How was your lunch today? Did you eat the same sandwich or salad that you always bring to work or buy at a nearby deli? Yeah, me too.

Obviously, I put a lot of effort into planning dinners that are pretty varied, but when it comes to lunch – not so much. Most days, I pack my lunch because if I am going to spend $50 a week on food (lunch in Manhattan is rarely cheaper than $10 – so multiply that by 5) it had better be great, which unfortunately, it rarely is. I don’t usually mind the monotony, but once in awhile I have to mix it up.

Soup, especially this time of year, is such a treat in the middle of the day. My mom said that when I was a toddler I refused to eat anything that wasn’t hot. While my palate has expanded since then, I still think a hot lunch feels a little bit special. This lentil soup recipe will spice up your regular lunch routine and is super inexpensive. I haven’t figured out how much it costs per serving, but a bag of red lentils at my grocery store costs less than $2 and I only used half of the bag for this recipe.


Red Lentil Soup with Lemon

This is an especially good recipe if you haven’t tried or cooked with lentils before. It is super easy, relatively fast, and tastes fresher than your typical lentil soup. Inspired by Melissa Clark’s recipe, originally published in The New York Times, my recipe is a bit simpler to prepare. The lemon at the end is a must, but if you don’t have cilantro you can skip it.

3 TB. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 TB. tomato paste
1 ts. ground cumin
¼ ts. kosher salt, more to taste
¼ ts. ground black pepper
pinch of ground chili pepper or cayenne, more to taste
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup red lentils
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
juice of ½ lemon, more to taste
3 TB. chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

In a large pot, heat olive oil over high heat until hot and shimmering. Add onion and garlic, and saute until golden, about 4 minutes.

Stir in tomato paste, cumin, salt, pepper and chili powder or cayenne, and saute for 2 minutes longer.

Add broth, 2 cups of water, lentils and carrot. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover pot and turn heat to medium-low. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Stir in lemon. Taste, and add salt if necessary. If serving immediately, add the cilantro, but if you are storing the soup for the future, skip the cilantro and add it after the soup has been re-heated, or not at all.