Indian Spiced Red Lentil & Chicken Soup

5 stars based on 36 votes

chicken soup

This red lentil and chicken soup is a quick and easy version of Mulligatawny, the curry flavored soup popular in Anglo-Indian cuisine. If you’re a Seinfeld fan, you might remember it as Kramer’s favorite soup from the infamous Soup Nazi. Made with a rotisserie chicken and canned coconut milk, it’s a one-pot supper that you can have on the table in 45 minutes (or less, if you’re lazy like me and use a food processor to chop the vegetables). A little heads up: don’t skip the garnishes. The fresh cilantro and lime brighten up the flavor and add a much needed pop of color. To make the dish a little heartier, sometimes I like to serve it with a scoop of basmati rice. But, really, store-bought or homemade naan is all you need to complete the meal.


Before we get started, a few words about the ingredients. It’s important to use red lentils, as opposed to another variety; they cook quickly, add wonderful flavor and thicken the soup nicely. They won’t hold their shape once cooked — that’s okay, they are intended to break down and give the soup a hearty texture. And Garam Masala is a fragrant Indian spice blend typically containing peppercorns, mace, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg. It’s available at most large grocery stores (McCormick makes it as part of their Gourmet Collection), but if your regular supermarket does not carry it, you can always find it at Whole Foods or just substitute curry powder.


Begin by chopping the vegetables and apple. I use a food processor; if you do the same, be sure to roughly chop the vegetables first, so that they process evenly. And be sure process only until the mixture is roughly chopped, not puréed.


Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the Garam Masala and cook for about 30 seconds, until fragrant.


Add the vegetable/apple mixture.


Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is softened.


Add the chicken broth, coconut milk, lentils, ginger and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the lentils are tender and starting to break down.


Stir in the chicken and fresh lime, then taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.


Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle generously with fresh chopped cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.


This recipe is adapted from Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.

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Indian Spiced Red Lentil & Chicken Soup

Servings: 4-6 servings
Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cook Time: 30 Minutes
Total Time: 45 Minutes


  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala (curry powder is a fine substitute)
  • 3 medium carrots, diced into 1/4-inch chunks
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tart-yet-sweet apple, such as Honeycrisp or Fuji, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 medium celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 6 cups low sodium chicken broth, best quality such as Swanson
  • 1 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups shredded, skinless cooked chicken, from a store-bought rotisserie chicken or leftovers
  • 1-2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus 6 lime wedges, for serving (you'll need 2-3 limes)
  • Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, for serving


  1. Heat the vegetable oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the garam masala and cook for 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the chopped carrots, onions, apples, and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 7-8 minutes.
  2. Add the chicken broth, coconut milk, red lentils, ginger and salt to the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the lentils are tender and starting to break down.
  3. Add the cooked chicken and 1 tablespoon lime juice, and heat until warmed through. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, more lime juice and cayenne pepper, if desired. Serve the soup generously sprinkled with fresh chopped cilantro, with lime wedges on the side.
  4. Note: The soup will thicken as it sits. Add more chicken broth to thin it out if necessary.
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Nutrition Information

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  • Per serving (6 servings)
  • Calories: 367
  • Fat: 16g
  • Saturated fat: 3g
  • Carbohydrates: 35g
  • Sugar: 7g
  • Fiber: 6g
  • Protein: 22g
  • Sodium: 434mg
  • Cholesterol: 35mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

Reviews & Comments

  • 5 stars

    So darn good, even better the next day. Didn’t have chicken, so we ate it over basmati rice day one and added the chicken the next day. Also had it with your Naan recipe (minus the fennel seed). Letting it sit overnight for the next day only made it (somehow) more delicious. My red lentils took a little longer to get soft, so first time through, give yourself a 10 minute buffer to any cooking timeline you may have. Using the food processor made this a minimal effort offering and it is FOR SURE getting added to the family recipe rounds. Jenn, I’m 20+ recipes in, you are my go-to for every dinner party, game night, soup or potluck. Reliably good, filling, and time sensitive. Can’t say enough good things about the rockstar cook you allow me to try and be. Thanks! (Can’t wait for your cookbook, amazon is bringing it tonight!)

    - Karin L on April 24, 2018 Reply
    • So glad you enjoyed this and other recipes you’ve made – thanks for taking the time to let me know! ❤️

      - Jenn on April 24, 2018 Reply
  • 5 stars

    So quick and easy to throw together- the perfect meal during a cold day! Thank you for all your wonderful recipes!

    - Holly on April 16, 2018 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This Indian Red Lentil and Chicken Soup is wonderful! Every time we have it, family and guests want to have your recipe!! I don’t change a thing.

    - Debra on March 1, 2018 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This is one of my absolutely most favorite recipes! Fixed as written, it is a winner, especially when including the cayenne pepper. When I make the announcement that this is for dinner, even my husband, who doesn’t like lentils, gets excited.

    I have also fixed it with lamb and it is still wonderful! The only other item I change is using Extra Virgin Olive Oil for the health benefit instead of vegetable oil.

    Regardless of what meat I use, I would make this recipe twice a week if I could. It is a winner, and the balance of the flavors is amazing. Being a perfectionist, I have finally found the Cook I want to follow! I have not found a bad recipe yet! : )

    - Janice on March 1, 2018 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Have made this many times- Sometimes when I don’t have apples I have used turnips instead and it works great !I also have used coconut powder when I don’t have the coconut milk in a can. Would add 2 tbsp of powder to 1 cup of warm water to add to the recipe when it calls for it

    - priya rajkumar on March 1, 2018 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I can’t stop making this. I am seriously addicted and have made it twice so far. It is so hearty and so delicious. I puree it a bit with an immersion blender, but I still leave some chunks. I freeze it in single servings in zip bags and enjoy for lunch. Thanks so much!

    - Anne on January 15, 2018 Reply
    • I forgot to say I love it with the whole apple. I didn’t change a thing.

      - Anne on January 15, 2018 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I tried this soup this weekend and loved it! The heartiness of the soup is great for a cold day, but the coconut milk and lime really capped it off! Delicious…thank you!

    - Cynthia on January 1, 2018 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I was looking for a recipe using leftover turkey from Thanksgiving, so this was perfect. I just substituted turkey for chicken. I used the garam masala, but I also added about a teaspoon of curry powder (both from Penzys). I also added a dollop of Greek yogurt on top before serving. I had all ingredients in the refrigerator or pantry, so this was a very quick, easy and delicious dinner to make. Served it with pita bread (that I already had). It’s going on my list of favorites!

    - Nancy on November 30, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Delicious. I served it with your Homemade Naan recipe that was flat b/c of my yeast but still delicious.

    - Julie on November 21, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    We just loved this!! Based on other reviewers, we used only 1/2 of a large Honeycrisp apple so it wouldn’t be overly sweet. This amount was perfect. Sensational flavor perhaps in part due to our Penzeys spices! We served it in a bowl over a bed of basmati rice along with warm Naan bread. The cilantro and squeeze of lime really set it off. This was instantly added to our regular recipe rotation. Thanks, Jenn, and reviewers for the helpful tips. You gotta try it!!!

    - Sue Conner on September 19, 2017 Reply
  • Hi Jenn
    Can’t thank you enough for all the great recipes!
    Plan to make this and wanted to know if I can sub lime juice with fresh lemon juice? And red lentils with brown? Thanks!

    - Sarah on July 11, 2017 Reply
    • Glad you like the recipes! I think lemon juice would be fine here, but I’d stick with the red lentils. Hope you enjoy!

      - Jenn on July 11, 2017 Reply
      • 5 stars

        Made it with red lentils and it was AMAZING!!! Its up on the list with your many fabulous soups:-) Many thanks!!

        - Sarah on July 17, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This soup was flavorful and so comforting. Great consistency and makes enough for leftovers for next day for hubby and I…like all Jenn’s soups. Can’t wait for the new cookbook!

    - Arielle on May 11, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This was AMAZING! I’m vegetarian so I left out the chicken and used veggie broth, and was absolutely delicious! Very rich and flavorful. Yum!

    - Lisa on April 10, 2017 Reply
  • 3 stars

    Dear Jenn,
    IMHO 1 tbsp of garam masala is WAY too much. In India we use it with caution. Just my opinion.

    - Inez Rufus on February 11, 2017 Reply
  • I would love to make this ASAP; if I substitute fresh ginger, how much should I use. Thanks Jenn

    - Carol on December 5, 2016 Reply
    • Hi Carol, I would recommend about 1 tablespoon (and I’d add it in with the onions and vegetables). Enjoy!

      - Jenn on December 6, 2016 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I loved this recipe! I modified it to cook in the crock pot. Added all ingredients except the lentils and coconut milk for 3 hours on high, and then added the coconut milk and lentils for the last one hour on high. While I had the chicken breasts out to shred, I used my immersion blender to slightly puree about 1/3 of the soup. Added back in the chicken and it was fantastic! Do not skip the cilantro and lime. So tasty and will keep me fed at lunchtime all week long 🙂

    - Rebecca on November 29, 2016 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Another keeper from Once Upon a Chef! I’m currently having this soup as leftovers for the second time and I am so sad that this is the last bowl. Absolutely delicious. I used chickpeas instead of chicken because I didn’t have time to go to the store. And I didn’t have enough garam masala so I added what I had plus some cumin, coriander, and cayenne. It still tasted delicious! My fiance and I both agreed that this is going in the permanent rotation.

    - Kathleen on November 17, 2016 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This is now one of husband’s faves after just one try! Tweaks: small honeycrisp, one leek instead of one onion (since I had one, mainly) and curry instead of Garam Masala. Thanks, will be making this again!

    - Sara on November 1, 2016 Reply
  • 4 stars

    This is a good soup but, if I make it again, I will use less apple. Perhaps the Fuji that I used was too large. At any rate, I found the soup a bit too sweet; otherwise the flavors were very good. I was surprised and pleased at how nicely the red lentils broke down and blended with the other flavors.

    - Pearl McElheran on October 6, 2016 Reply
  • 5 stars

    2nd recipe that I’ve tried, loved it. I added extra curry powder, used low fat evaporated milk coconut flavoured, also added some puy lentils for extra bite and green beans. Ate it with your naan, was delicious. Perfect for this cold weather here in Australia.

    - TT from Oz on September 1, 2016 Reply
  • Hi Jenn,
    This recipe looks wonderful, can’t wait to make it. Question though. Can I replace cilantro with parsley or just omit cilantro?Some people in my family don’t like it.
    I made quite a few other recipes from your blog and LOVED every one of them!!!
    Keep up the good work! :).

    - Ewa C. on August 24, 2016 Reply
    • It’s totally fine to just omit the cilantro, Ewa. So glad you’re enjoying the recipes!

      - Jenn on August 24, 2016 Reply
  • Hi jenn!
    If I wanted to make this soup to serve 2 days later would that be OK? Would I need to do anything extra! looking forward to making it!
    Thank you!

    Kristen Berry

    - Kristen Berry on January 25, 2016 Reply
    • Yes, it should be fine for two days in the fridge. It may thicken up a bit, so before serving you might need to add a little additional chicken broth.

      - Jenn on January 25, 2016 Reply
      • Thank you:-)

        - Kristen Berry on January 26, 2016 Reply
  • 5 stars

    YUM! This is a winner. Perfect for a rainy winter evening!

    - Rachel on December 26, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I have made this a few times using curry powder and it is always delicious!

    - Jewels on December 16, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Awesome recipe, my roommate and I love cooking this curry since it freezes really well and we can have meals for multiple weeks!

    - Clara on December 16, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This soup, as every recipe of yours I’ve tried is outstanding, easy to make and delicious. I used Garam Masala from Whole Foods, but added both Red Curry, and regular curry from the Spice Island brand, which took it over the top. But the star of the meal was hands down the homemade naan! I consider myself an intermediate cook, but have never made ‘bread’ from scratch. Absolutely, positively outstanding! 10 star worthy 🙂

    - Deanie on November 14, 2015 Reply
  • Hi Jenn,

    Could I use fresh ginger that I have on hand instead of ginger powder? If so, how would I incorporate it in? Thanks.

    - Samantha on November 10, 2015 Reply
    • Hi Samantha, Absolutely, I would add about a tablespoon with the onions and veggies.

      - Jenn on November 14, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    A friend just introduced me to mulligatawny, and I’m hooked! I was really excited to see you post your version of it. I viewed other, more complicated recipes, but yours was absolutely fantastic. It tasted even better the next day with more basmati rice and warm naan.

    Your recipes are well-loved, well-used, and well-trusted in my kitchen!

    - Nicole on November 4, 2015 Reply
    • Thank you, Nicole! That is so nice to read. I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂

      - Jenn on November 4, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Absolutely perfect!!

    - Alpana on October 31, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Once again another great recipe. Very quick and it came out great. The hardest part for me was getting the rostierrie chicken that always seems to be sold out at the store. I have never used red lentils and I thought it was a little strange to have an apple in soup, but I thought it was delicious. Will make again and again!

    - Maria on October 30, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Never had Mulligatawny before. This was delish! I just love, love, love your recipes Jenn! Keep them coming!

    - Kerrie on October 29, 2015 Reply
  • 4 stars

    Very nice! Everyone in my family loved it! I will make it again!

    - Lisa on October 29, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I love fall! It starts to get cooler, the leaves change, in the evenings there are the smells of firepits/fireplaces being lit, and I can finally make soup again! I love having a pot of soup simmering for hours, but on weekdays, that can’t happen. Enter this gem! It’s fast, uses ingredients I always have on hand, and delicious! All I have to do is grab a rotisserie chicken on the way home from work, and I’m good to go! Adding the apples gives this a slightly sweet side and using the food processor really gets it in the pot quickly. Oh, and it makes the house smell heavenly. My family loved it too. Win/Win!

    - Connie on October 29, 2015 Reply
  • Just cooked this, with slightly less chicken to lower the calories, for our 5:2 day. Absolutely gorgeous with some home made flatbreads (well, only one flatbread for me – it is diet day after all, but we can eat the rest tomorrow). Yummy. We’ll be doing this one again. Pouring with rain, so couldn’t be bothered to go outside and pick a lime, so halved a kaffir lime that was lurking in the kitchen and chucked that in the pot when I added the lentils. Gave it a lovely slightly sour flavour. This definitely gets the thumbs up.

    - Jayne in Turkey on October 23, 2015 Reply
  • Do you have to use a food processor or can you just dice up vegetables finely? We are in the middle of moving and I packed up my food processor… big mistake! Thanks.

    - Ann on October 19, 2015 Reply
    • Hi Ann, You absolutely do not need a food processor — in fact, you will have much better results doing it by hand 🙂

      - Jenn on October 20, 2015 Reply
  • 4 stars

    I had to go to an international food market for the red lentils. They break down nicely. This was a nice alternative to chicken noodle soup. It’s very hearty and satisfying. Of course it tasted even better the second day. I will make it again with shrimp. I served with basmati rice and store bought naan.

    - Kimberly on October 19, 2015 Reply
  • Hi there!
    Can I substitute black or green lentils for the red? I can’t seem to find red lentils anywhere.
    Thank you!

    - Rhonda on October 13, 2015 Reply
    • Hi Rhonda, Yes, that’s fine — cook time might just be a little longer.

      - Jenn on October 13, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This is a fabulous, easy soup. I also used fresh ginger and served with a plain yogurt. Keep the recipes coming!

    - Karen Carruthers on October 12, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This is my new go-to chicken soup!!! It is so flavorful and both my husband and I agreed we would wait in line at the Soup Nazi’s if he served this soup.

    - Kathy Y. on October 10, 2015 Reply
    • 5 stars

      It was great. I think it would serve 6-8 well. I doubled it for our large family thinking 4-6 would not be enough and it ended making a LOT of soup!

      - Meredith on October 10, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I knew when I saw this recipe, I would have to try it immediately. It is absolutely amazing, and with this cool fall day; it conquers all!

    - Jennifer Rickwood on October 10, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Absolutely delicious and I’m not a big fan of lentils! I ended up using more chicken so I increased the veggies and apples as well as the amount of garam masala. I used fresh grated ginger (a hefty teaspoon) and green and brown lentils (what I had on hand). Had only one sad looking lime so I also added a couple of teaspoons of Rose’s lime juice. It wasn’t a “pretty” soup because of the color of the lentils so I’ll make sure to use red ones in the future. I haven’t used coconut milk before and I’m not sure what flavor it added, but I’m sure it added to the richness of the dish. It was wonderful the next night too! Thanks for providing another easy selection to the rotation!

    - geni rowan-grella on October 10, 2015 Reply
  • I can’t wait to try this soup, but do you think it would freeze well? Before the lime and cilantro are added, of course. I wasn’t sure about how the lentils would hold up frozen. Thanks so much, I really enjoy your recipes.

    - Laura Migliore on October 10, 2015 Reply
    • Hi Laura, You can definitely freeze this soup (red lentils break down anyway when cooked); the only thing to keep in mind is that it gets very thick so you’ll likely need to add quite a bit more broth when you defrost it. Hope you enjoy it!

      - Jenn on October 11, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Awesome! We had it tonight with Naan bread and my husband and I loved it. Great dinner for a rainy night! Keep the great recipes coming.

    - Jan Fulton on October 9, 2015 Reply
  • Soup sounds wonderful. but I am not a fan of coconut milk. Would you suggest increasing the stock, or substituting milk or cream?

    - Bonnie on October 9, 2015 Reply
    • Hi Bonnie, I would probably increase the broth. Hope you enjoy it 🙂

      - Jenn on October 9, 2015 Reply
  • Sounds delicious. How can I make it vegan? Substitute vegetable broth for chicken broth? Add chickpeas in place of the chicken? I’d appreciate any suggestions. I love your recipes!

    - Judy on October 8, 2015 Reply
    • Hi Judy, Yes and yes — it will still be wonderful.

      - Jenn on October 8, 2015 Reply
  • Can you make this recipe in a slow cooker

    - Lori on October 8, 2015 Reply
    • Hi Lori, Unfortunately, I don’t much any experience with slow cookers but I do think it would work. If you try it, please let me know how it turns out 🙂

      - Jenn on October 9, 2015 Reply
      • Hi Jenn I will thank you!

        - Lori on October 15, 2015 Reply
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