Simple Red Lentil Soup (Mercimek Corbasi)

My version of mercimek corbasi, a wonderfully comforting Turkish red lentil soup, is easy to throw together and almost painfully delicious. I love the way that cooked red lentils sort of just give up partway through cooking, breaking down into something that borders on creamy, while still maintaining a bit of tooth. 

What makes it special?

I’m no expert on the origins or history of mercimek corbasi, like what kind of regional variations there may be or if variations are rare. But I can tell you that this soup deserves to be in constant rotation. It’s cozy and hearty, but not heavy. All you need to do is quickly prep and sauté a few ingredients, then let the bubbling simmer do the rest. And as an extra little flavor treat, I like to bloom some chili flakes in butter for the perfect, slightly spicy, finishing drizzle.

What to Expect from this Red Lentil Soup:


The simple combination of spices–just paprika, cumin, and mint–relies heavily on the anchoring earthy sweetness of paprika. The final flavor is harmonious and balanced, an ideal example of the phrase, “the sum of the whole is more than its parts.” This soup is savory, but it maintains a certain vibrancy thanks to the dried mint, which is earthier and less sweet than its fresh counterpart. The final drizzle of chili butter is a nuttier, more warming version of finishing your soup with olive oil. It adds a bit of richness and rounds everything out beautifully.


Unlike papery brown lentils or plump black lentils, red lentils pretty much give up on their individuality once cooked. They soften and break down quite quickly, becoming a cheerfully lumpy, yet almost creamy and homogenous texture. Unlike brown lentils, their skins aren’t papery, so when you get a morsel of a lentil that is still whole it’s completely tender and almost melts in your mouth. It’s cozy and hearty, but not heavy.

Work smarter, not harder.

Simple ingredients can do the heavy lifting...

This Turkish red lentil soup is a perfect example of how a simple ingredient list can create a complex and super-tasty result.

Starting with a foundation of onion, carrot, and tomato paste adds savoriness and sweetness, much like a traditional French mirepoix or different styles of sofrito. Keeping the spices simple keeps the final flavor clean. Tons of spices can be fabulously flavorful, but it’s also easy for a mixture to become muddy and lose all character. In this soup, a gleeful amount of paprika perks up the flavor of the lentils, while the cumin and mint add little punches of warm earthiness and subtle herby-ness.

Notes for Success:

If you can’t find bulgur, check in your grocery store’s grains aisle with the instant and par-cooked mixes. There are usually several brands that offer boxed mixes for dishes like pilaf and tabbouleh, which include the base grains and pre-measured spice packets. Grab one of these mixes for tabbouleh and you’re golden–just toss or repurpose the included spice packet and ta da! You have bulgur! Or, if you really can’t find any bulgur, you can use white rice.

Dried mint can sometimes be hard to find. I’ve had good results substituting 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley plus 1/8 teaspoon dried basil. Just make sure your dried parsley and basil are new and aromatic. If they smell like nothing they will taste like nothing.

Simple Red Lentil Soup (Mercimek Corbasi)

My version of Turkish mercimek corbasi, this red lentil soup is easy, simple to throw together, and almost painfully delicious. The simple combination of spices relies heavily on the earthy sweetness of paprika, but the final flavor is harmonious and balanced. It's cozy and hearty, but not heavy. It's savory, but maintains a certain vibrancy thanks to the dried mint (which is earthier and less sweet than its fresh counterpart!).
YIELD6 cups
TOTAL TIME 50 mins


  • 5 tablespoons butter, divided (Or vegan butter)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced into roughly ½-inch pieces (About 1 cup)
  • 1 medium carrot, coarsely grated
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon dried mint, plus more to serve
  • 1 cup red lentils, rinsed and picked over for any debris
  • 2 tablespoons fine bulgur or white rice (See Headnote)
  • 2 teaspoons Aleppo or silk chili flakes
  • Lemon wedges, to serve


  • Step 1
    In a large saucepan or medium pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot, along with a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring often, until the onion is translucent and the carrot is very soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, tomato paste, paprika, cumin, and mint. Cook until fragrant and the tomato paste has darkened by one or two shades, 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Step 2
    Add the lentils, bulgur (or rice), 2 teaspoons salt, and 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a lively simmer. Cover and cook until the lentils and bulgur are tender and broken down, about 25 to 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
    **If not using Diamond brand Kosher salt, reduce measured amounts by half, then adjust to taste before serving.
  • Step 3
    While the lentils simmer, make the chili butter drizzle. Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the Aleppo chili flakes and cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter is bright red and sizzling, just a few minutes. Remove from the heat while the soup finishes. Rewarm before serving, if necessary.
  • Serve the soup drizzled with the Aleppo butter and sprinkled with dried mint, with lemon wedges on the side.

Extra Notes:

Dried mint can sometimes be hard to find. I've had good results substituting ½ teaspoon dried parsley plus ⅛ teaspoon dried basil. Just make sure your dried parsley and basil are new and aromatic. If they smell like nothing they will taste like nothing!

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. The Porch Life

    5 stars
    This was delicious. Yum!

    1. Julia @ Small Pantry

      So glad you tried it, even more glad that you liked it! It’s such a comforting recipe. =)

  2. Isabella

    5 stars
    This was HEAVENLY! I didn’t have dried mint, but used your suggested subs of basil and parsley. I will definitely make this again–soon!

    1. Julia @ Small Pantry

      Thank you so much for the feedback! I was shocked by how tricky dried mint was to track down when I tried to make this while visiting family–I’m really glad the parsley/basil sub worked for you, too!

  3. Hannah

    5 stars
    Just what I needed! I used rice as suggested, so I didn’t have to go to the store. Absolutely delicious, will definitely be making again.

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