Easy to make and deeply satisfying, a simple adjustment makes this soul-warming soup vegan-friendly.
A few weeks into my son John’s first semester at college, a friend asked him to sign a Meatless Monday pledge. He figured one day a week without meat wouldn’t be too hard, so he put pen to paper.
Several weeks in, I asked him how it was going. With no hesitation, he said it was really hard. Some Mondays he simply forgot. When he remembered, the smell of bacon tempted him at breakfast and crisp turkey paninis called his name at lunch. By dinnertime, he’d walk into the dining hall, ravenous after a long sports practice, and see juicy burgers, curried chicken, or glazed salmon. Food choices at colleges these days are rather impressive—and a buffet line puts the many temptations front and center!
When he came home for Christmas break, I figured I’d help him get back on track. If we all went meatless together, the challenge would be infinitely easier, right?
The first Monday, I completely forgot. So I made up for it on Wednesday of the same week, deciding we would still be true to the spirit of giving up meat one day a week, even if the alliteration was lacking.
A reader named Mary Lou first shared a version of the following recipe with me over five years ago. Mary Lou has faithfully prepared my recipes since the early days of my blog, regularly commenting and providing thoughtful feedback. She thought I might enjoy the flavor and ease of this filling soup as much as she did—and she was right.
When I made it most recently, I was prepared for a groan or two from a family member who is decidedly not a fan of lentils or sweet potatoes. I served the soup without comment (hoping a side of cornbread would boost his spirits), and was completely shocked when everyone around the table raved. I think one teenage boy actually uttered the words “This is awesome!
Maybe the soup tasted especially good on a cold day, and perhaps somebody mistook the sweet potatoes for carrots. Regardless, I was delighted that a soup I’ve always enjoyed was suddenly a hit with all.
It was also a reminder that being vague about what’s on the menu can be helpful when feeding “selective” diners. When asked what was for dinner, I simply called it a hearty soup that one of my readers shared with me many years ago. This way, nobody took the first bite with his mind already made up.
Instead, a handful of well-chosen seasonings create a flavorful broth, making the hearty (dare I say meaty) lentils and filling potatoes inviting to even the most enthusiastic of meat eaters.
Yield: 8 servings
- 2 medium sweet potatoes, chopped (About 16 ounces or 3 cups chopped; I don’t peel, but you may if preferred)
- 1 cup dry brown lentils
- 1 cup chopped yellow onion
- 1 medium fresh jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped (or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 (14.5-oz) cans (or 5 cups) chicken broth (use vegetable broth for vegan/vegetarian option; have extra on hand to thin, if desired)
- 1 (14.5-oz) can diced tomatoes, with juices
- 1 tablespoon curry powder
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger*
- 3-4 cups lightly packed kale or spinach, roughly chopped
- 1/2 tablespoon honey**
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Optional garnishes: plain yogurt or sour cream, jalapeno, crushed red pepper
- In a 4 – 5 quart slow cooker, combine the sweet potatoes, lentils, onion, jalapeño, and garlic. Add the broth, tomatoes with juices, curry, and ginger.
- Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 7 – 8 hours or on high-heat setting for 3 1/2 – 4 hours. (Check a half hour or so early until you know how long it takes for the lentils to become tender, but not mushy, in your slow cooker.)
- Add the kale or spinach, honey, salt and pepper during the last 15-30 minutes of cooking.
- Check for seasoning (you may wish to add another pinch or two of salt depending on the type of broth used—or perhaps a full teaspoon if using unsalted stock) and garnish with yogurt or sour cream, chili peppers and/or crushed red pepper if desired.
*My husband claims to not love ginger, but I level off the tablespoon and the resulting flavor is subtle enough that he enjoys the soup without realizing there’s ginger in it.
**This amount of honey will not make the soup sweet, but it does balance the flavor nicely. You can use maple syrup or brown sugar for a vegan option, or omit if preferred.
The original photo from 2012…
…and if you love lentil soup, Tuscan Lentil Soup is another reader and family favorite ⬇︎
A fun nutrition fact from our dietitian Emily:
The Vitamin C present in the sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and spinach in this recipe help the body absorb the iron from the non-heme (or vegetarian source of iron) lentils in the soup. This is helpful for vegetarians looking to increase their iron stores!
For those who are curious…
The reason we don’t list nutritional breakdowns next to each recipe is because the numbers can change significantly depending on brands people buy and how exact the measuring is. In saying that, if you email me separately, I can provide you with my best estimations on the nutrients you would like to know more about in this recipe. I’m happy to help!