Maha's Lentil Soup

My sister-in-law, Maha Tawil-Copps, is a great cook and comes from a family of great cooks, including her mother, three sisters, and sister-in-law Gemma. Every meal she’s ever prepared for me, mostly traditional foods from her native Syria, is a feast for the senses. She’s an instinctive cook and an artist by training. “I’ve tried to follow recipes, but I just can’t,” she says. “I cook by balance, not measuring cups.” This soup – a traditional dish from Syria and Lebanon – is one of the simpler acts from her amazing repertoire. Maha once tried using spinach as a substitute for the Swiss chard but vows, “Never again – it was terrible,” although she admits that my mom and Aunt Ginny loved it. One more thing – and this is important: “Squeeze the lemons over the soup only after you’ve ladled it into the bowl. If the juice sits in the soup too long, or you reheat it, it ruins everything.”


4 medium onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
4 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
6 to 8 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons dry coriander
1 pound dry lentils, rinsed and picked through
8 cups water
2 to 3 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt
1 bunch Swiss chard, stems removed and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon flour
1/4 pound vermicelli or angel hair pasta, broken into 1-inch pieces
2 fresh lemons
Fried pita chips or unseasoned croutons


In a large soup pot over medium-high heat, saute onions in ½ cup oil until translucent. Add carrots and garlic and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Add coriander, stir well to coat vegetables, and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add lentils and stir well to coat. Add water to cover the ingredients by 3 inches (about 8 cups). Stir in cumin. Cook about 30 minutes, or until lentils are al dente (softened, but not completely cooked). Season with approximately 1 tablespoon salt. Add Swiss chard and cook about 10 minutes. Remove 1 cup of broth and whisk in flour, then whisk back into soup pot.

In a saute pan over medium-high heat, cook pasta in 1 tablespoon oil until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add pasta to soup and cook about 8 minutes. Ladle into bowls and squeeze about 1 tablespoon of lemon juice over each serving. Serve with pita chips or croutons.

Cooking & Recipes


8 servings

Preparation Time: 

60 minutes

Start to Finish Time: 

90 minutes

Preparation Method

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