Spicy Red Lentil Dip

Spicy Red Lentil Dip
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A while back, we made harissa, a North African condiment, and, in that post, we mentioned that we needed it for a dip that we’d be making soon. This is that dip. As with the Rosemary Cannellini Bean dip from two days ago, we picked this dip for the church social hour because it would be a bit different. After all, red lentils alone should make for an interesting-looking, if not tasting, dip.

As with many of the posts this week, this dip is a modified version of a recipe from Crackers and Dips: More than 50 Handmade Snacks, by Ivy Manning. It’s a cute little book that we were excited to check out as we’re always on the lookout for good little snacks. Partly for us, but partly to bring along to events and share with others. And, along with those snacks, sometimes it helps to have a dip on the side, because it can be difficult eating cracker after cracker without some sort of moist accompaniment.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

Spicy Red Lentil Dip

Spicy Red Lentil Dip


  • 1 cup (195 g) red lentils
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 lemon)
  • 2 Tbs tomato paste
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tsp harissa
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil

Abbreviated Instructions

Rinse lentils in cold water and drain.

In a large saucepan, combine lentils, bay leaf, and salt. Add enough water to cover lentils by several inches.

Place pan over medium-high heat, bring to a simmer, reduce heat, and simmer gently until lentils are cooked and falling apart, about 20 to 30 minutes.

Drain through a fine mesh sieve or butter muslin. Discard bay leaf.

Transfer lentils to food processor and add remaining ingredients. Process until smooth.

Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Transfer to a serving bowl, cover, and refrigerate at least 1 hour for flavors to meld.


Ingredient discussion:

Where can you buy red lentils? Well, we found them in the bulk aisle at the local food co-op, so we’d suggest you might look in natural food stores, or specialty grocers. While you could substitute, this dip is all about red, so we wouldn’t suggest making a substitute. In fact, as far as we can tell, that’s the only reason for the tomato paste; it’s not adding much flavor. For the harissa, you probably could get by with substituting a spicy red pepper powder, but it will be lacking some subtle flavors that the harissa will add.

As far as the write-up goes, my apologies for the lack of photos of the finished product. We were working fast and furiously to mix up two dips and 3 cracker doughs.

Procedure in detail:

draining red lentils
Look at that nice pink color. It’s a shame it fades during cooking.

Rinse lentils. Rinse the lentils in cold water, then drain. We found that ours kind of clumped together while being rinsed, sort of like a lentil cement. Odd, but then, we didn’t use cold water either.

Cook lentils. Place the lentils in a medium saucepan, cover with several inches of water, toss in the bay leaf and the salt, and place over medium-high heat. Once simmering, lower heat, cover, and cook until lentils are tender and falling apart, about 20 to 30 minutes.

draining lentils
We had to improvise a fine-meshed sieve with a piece of muslin.

Drain. We don’t have a fine mesh sieve, so this was the hardest part for us, but you do need to drain the lentils. Our solution was to line a colander with a layer of butter muslin and drain the lentils through that. We did have to tie up the corners of the muslin and suspend it like a bag on the kitchen faucet. Plus, we had to squeeze out a bit more liquid by hand. Do what you have to do, but, remember, you’re far, far better off removing liquid now than after you’ve blended the lentils. Finally, remove and discard bay leaf.

drained lentils
Between the draining and a couple of squeezes we removed most of the liquid from the lentils.


red lentil dip
Place everything in the food processor and set it a twirlin’.

Blend dip. Transfer the lentils to a food processor and add the remaining ingredients. If you’re not sure how spicy you want the dip, go easy on the harissa; you can add more later, if desired. Turn the processor on and blend until smooth.

Taste and season. Taste the dip, add salt and pepper, and adjust other seasonings as needed.

Meld. Not the Vulcan mind-meld, but the flavor meld. Transfer your dip to a serving dish, cover, and refrigerate for at least an hour so the flavors can meld.

Serve and enjoy. Bring out the dip with either homemade crackers or some sort of chip and watch it disappear.

It’s kind of nice to have a dip that looks different from the whites of the standard dairy-based dips or the browns of bean-based dips. Having a red dip allows it to shout out to all who see it, “I’m different! Try me!” Plus, it give the signal that this might be a spicy dip, and, while it does have a bit of a bite, it’s not a sharp instant heat as when you chomp down on a jalapeno. The olive oil and the lentils temper that sudden blast of heat, leaving more of a slow warming sensation that grows as you eat more. We’ll give this one four stars, mainly because it was hard for us to drain (next time we’ll just cook the lentils in 2 cups of water and add water as necessary, eliminating the draining).

Worth the trouble?

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