Mulligatawny, or mullagatanni, is spiced soup and a mainstay of Raj cuisine. The name apparently derives from a corruption of milagu tannir, or pepper water, a common rasam. It is a lightly spiced, filling soup.
Rasam is a broth served with rice in a traditional Tamil meal. Whilst this dish is somewhat thicker than the typical rasam, its heritage from rasam seems quite clear. Unfamiliar with the soup course their masters seemed to need with every meal, Indian cooks served the nearest thing to it that they knew, bulking it out to suit the extravagant tastes of the British. This version is a typical Indian dish, prepared to suit the tastes of the British colonists. Records of this recipe date back to the early nineteenth century CE.
There are several distinct types of this dish in my grandmother’s notes. As with so many of the recipes in this book, it is hard to find a definitive version. The recipe presented here is the one I recall having the most often.
Two of the variations use chicken and lamb. In the chicken version, you use some chicken legs with meat and other chicken bones. Using a pressure cooker, make the one litre of stock. This is then strained, then the meat is separated to add just before serving. The lamb version is similar, but uses lamb or mutton. One of our favourites is to make the stock using one litre of water with two or three forequarter lamb chops. Again, you strain it, remove the meat to be added just before serving. For these variations, the stock preparation time is around 15 minutes in the pressure cooker.
Some mulligatawny is made without the coconut milk and occasionally cow’s milk is substituted. We prefer using coconut milk. Without any milk it becomes more like a traditional rasam.
In some versions the rice is added, uncooked, at the start of the process and forms part of the soup. We prefer to put cooked rice at the bottom of the bowl and pour the soup over it. Or, you could serve the rice on the side, or even leave it out. You could serve this with idli instead of rice. If you wanted to pretend you are eating like the Raj, serve it with dinner rolls.
One of the things the Raj most loved was roast meat, and in large joints. Consequently, there was often too much food and leftovers abounded. Using leftover food is an anathema to most Hindus, yet the memsahib was often insistent upon its use. You can take mulligatawny to new level by judicious use of the leftover roast dinner from last night.
Cut the leftover roast meat into 1cm cubes. You will need about 400g of meat, then put that into the soup when you add the coconut milk to allow it warm through. Instead of rice, use the leftover roast vegetables – roast potato works really well in this way – and pour the hot soup over it. The heat of the soup will quickly bring the vegetables up to temperature. This is the classic Raj mulligatawny that many people know. Now, if you are going to do this variant, there are a couple of other things the British did once they were back in the UK that you might consider.
The first is that they used curry powder, not rasam masala. Given that they probably couldn’t source either the masala itself or the ingredients, this was a good compromise and surprisingly it works well. The second thing they did was to add fruit to the recipe. At the time you add the coconut milk, add another diced apple, a handful of sultanas and a tablespoon of lemon juice. This gives a distinct sweet and sour dimension to the dish. Perhaps not to everyone’s taste, but that is the flavour that has become synonymous with this dish, at least in curry houses.
The version presented below is the simple vegetable mulligatawny with coconut milk served over rice. Comfort food for the family.
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 brown onion finely chopped
- 20 g ginger finely chopped
- 5 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 3 tsp rasam masala (see recipe)
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 stick celery coarsely chopped
- 1 carrot coarsely chopped
- 1 red apple peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1 cup split red lentils (masoor dal)
- 2½ tomatoes coarsely chopped
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp jaggery
- 150 ml tamarind water
- 1.5 litres vegetable stock
- 175 ml thick coconut milk
Heat the oil in the pressure cooker, add onions and stir for five minutes or until lightly coloured.
Add ginger and garlic and stir for two minutes. Add rasam masala and turmeric and stir for another minute to release flavours and aroma.
Add celery, carrot and apple, stir to combine and fry, stirring often for three minutes until vegetables start to soften.
Add the lentils, tomatoes, salt and jaggery and mix well.
Add tamarind water and stock, mix well and seal pressure cooker. Cook on low heat for 20 minutes, then release pressure naturally.
Using a hand blender, process the soup to a smooth puree. Return to the heat and add the coconut milk. Do not allow the soup to boil, as this will cause the coconut milk to separate.
Taste and adjust seasoning as required. You may need a little more salt to bring out the other flavours.
Place half a cup of rice at bottom of each bowl, ladle over the soup, garnish with chopped tomatoes and a generous sprinkling of coriander leaves. Serve.