Walter’s Legendary Lentil Soup

Here’s a lentil soup that invites you to come back for a second helping. If you are not sure if you like lentils, then try this soup. It is smooth and flavorful — one of those recipes that I’ve held on to for years from an old Bon Appétit magazine. And it fits into a healthy Mediterranean Diet.

Lentils are very nutritious. They are a legume, a complete protein and are also a good source of other nutrients. They contain fiber, complex carbohydrates (the type which lowers blood sugar and cholesterol) and are low in fat and calories. Lentils are rich in vitamins and minerals including folate, potassium, iron and manganese. Lentils can be part of a healthy plant-based diet.

One nice advantage of using lentils is that these small beans don’t take as long to cook as other dried beans. In less than one hour the recipe dish is usually finished cooking. In addition, lentils don’t have to be soaked prior to cooking. The mild flavor of lentils means that spices and seasonings enhance and flavor a dish without overpowering it.

This soup recipe is made with brown lentils, beef stock and ham with savory, vegetables and tomato puree for seasoning.  (I used smoked deli ham rather than diced, cooked ham.)

The brand of lentils that I’m using to prepare the soup is Camellia Brand — a Louisiana product from a company founded in New Orleans: It is a familiar brand for anyone who shops in a grocery store in southern Louisiana.  According to Camellia’s  WEB site

“Our great-grandfather, Lucius Hamilton Hayward, founded L.H. Hayward and Company in 1923 to sell red beans in the famous old French Quarter Market in New Orleans, and while we’ve expanded to offer our beans, peas, and lentils to the world, what we’re most proud of is our commitment to make every bag our best.”


Brown lentils are the most common ones here as well as green lentils. There are other varieties of lentils, too, not common in US cooking such as black lentils – most frequently used in Indian cooking — red and orange lentils — Middle Eastern and Indian cooking.

Lentils probably originated in central Asia, having been consumed since prehistoric times. They are one of the first foods to have ever been cultivated. Lentil seeds dating back 8000 years have been found at archaeological sites in the Middle East.


This recipe dates back to an old Bon Appétit magazine from 1985 — so old that the parent publishing company said that they no longer have rights to the magazine article in an E-mail to me. Look at the store shelf price, $1.95, and check out those vintage fashion styles in the ad. What memories!  At the suggestion of a friend, I subscribed to the magazine for 2 years back in the 1980’s — then just recycled the recipes again and again. From all the sticky notes, you can see that I earmarked many of the recipes.  There were many good ones!

The recipe author, Richard Sax, was a chef and prolific cooking writer from New York City who taught millions of readers “that elegant food could be prepared in ordinary kitchens using everyday ingredients.” Richard Sax was a regular column contributor to Bon Appétit and was the founding chef-director of Food & Wine Magazine’s test kitchen. He was author or co-author of eight major cookbooks including  his masterpiece, “Classic Home Desserts” (Chapters Publishing, 1994), which won numerous cookbook awards. It appears that Mr. Sax passed away in 1995, according to the New York Times.


This soup recipe is easy to make and it takes about an hour or slightly longer to prepare. I followed the recipe as written, with a substitute for savory. It could easily be updated reducing the oil used in sauteing  the ingredients without changing the results.

The lentils, diced ham and savory are cooked in beef broth for about half an hour until still slightly firm to the bite. Add more broth if needed.

Then the sauteed vegetables (carrots, bell peppers, onion and garlic), tomato puree, and vinegar are added. The soup is thickened with a light brown roux (or white sauce) and let to simmer for another half an hour. Adjust seasonings adding salt (if needed) and black pepper. That’s the soup! Serve with homemade croutons (Mr. Sax provided a recipe) or use store-purchased ones.

Don’t have savory on your shelf? I didn’t want to make a trip to the store for a spice that I rarely ever use. So I substituted dried thyme and sage for the savory. I also used some mild jalapeno peppers for the red bell pepper.

This soup has just the right amount of flavor to complement the beans. It is a very soothing soup. The recipe makes a large batch — I froze some of the left overs. And it’s very healthy.  Give the soup a try and enjoy!

Walter's Legendary Lentil Soup

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 6 oz smoked ham, cut into 1/4-inch dice (1 generous cup)
  • 8 to 10 cups beef stock
  • 1 pound lentils
  • 1 small red chili
  • Pinch of dried savory, crumbled (I substituted 1/2 tsp dried thyme and 1/2 tsp dried sage)
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 Tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • 4 Tbsp balsamic or red wine vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Sautéed Croutons

Method and Steps:

  1. Melt 1 Tbsp butter in heavy Dutch oven over medium heat. Add ham and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add 6 cups beef stock, lentils, chili and savory. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until lentils are tender but firm to bite, stirring occasionally, about half an hour.
  3. Heat oil in heavy skillet over medium heat. Add onions, carrots and bell pepper. Stir until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add garlic and cook 2 minutes. Stir mixture into soup. Add enough stock to cover.
  5. Wipe out skillet. Add 3 Tbsp butter and melt over medium-low heat.
  6. Add flour and stir until light brown, about 6 minutes.
  7. Whisk in 2 cups stock. Bring to boil, whisking constantly. Add to soup.
  8. Stir in tomato puree and 3 Tbsp vinegar. Bring to boil.
  9. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes, skimming surface and stirring occasionally.
  10. Thin soup to desired consistency with stock. Season with remaining 1 Tbsp. vinegar, salt and generous amount of pepper. Discard chili. Garnish soup with Sautéed Croutons and serve.

SAUTÉED CROUTONS (Makes about 2 cups):

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 loaf white bread (crusts trimmed), cubed

Melt butter with oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add bread cubes and stir gently until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

Recipe from: “Soup and Bread Suppers — International Favorites Paired in Quick and Healthy Meals” by Richard Sax. Bon Appétit Vol 30, No 10 p. 118, Published by Knapp Communications Corp. 1985.

4 thoughts on “Walter’s Legendary Lentil Soup

  1. OMG! I have been making this soup since 1985. In my family, it is known and shared as the BEST lentil soup. I don’t thicken with roux anymore and use a 28 oz. Can of pureed tomatoes to give it a rosy hue. And…I always have savory in my kitchen.

    • Hello, Yes, I’m sure this is the same soup recipe. I still have the Bon Appetit magazines from 1985, 1986 and have lots of recipes marked that are excellent. This is one of those recipes. I love this soup. Thanks for stopping by my blog! And thanks for your suggestion for a recipe adaptation, I’ll give it a try!

  2. The roux mentions using 3 T butter, but in the list of ingredients, it is 1T. Butter and 1T. Flour…?? Am I reading it wrong?

    • Oh my, you are asking me to dig to the bottom of a large box to get out this 35-year-old recipe. But I found it! Yes, the roux should be made with 3 Tbsp unsalted butter and 3 Tbsp flour; which makes sense as this is a large recipe and the roux adds a nice thickness to the soup. I’ve corrected the instructions. Thanks for pointing out the error; and also for visiting my blog. Have a great holiday season!

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