This hearty Instant Pot Lentil Soup is a warming comfort food meal with Mexican flavor inspiration. Vegan and stove top options included.
My family fell in love with Mexican-style lentil soup thanks to a housekeeper we had while living in San Miguel de Allende. On top of keeping our house clean and tidy, she offered to cook for us as well.
And occasionally I took her up on that; when we didn't have leftovers from testing recipes for this blog. One of the things she regularly made was lentil soup with veggies in a comforting tomato broth.
So when we relocated for the winter (to the beach), I had to find a way to bring this comfort food soup with us. It turned into an Instant Pot recipe for us, but keep reading to the end to find out how to make this recipe on the stovetop too.
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How to make Instant Pot Lentil Soup
Unless you are making the vegan version (read below), crisp up some thick-cut bacon dices on the sauté function of your pressure cooker.
Then remove the crispy bacon pieces with tongs and set them aside on a paper towel. These will be a crunchy topping for the soup at the end.
Then sauté onion and garlic in the bacon grease. Turn off the sauté function and add all remaining ingredients: carrot, celery, lentils, broth, crushed tomato, and spices.
Cook the lentil soup on high pressure for 12 minutes. The pot will take about 8 minutes to pressurize before the timer starts counting down.
You can do a quick release (QR) at the end, but with Instant Pot soup recipes I am always wary of hot broth spewing out along with the steam. So I prefer to let the pressure release naturally (NPR) for 10-15 minutes before quick releasing any remaining pressure.
When serving the lentil soup, top each bowl with crispy bac0n pieces, chopped parsley or cilantro, and avocado slices.
Why you should soak the lentils
Unlike other legumes, dry lentils cook quite quickly. So soaking lentils may seem like an unnecessary step.
However, although it might not be needed for speeding up cooking, I highly recommend it! Soaking lentils decreases some of the naturally occurring plant anti-nutrients. It also makes them so much easier to digest.
I can always tell whether legumes where soaked or not by how they feel in tummy. Soaked lentils always feel a LOT better!
So take the 5 minutes to pick over your lentils (to remove any pieces of debris or broken/misshapen lentils). Then cover them with plenty of water and let them soak overnight 8-12 hours.
Soaked lentils are also great in my vegan lentil chili.
If you don't have time for soaking
But I get it. Sometimes you just don't have the time for soaking. In that case you can still make this Instant Pot lentil soup recipe, but reduce the amount of lentils from 1-¼ cups to only 1 cup.
Unsoaked lentils will absorb more of the broth. So to avoid an unpleasantly pasty soup, reduce the amount of lentils you use.
How to sprout lentils
If you want to go one step further (and have the time), you can sprout the lentils after soaking. Sprouting legumes makes them even easier to digest.
Because of the enzymes produced during sprouting, nutrients (vitamins & minerals) in legumes get extracted and are more available for absorption by our body.
After soaking the lentils in water overnight for 8-12 hours, they are plump and fully hydrated. They are at least doubled in size.
Drain the soaking water and rinse the lentils under running water. Now let the lentils sit at room temperature in a well-drained container. Don't let the lentils sit in collecting water. This encourages mold growth.
For proper drainage, I use a simple colander for sprouting. A sieve works too. You can also use an upside-down mason jar with mesh sprouting lid.
While the lentils are sprouting I give them a good rinse in cool tap water every 12 hours or so. For lentil soup, I let the lentils sprout for 24-48 hours, until they have a visible white 'tail'. But usually, the sprout isn't longer than ½ inch.
To speed up the sprouting process, I came across this post on how to use the Instant Pot for sprouting faster. The process worked well for me and cut sprouting time in about half.
Vegan Lentil Soup
This recipe is vegan/vegetarian except for the bacon topping. So simply omit the bacon and load up on other toppings.
Instead of released bacon grease, use 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil to sauté the onion and garlic.
Stovetop Lentil Soup
Don't worry if you don't have an electric pressure cooker. You can still enjoy this delicious Mexican lentil soup.
The only ingredient difference is the amount of broth/water required. To account for evaporation that happens while cooking on the stove (but not the pressure cooker), add 3 more cups.
Start by crisping up the bacon, if using, in a large pot. Then sauté the onion in the bacon grease (or 2 tablespoons of olive oil, if skipping bacon).
Add the garlic, carrot and celery and let them sweat just a little bit to bring out their natural sweetness. Then add the lentils and 7 cups of broth or water + bouillon cubes/paste, crushed tomatoes and spices.
Bring the pot to a boil on medium-high heat. Then reduce heat to medium-low and cook the soup while partially covered until the lentils are fully softened. This takes about 20-30 minutes.
Pressure Cooker I Use
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Instant Pot Lentil Soup
- 1-¼ cups brown lentils picked over and soaked or sprouted (use only 1 cup if skipping the soaking step)
- 100 g thick cut bacon diced (optional)
- 1 small onion diced
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 2 medium carrots diced
- 2 celery stalks diced
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth or water + 2 bouillon cubes; 7 cups for stove top option
- 15 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons oregano
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- chopped parsley, lime, avocado for topping
- Turn on Sauté function of pressure cooker. When display shows HOT, add diced bacon and cook until crispy. Then remove bacon with tongs and reserve for topping.
- To bacon grease ( or 1 olive oil if skipping bacon) add diced onion and sauté until starting to turn translucent. Then add garlic and sauté 1 more minute.
- Then turn off sauté function. Add diced carrot + celery, lentils and broth or water + bouillon cubes.
- Pour in crushed tomatoes and add oregano, cumin, salt + pepper. Stir.
- Close the lid. Turn pressure valve to sealing position. Cook on High Pressure for 12 minutes. Timer will start counting down after about 8 minutes of pressurizing time.
- Let pressure release naturally (NPR) for 15 minutes. Then move pressure valve to venting to release remaining pressure.
- Taste and adjust salt + pepper. Stir in chopped parsley. Serve each bowl with avocado slices and squeeze of lime juice.
- You can safely double the recipe for 8-quart sized pressure cookers.
- Heat a large pot and add the diced bacon. Cook the bacon until crispy, then remove with tongs.
- Add the diced onion and sauté until it turns translucent. Then stir in minced garlic, carrot, and celery, and sauté for a couple more minutes.
- Add lentils, broth (or water + bouillon cubes/paste), crushed tomato, and spices. Bring everything to a boil on medium-high heat.
- Then turn down to medium-low and simmer the soup partially covered with a lid until the lentils are fully softened. This takes 20-30 minutes, depending on whether you are using soaked or dry lentils.