This potaje de lentejas (Cuban lentil soup) is a filling, flavorful soup that is popular in Cuban cuisine. It’s loaded with lentils, smoked ham, potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, and spices making it a wholesome, hearty meal.
In Cuban cuisine potajes typically include vegetables, beans, and a cheap cut of meat. Lentils are a common ingredient in potaje. They are one of my favorite beans because they are versatile, wholesome, and they cook quickly. Try this bacon lentil soup and this chicken lentil soup for easy weeknight dinners.
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Frequently asked questions
Potaje (in English potage or pottage) is a thick soup or stew consisting of beans, grains, vegetables, or a combination thereof. It also may contain beef, chicken, fish, or other protein. Bean potajes are popular in Cuban and Spanish cuisine as a nourishing and affordable lunch or dinner.
Flavor lentils with herbs, spices and aromatics like oregano, cumin, salt, pepper, onions, carrots, celery, and garlic to name a few. Smoked ham, bacon, and sausage also flavor lentils beautifully.
Serve the lentils with white rice, fried green plantains, a piece of crusty bread, or crackers for dipping.
- Lentils – Use brown or green lentils since other varieties will cook too quickly, breakdown, and will not get us the thick consistency we want.
- Oil – We use olive oil, however any oil that is suitable for sautéing will work. Use your favorite.
- Vegetables – Onion, carrots, and garlic add flavor to the base of the lentil soup. Potatoes and pumpkin work with the lentils to get a thick, delicious soup.
- Herbs, spices and more – Dried oregano, ground cumin, salt, pepper, and tomato paste are used for the sofrito. A bay leaf adds another layer of flavor to the broth.
- Meat – We use sliced smoked ham shanks, but ham hocks will work just as well. A leftover meaty ham bone can also be used.
- Liquid – We use water and chicken broth, if you want to use only broth watch the salt. If you have to use only water, add flavor by adjusting the seasonings to taste.
- Peeling a pumpkin can be tricky. Their irregular shape and thick peel render a peeler useless. It is much easier to cut it into chunks and use a knife to cut thin slices of the peel off.
- Sort through the lentils and remove any foreign objects, like small stones. I frequently find small stones when sorting, they’ll put a hurting on a tooth, so don’t skip this step.
- Rinse the smoked ham shanks or ham hocks because they are usually salty. This will make it easier to control the salt in the soup.
Heat the olive oil over medium heat, add the onions and carrots. Cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add the tomato paste, garlic, salt, oregano, cumin, and black pepper. Cook 1 minute, stirring frequently.
Place the ham shanks in the pot.
Pour in the chicken broth and water; add the bay leaf. Simmer the soup for 10 minutes.
Add the lentils to the pot, cover and cook for about 20 minutes until the lentils start to soften, stirring occasionally.
Remove the ham from the pot and add the potatoes and the pumpkin to the lentil stew.
Bring the liquid back to a boil, then lower the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the lentils, potatoes, and pumpkin are tender.
When the ham shanks cool down take the meat off and discard the fat and bones. Chop the ham and return it to the pot.
Remove the bay leaf and discard. Taste the lentils and add salt if needed. As a reference we added 1 teaspoon to ours.
Keep the broth at a simmer. If it is boiling too vigorously too much broth will cook out. Raise or lower the heat as needed. Stir occasionally.
Serving and storing
Serve the potaje de lentejas with crusty bread like we do or with a side of white rice, green plantains, or crackers for dipping. Store leftovers in an airtight container, in the refrigerator for 3-4 days or freeze 2-3 months.
Reheat the soup in a saucepan or the microwave until heated through and steamy (to a temperature of at least 165°F). Add 1-2 tablespoons of chicken broth while reheating if the soup is too thick. Stir well and add more if needed.
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Potaje de Lentejas (Cuban Lentil Soup)
- 12 ounces Dry Lentils picked through and rinsed (use brown or green lentils)
- 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
- 1 Medium Onion finely diced
- 1 Carrot diced
- 3-4 Garlic Cloves minced
- 1 tablespoon Tomato Paste
- 1 teaspoon Salt plus extra if needed at the end
- ½ teaspoon Dried Oregano
- ½ teaspoon Ground Cumin
- ¼ teaspoon Black Pepper
- 1 pound Smoked Pork use smoked ham shanks or ham hocks, rinsed
- 4 cups Chicken Broth
- 4 cups Water
- 1 Bay Leaf
- 1 Large Potato peeled and cut into 1-2 inch pieces
- 1 pound Pumpkin peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-2 inch pieces
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat, add the onions and carrots. Cook approximately 5 minutes until the onions are translucent, stirring frequently.
- Add the garlic, tomato paste, salt, oregano, cumin, and black pepper. Cook 1 minute, stirring frequently.
- Add the ham shanks, chicken broth, water, and bay leaf to the pot, stir well. Raise the heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil. Then, lower the heat to medium-low, cover and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the lentils to the pot, cover and cook for about 20 minutes until the lentils start to soften, stirring occasionally.
- Remove the ham from the pot and let it cool down on a plate or cutting board. In the meantime, add the potatoes and the pumpkin to the lentil stew. Bring the liquid back to a boil, then lower the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the lentils, potatoes, and pumpkin are tender.
- When the ham shanks cool down take the meat off and discard the fat and bones. Chop the ham and return it to the pot.
- Keep the broth at a simmer. Raise or lower the heat as needed. Stir occasionally.
- Remove the bay leaf and discard. Taste and add salt if needed. As a reference we added 1 teaspoon to ours.