut in small cubes like croutons) in the butter.
  6. Add to the soup together with the lemon juice. Then simmer together for a few minutes or until the desired consistency is reached. We like it thick. So we cut down Isgouhi's original 3 1/2 qts to 2 1/2 qts and then simmer it down longer afterward. After all this pressure cooking, the rice should almost dissolve into the creamy soup. Sprinkle some red pepper powder or paprika and cumin on each serving. Then enjoy.
  7. If you're wondering who to thank afterward, it's "iss-goo-HEE." She later decided to add just a little hit of her sweet red pepper paste as a flavor enhancing extra. We keep ours in the freezer for this kind of optional injection.


  1. Hours after typing in this recipe, the dr bob cooking team enjoyed a candlelit October backyard dinner at our close Turkish friends' house. Red lentil soup was the first course and bob had 3 bowls. Müge's mom also makes it, so it must also be a Turkish thing. She adds a large carrot for color (although it couldn't be seen in the dark!) and purees the result smooth, instead of the bread step. Either way, we are talking powerful comfort food here.
  2. This gets really sluggish as a leftover in the fridge. Add some water to thin it out and heat it up and then again top it off each serving with a bit of Middle Eastern red pepper powder and cumin (to taste).
  3. A twist on this is to use Italian arborio rice instead of the usual white rice, but you have to compensate by adding at least a cup and a half (estimate) more water. The result is even creamier and when appropriately thick, you can't beat this as serious "comfort food." Using crunchy bread croutons is also an excellent option and simplifies the preparation.
  4. This recipe is bullet proof, and even interplanetary miscommunication (men are from mars, women are from venues) cannot ruin it. One much later run-through of this winter favorite, bob decides to help ani with the prep before getting back to test grading and sets out the cookbook recipe and each of the ingredients and gets out the quart glass measure for the water and puts in the first quart to be ready to add. Ani, notorious for not reading recipes, interprets this as the quantity called for in the recipe and goes with it, more than a quart low so to speak in the language of the old gas station tradition of checking the oil under the hood, very last century. When she realizes the soup stuck to the bottom forming a crust, she began trying to scrape it off and bob takes a grading break. The light bulb goes off. Not enough water. bob doesn't talk enough. It didn't seem to do much damage. A little thicker than normal. bob had two bowls, later realizing this was equivalent to four. His stomach realized this first. bob survived.
  5. UPDATE 2006. Isgouhi decided to substitute bulgur for the white rice, which is news to bob but apparently not to the Middle East. Of course bulgur is much healthier than white rice, so this was a welcome surprise. Since hubby Barkev does not like the soup pureed, we ate it lumpy, but in fact it tasted like non-red lentil soup since red lentils disintegrate while other lentils retain their texture and the bulgur simulated the undistintegrated lentils. However, Isgouhi says the pureed soup would taste even better. Same procedure with direct substitution. We'll have to try it ourselves next time. [Nope, we never bother trying to puree this stuff. It doesn't need it. It is great with rice or bulgur.]
  6. Campbell's Bean with Bacon Soup. 860mg sodium per serving, 36 percent of the FDA recommended daily maximum salt dose (2300mg sodium = 1 t salt). No other soup stuck in bob's memory like this one. (Not the nutritional data of course, for that and old times sake, he bought a can in 2009.) Often the liquid part of the bowl was slurped up to save the little white beans for last, to spoon between two slices of soft white bread to make a bean sandwich. Who knows where the inspiration for this kid dish came from. No matter, now we have a healthy substitute. It hits the spot even better, except for the missing bean sandwiches.
  7. Illustrations available.
rrlntlsp.htm: 15-feb-2009 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]