Monday 17 March 2008

Mulligatawny and dubious traditions

This month Holler is hosting the No Croutons Required blog event that she runs with Lisa. For March, they have asked bloggers to make a spicy soup. Not being a chilli fiend, my mind initially drew a blank. But then I couldn’t open a cookbook without spicy soups jumping out at me – tortilla soup, couscous dumplings in spicy tomato soup, spicy peanut soup, and a pumpkin, corn & wild rice chowder. So many great recipes out there!

But the soup that really captured my imagination was the vegetarian mulligatawny which Gluten Free Goddess, Karina, made. Why? Because I have only come across it before as a meat soup and I wanted to taste it. Because it is the sort of dish I want to make just to be able to roll the name around on my tongue. (Go on, I know you want to say it out loud!) Because Karina’s version was full of vegetables which pleased me.

There was one small problem with Karina’s soup. It seemed to take a lot of flavour from curry powder. My curry powder was bought at the supermarket years ago and I was worried it might not enhance the soup as it should. So I turned to another version of mulligatawny I had found in Cooking with Kurma. I had initially rejected it because it seemed quite watery – one of those soups where you cook up lots of interesting flavours and then discard them (after sieving) in the hope they leave their flavour in the water. But the idea of using Kurma’s spices and Karina’s vegetables appealed. It seemed the best of both worlds.

Once I had decided on making mulligatawny, I had to check on the traditional recipe to see how close my recipe compared. A quick search of the internet convinced me that the traditions were as flimsy as the English Empire’s pretext for colonising India. (Actually I don’t know why they did but colonisation always seemed to be about greed and power which is never a satisfying reason! I will find out later.) Apparently, mulligatawny means pepper water and was eaten by British colonists in the mistaken belief that it was what the locals ate.

I have read that traditional Indian cooking does not really include soups. It would be fascinating to have been there when some Indian was persistently questioned about what soups they ate. I can only imagine that the person who gave the recipe had a good sense of humour and enjoyed much laughter when seeing the Brits with their ‘traditional’ mulligatawny.

After reading about mulligatawny's dubious origins, I felt quite comfortable in making a hamfisted attempt at messing with the recipes. I felt I produced the peppery taste but possibly included more vegetables than is traditional. I added a few vegetables to rescue them from the back of the fridge. I didn't have a muslin cloth to put my spices in so I improvised with a tea infuser - I don't drink tea when it is this hot, so at least it is not just gathering dust. I was quite forgetful as I made it and added the garlic and ginger later than I should have. Then I totally neglected to add lime juice and sugar but I don’t know they would have improved it.

I am happy to report that I was most pleased with my mulligatawny and now curious to try more. It was a delicious subtly-spiced soup with sweet flavours of the spices, the tartness of the apple and a touch of creaminess from the coconut milk. With all those vegetables, and chickpeas too, it must be nutritious as well as vegan and gluten free - something for everybody! I am sure Lisa and Holler will love it.

Vegetarian Mulligatawny
(adapted from Gluten Free Goddess and Cooking with Kurma)
serves 5-6

1 tablespoons light olive oil or vegetable oil
1 medium sweet or yellow onion, peeled, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp finely grated ginger
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 medium sized potato, peeled and diced
1 cup cauliflower florets, chopped
1 small zucchini, diced
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 cups thinly shredded cabbage
1 litre vegetable stock
44og can diced tomatoes
440g can chick peas, drained
4 green cardamom pods
6 cloves
1 tsp peppercorns
1 x 2 inch stick of cinnamon
1 tbsp ghee (I used margarine)
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
400g can lite coconut milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to serve

Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot. Fry the onion for 2-3 minutes over low heat. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, chilli, carrot, potato, zucchini, cauliflower, apples, sweet potato and cabbage and sauté until softened, stirring frequently - approximately 7 to 10 minutes,.

Place cardamom, cloves and pepper in a piece of muslin or in a tea infuser and place in the stockpot. Add cinnamon stick, stock, tomatoes and chick peas. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, - about 20 to 30 minutes.

In a small frypan melt the ghee over low heat. Add mustard seeds and cumin seeds and fry til they begin to pop.

Remove stick of cinnamon and tea infuser of spices from the stockpot. Discard. Add seeds and coconut milk and stir. Use hand held blender to blend as much as you require. I only blended slightly so there were still lots of chunks but you could blend completely or not at all. Check seasoning. Grind some fresh pepper on the soup for garnish.

On the stereo:
Picaresque – The Decemberists


  1. great vegetarian recipe you've got here..
    in response to your comment on my bread post -- yup, in fact in Singapore it's just easier and cheaper to buy a ready-made cake or bread. But definitely not healthier, i don't think so...

  2. Dubious traditions indeed. ;) So glad you found inspiration in my humble mulligatawny. Thanks for the shout-out! And happy slurping.

  3. Your soup looks (and sounds) really delicious. I'm always combining several recipes-- and I'm usually very happy with the outcome. Glad your experiment worked out so well!

  4. Wow! Yes, I love this recipe. I would say you have a good chance of winning the challenge again this month too :) Great combination of flavours and quite different than the Mulligatawny soup I made a while back.

  5. Isn't Mulligatawny a fun name for a soup? :)

  6. Hi Johanna,
    Thanks for entering the challenge again! I think that soup was definitley worth making, I bet your hubby enjoyed it! I enjoyed your story with the soup too!

  7. I've never tried Mulligatawny, but have always loved the sound of it, too! This looks like a great veg version, though I'm not sure I'd be up for all that chopping!

  8. mulagu tani -= chilli water in tamil. it's akin to the tamil rasam, but the poor brits, who didn't know a think about cooking with spices, distorted it to create mulligatawny. i actually like it. :D in tamil nadu, rasam is always vegetarian. it's made with tomatoes, lemon, a whole range of flavourings.

  9. I love your research into the Dubious origins of Mulligatawny! Pepper water *chuckles* It's true, in all my Indian cookbooks there are no soup recipes, unless you call spiced yogurt drinks soup. Tea was also dates back only to the colonial days. Ah, all the mind-twisting "traditions" that are out there...

  10. thanks Kel - ready-made might be easier and cheaper but doesn't always taste as good

    thanks Karina - have been loving slurping this soup - thanks for the great recipe!

    Thanks Ann - that's the joy of doing your own cooking isn't it - getting to alter the recipe to suit your fancy!

    Thanks Lisa - am interested to see other people's versions of mulligatawny as there seem to be many - is it on your blog - I had a look but couldn't find it? If not hope you post it some time

    Thanks Wendy - mulligatawny mulligatawny mulligatawny! Love it :-)

    Thanks Holler - yes E was a big fan of this soup - not too watery (which he doesn't like)

    Thanks Ricki - chopping can be therapeutic if you put on some good music - but it can also be very tedious too! Bag of frozen veg?

    thanks for all the useful information Bee - I think I have seen Rasam about on blogs - will need to look at this more closely

    Thanks Neen - I sort of find it comforting to find 'traditions' are evolving rather than set in stone because it means I can be part of them rather than slave to them - but it does mess with the mind!

  11. Seriously, you can't win again this month- i want that logo. lol Great looking soup and wow, loads of vegies; which is perfect because I have an overload of vegies needing to be used up!

  12. Thanks pixie, you can win but I am just making sure you have some stiff competition so you feel it is well earned :-) Seriously, though, you could probably be quite creative about using up any vegetables in this meal, so I would recommend it if you have an overload!

  13. I just love the name "mulligatawny" - I have been fascinated by it since the Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld. Great looking soup.

  14. thanks Cakelaw - I can just imagine the soup nazi saying mulligatawny - great cultural reference - thanks

  15. thanks Cakelaw - I can just imagine the soup nazi saying mulligatawny - great cultural reference - thanks


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