Pumpkin Soup with Harissa and Pickled Lemon

After Hallowe’en you could be forgiven if you were sick of the sight of pumpkins, but they give a wonderful autumnal flavour and texture to this spicy main course soup.

I often find winter squash too sweet on their own, so I’ve given the soup some earthy body with a scoop of lentils, sharpened it with pickled lemon and added a chilli buzz in the form of harissa.

These North African flavours will warm you right down to your socks, although if you’re cooking for kids you might want to serve the harissa separately for people to stir in at the table.

Note: The type of pumpkins you use to carve for Hallowe’en are usually too watery to eat; you’d be better off chopping them into chunks and leaving them out for the wildlife to scoff. A butternut squash works better here.

Pumpkin Soup with Harissa and Pickled Lemon


1 small butternut squash

2 small to medium onions, peeled and chopped

2 sticks of celery, de-stringed, trimmed and chopped

2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped

Oil, salt and pepper

180g red lentils

1 or 2 pickled lemons (or to taste), halved, de-seeded, the flesh chopped and the peel thinly slivered and reserved for garnish

Up to 1.2 litres vegetable stock

2 tbsp harissa paste

Coriander (optional but good)

Ras el hanout or paprika (optional, for the seeds)


Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.

This is by far the easiest way to roast squash I’ve found. It makes it much easier to peel and de-seed. Top and tail the squash, cut horizontally into 4cm thick slices and place in a single layer in a roasting tin.

Pull out a handful of seeds now if you would like to use them as garnish as they can toughen on roasting.

Drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 20-30 minutes until it’s soft to the tip of a knife.

Remove, and once cool enough to handle, scoop out the seeds and surrounding fibrous strings, pare off the skin and pick out the remaining seeds. Dice the flesh.

Put a large saucepan on a medium heat and fry onions and celery, sprinkled with a little salt, until soft and golden. Stir them occasionally but don’t rush this bit, you want that depth of flavour. Add the garlic and fry a few minutes more.

Pour in the lentils and stir to coat. Add the chopped pumpkin, pickled lemon flesh and a litre of the stock. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook gently until the lentils are soft, about 20 minutes.

Make the garnish

While the soup is cooking and if you’d like to make the seed garnish, bring a pan of water to a boil and chuck in the reserved seeds, cleaned of the worst bits of fibre. Cook for 5-10 minutes. Drain and dry on kitchen paper then toss them with a little oil. Mix with half a teaspoon of ras el hanout or paprika (sweet or hot, your choice) and toast gently in a dry pan, stirring often, until they’re golden. Set aside.

Finish the soup

Once the lentils are tender, you can leave either leave the soup’s texture as it is, or use a stick blender to whizz it to your desired thickness. I like to leave a few chunky pieces. Add more hot stock if it’s too thick. Stir in the harissa and check the seasoning, adding salt, pepper and fresh lemon or lime juice if necessary.

Serve garnished with the slivered rind of the pickled lemon, the toasted pumpkin seeds if using and if you have it handy, fresh coriander.

15 thoughts on “Pumpkin Soup with Harissa and Pickled Lemon

  1. Can’t deal with pumpkin. Too much gulag and holocaust lit.

    Looks good though.

    My friend Sylvia S. (I don’t know how to spell her last names) swears by your recipes.


  2. Sad to read about memories of gulag and holocaust since I was already alive at the time . . . just on the other side of the fence . . . Jeff, as a Baltic refugee I spent my kiddy-cat days eating soup made out of weeds and bread made out of sawdust . . . one was hugely lucky to buy tripe to make a stew . . . oh – like the pickled lemons and ras el hanout in this being rather partial to Moroccan fare . . .

    • Eha, thank you. That certainly puts other food memories into a humbling perspective. We had a family friend who survived Bergen-Belsen. Unimaginable endurance.

      • Ok we just had the soup. De lishus. Only thing, roasting the seeds was not a success, because they were all husky in the mouth and you had to chew and then spit it out after all. Did I not roast them for long enough or something? They had a good 10-15 mins, and I kept stirring/tossing them.

      • Hi Jo,
        Sorry to hear that. It’s difficult to say without having been hovering over your shoulder while you were cooking but I’m guessing it was because your pumpkin was older and the seeds were tougher and more dried out. Glad you liked the soup though. Hope it didn’t spoil it for you.

  3. No not in the least – v good recipe, clear, easy to follow, quantities perfect, etc.
    And the soup itself absolutely lovely. Balance of flavours brilliant: combo of lemony stuff and spice with earthy squash, lentils and stock works so well. Exactly my taste in soups – we favour it smooth so we squirdled it.
    Harissa paste is rather snazzy (never used it before). What else could I use it for?

  4. LOL! I’m laughing because Harissa Sauce reminds me of when I first heard of it. I was a Janitor at a Restaurant at the Toronto Zoo, and this Black Chick – who I think did the Food Prep – renamed the Harissa Sauce ‘Harassment Sauce’. LOL!!!

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