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A hearty lentil soup that’s easy on your budget

(Rey Lopez for The Washington Post/Food styling by Marie Ostrosky for The Washington Post )
Lentil and Kale Soup With Chicken Sausage
Active time:20 mins
Total time:45 mins
Servings:4 to 6
Active time:20 mins
Total time:45 mins
Servings:4 to 6

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For seven years in my mid-20s to early 30s, I lived in Los Angeles. I drove down the Pacific Coast Highway on sunny — it was almost always sunny — weekends, my windows rolled down, Weezer or the Doors blasting from my stereo, the ocean breeze in my hair. I hosted brunch for my neighbors, and I made birthday cakes for my dearest friends. I picked fruit off trees whose branches tipped over public sidewalks. I learned so, so much about myself and friendship and hope and what was worth fighting for.

Mostly, I learned how to live quite well on very little.

That period of my life coincided with the Great Recession, and I was among those laid off. I spent years patching together a living by working odd jobs, mostly in the food industry, which itself struggled to stay afloat. I remember gritting my teeth at the ATM when it refused to spit out any cash. I remember working seven days a week and sometimes still being barely able to pay my rent.

When money was tight, I made a game of food shopping, taking only a wrinkled $20 bill into the grocery store to see how far I could stretch it. Rice and beans were my go-to. But on chilly January nights, when the temperature even in Southern California can dip, I started to crave soup.

This lentil soup, with kale and chicken sausage, was one I used to make quite a bit. Between the 99-cent store and a Mexican market a few miles away, I could make a batch of it for less than $5. Inflation, especially in the past year, means this soup will probably cost you a bit more today, depending on where you live. But it’s still an economical solution — especially if you look for products that are on sale and buy some of them in bulk when that option is available.

As you’ll see in the recipe, you don’t have to use broth — water works just fine. The chicken sausage adds flavor, but if you skip it, all you need to adjust is the amount of salt and pepper, and that’s thanks to the addition of dried herbs and tomato paste. I used to get bay leaves from a neighbor’s tree — feel free to use a dried one if that’s all you have. It might be hard to detect its subtle fragrance, but I never skip the bay leaf. It reminds me of how lucky I was to live in a city with such beauty and bounty.

Lentil and Kale Soup With Chicken Sausage

  • Kale has gone up in price quite a bit >> so consider using another hardy green, perhaps one that’s on sale. Frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry, would also work.
  • To make this vegetarian >> skip the sausage and use vegetable broth or water.

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  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 links (6 ounces) fully cooked chicken sausage, sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 small yellow onion (5 ounces), diced
  • 2 small carrots (5 ounces total), diced
  • Fine salt
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or finely grated
  • 1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 6 cups no-salt-added chicken or vegetable broth, or water
  • 1 cup dry brown or green lentils, rinsed and picked over
  • 2 cups (2 ounces) kale, stemmed and finely chopped
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish (optional)

Step 1

In a large pot over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until it browns, about 4 minutes. Add the onions, carrots and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion turns translucent, about 4 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits as the vegetables release their moisture. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, bay leaf and dried oregano.

Step 2

Add the broth or water, lentils and another pinch of salt. Cover, increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Partially uncover, and reduce the heat to maintain a lively simmer until the lentils are cooked and the flavors have melded, about 20 minutes. Taste to check that the lentils have fully cooked; if not, cook for 5 to 10 minutes more. Season with additional salt, if desired. Stir in the kale, allowing it to wilt, about 2 minutes. Season with a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper. Remove from the heat, ladle into bowls, sprinkle with the parsley, if using, and serve hot.

Nutrition Information

Per serving (1 1/3 cups), based on 6

Calories: 249; Total Fat: 9 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 26 mg; Sodium: 320 mg; Carbohydrates: 28 g; Dietary Fiber: 11 g; Sugar: 5 g; Protein: 16 g.

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

From staff writer G. Daniela Galarza.

Tested by Kara Elder; email questions to

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Catch up on this week’s Eat Voraciously recipes:

Monday: Israeli Couscous and Tuna Salad

Tuesday: Cauliflower and Roasted Garlic Soup

Wednesday: Three Cheese Pasta and Vegetable Bake

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