JeanMarie Brownson’s Red Lentil Soup With Lamb and Fresh Lemon

It all started with an avocado.

When longtime Chicago Tribune food columnist JeanMarie Brownson was in fourth grade, her teacher returned from a Florida trip with the then-exotic fruit and shared it with the classroom. Brownson was captivated by the flavor and texture, and it inspired in her a lifelong love of food.

Fast forward to today: Brownson is a well-regarded food journalist, award-winning cookbook author, recipe developer, and partner (along with Rick and Deann Bayless) in two specialty food companies (Frontera Foods and Red Fork Natural Foods). Yet, she still finds time to cook for the ones she loves. “Cooking for friends and family ranks among my life’s greatest pleasures,” writes Brownson in her newest book, “Dinner at Home: 140 Recipes to Share with Family and Friends” (Agate Surrey, 2015).

All of the recipes appeared first in her weekly “Dinner at Home” column in the food section of the Chicago Tribune; here, they are collected with helpful menu suggestions, “pinspirational” photos and Brownson’s useful “Notes and Tips from a Life in the Kitchen.” The recipes are clearly laid out and easy to follow, with prep and cooking times realistically provided.

This Red Lentil Soup with Lamb and Fresh Lemon is pure winter comfort food, redolent with warm Moroccan spices, savory lamb and bright citrus. Brownson suggests serving it with toasted flatbread, an arugula salad tossed with shaved Parmesan and lemon vinaigrette, and coconut-mango ice cream. Your family — and friends — will love it!

JeanMarie Brownson’s Red Lentil Soup With Lamb and Fresh Lemon

Prep: 30 minutes; Cook: 1 hour, 30 minutes; makes 10 cups (8 servings)

  • 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds trimmed boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 large (12 ounces) yellow onion, diced
  • 3 to 4 large cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon each, ground: cinnamon, black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • Pinch saffron threads, crushed (optional)
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, diced
  • 1 small bulb (4 ounces) fresh fennel, trimmed, diced
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 1 1/3 cups (8 ounces) red lentils or yellow split peas
  • 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup light sour cream, labneh or plain yogurt
  • Garlic croutons
  • Chopped fresh cilantro or parsley


1. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add lamb, in batches, in a single uncrowded layer. Cook, turning pieces once or twice until nicely browned, 5–7 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon; repeat to brown the remaining lamb pieces.

2. Stir onion, garlic and all spices into lamb. Cook about 5 minutes. Stir in bell pepper and fennel. Stir in broth. Partly cover the pot; simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the lamb is nearly tender, about 1 hour. (Recipe can be made ahead and refrigerated, covered, up to two days.)

3. Reheat soup if made in advance. Stir in lentils. Simmer, stirring often, until lentils are tender, about 15 minutes (slightly longer for split peas). Season with salt.

4. Mix the grated lemon zest into the sour cream in a small bowl. (You can do this a day or two in advance; refrigerate.)

5. Serve the soup in bowls topped with a dollop of lemon sour cream, a few croutons and a generous sprinkle of cilantro.

Reprinted with permission from “Dinner at Home” by JeanMarie Brownson, Agate Surrey, 2015.



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