There are some recipes that are a staple in our house. This vegetarian mulligatawny soup is one of them. I've been making this soup for a long time now, and I have no clue how I started making it in the first place. It could have been the damp, cold climate of England that may have kickstarted the idea for this warm and comforting soup. Or it could have been a desire to make a soup out of what is essentially an Indian dal. Whatever the origins of this soup, one thing that cannot be denied is that it's just utterly delicious, and unbelievably versatile. I have chucked vegetable odds and ends into this soup, along with beans or chickpeas. I have once, sneakily, thrown in some chicken when Kay was away, and I didn't want to bother with making full meals.
Mulligatawny is an interesting dish, from the perspective of an Indian. Its almost akin to the other Anglo-Indian dish, Kedgeree, in its nature. There are quite a few theories as to its origin. The first one claims that its a British corruption of the Tamil words 'milagu-thani' or 'spicy water'. However, the problem with this theory is that the dish that is being referred could well be 'rasam', the broth like spicy condiment from the South of India. And a classic Western mulligatawny soup is very different from a rasam.
The Western version of Mulligatawny is a thick soup, rich with soft lentils and ocasionally thickened with coconut milk. I once tasted a Mulligatawny soup in Terrace, BC with my in-laws and I was struck at how different it was to the one I make. For starters, it had rice in it, which for me has always been a no-no. The flavours were also very different to my recipe, and while it was decent, it wasn't what I was used to. I made my version for the in-laws, and they both said that they preferred my version better (yipppeee, success!)
This recipe has been trialled and has had a lot of errors remedied :-) I don't like my soups super spicy, unless they are Thai, so I milded this one down a bit. I also don't like using hot chilli powder, but I have included it in this recipe, as an option, if you like your Mulligatawny spicier. I do, however, very strongly urge you to make your own Madras curry powder and garam masala for this recipe. The difference in taste to store bought is something else, and as they are the primary flavours for this dish, the difference is really quite obvious. Its doesn't take long to make these spice mixes, and you can store them in an airtight tin in a dark place for up to six months. I also like to make it a little lighter by not using coconut milk, and to be honest, this soup doesn't really need it at all.
Serve this soup with rice (oh, if you really prefer!!!) or with a chunk of crusty French bread, like I do (yeah, very Indian, right :-)) You could also do naans if you prefer, for a light lunch or a starter. I also like to squeeze over some lemon juice to taste, to really brighten up the spice flavours. Give it a good stir, before serving, as lentil soups sometimes tend to split a bit.
Again, the beautiful pictures on this post are courtesy of my friend Connie, from Mirabelle Macarons. A huge 'thank you' to you, Connie! Technically we get together so that our girls can have a playdate, but we both know the real reason, eh, Connie? ;-)
1½ cups split red lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 inch piece of ginger, sliced
2 sticks celery, diced
1 carrot, chopped
2 teaspoons homemade Madras curry powder (if using store bought, use the mild version)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon garam masala
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon hot chilli powder (optional)
1½ cups hot vegetable stock
Salt to taste
Handful fresh coriander to garnish (cilantro)
1 small lemon, halved, to squeeze over
Place the lentils in a pot, and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, and boil hard for about 5 minutes, skimming off any scum that rises. Turn down the heat and cook for 15 - 30 minutes, until the lentils are soft, and falling apart, and the cooking water is almost absorbed.
While the lentils are cooking, make the soup base. Heat the oil in a pot, and add the onions. Sweat them for a few minutes, until the raw smell disappears. Add the garlic and ginger, and fry for a minute. Add the Madras curry powder, ground cumin, garam masala and turmeric, and stir for a minute or two.
Add the celery and carrots (if using) and saute for a few more minutes, so that the vegetables are coated with the spices.
Add the hot stock to the pot, bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until the celery and carrots (if using) are soft, about 5 - 7 minutes. Take off the heat, and leave the soup base to cool down.
When cool, blend to a fine puree, and return to the pot.
Add the lentils to the soup base, and simmer for an additional 5 - 10 minutes, until the soup is thick and creamy. You can puree it again, if you wish, but it really doesn't matter, as the lentils add a slightly chunky texture to the soup.
Taste and add some salt, if you think the soup needs it. Garnish with the fresh, chopped cilantro and squeeze over the lemon before serving.