North Coast Journal



by Betty Thompson

Mulligatawny has a catchy name, but it's no relation to mulligan stew. Rather, it's a hearty, curry-flavored soup. The name comes from the Indian "mulegoothani," meaning "pepper water," indicating that the soup should be quite spicy.

As soup it has no history in India before the British raj. Supposedly it was simply an invention to satisfy British army officers who demanded a soup course at dinner.

Mulligatawny as we know it is an Anglo-Indian dish made with beef, lamb, chicken or fish. It was brought to America by the descendants of the soldiers who served in India.

Recipes for mulligatawny are as numerous as the cooks who make it.

Most of the recipes call for curry powder (also a British invention), with the exception of the Indian versions, which use individual spices. Mixed curry powders vary a lot from one brand to another in color, flavor and degree of hotness because the same spices are not always used nor in the same ratios.

Cost can be a factor related to taste: Inexpensive curry powder tends to be made up of larger quantities of the less expensive spices. Gold or green label cans of curry powder from Madras are among the best. Adjust the quantity in the recipes to taste. Begin with 1/2 teaspoon, unless curry is a favorite.

The soup is frequently enriched with coconut milk at the end of the cooking time. Coconut milk tends to mellow the curry. Unsweetened coconut milk can be purchased in a can or made by pouring boiling water over unsweetened shredded coconut and letting it stand for 30 minutes (two cups boiling water to !/2 pound coconut). Strain and press out as much liquid as possible. For a low-fat version of coconut milk, use low-fat milk and a few drops of coconut extract. It isn't quite as good, but it works.

Today's recipes have curry in common but are quite different in appearance and flavor. All can be served with rice, adding lime or lemon juice added at the table.


Colonial Mulligatawny

Increase the quantity of chicken and vegetables for a heartier meal.


In a large saucepan sauté onion and curry powder in oil until onion is tender. Stir in chicken, apple, carrot, celery and green pepper. Cook until vegetables are slightly soft.

Sprinkle flour over mixture and stir to mix well. Cook and stir for one minute more. Add stock, tomatoes including juice, parsley, lemon juice, sugar, cloves, salt and pepper to taste.

Bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer covered for 30 minutes.


Instant Mulligatawny

My husband acquired this delicious, highly seasoned recipe from the cafeteria in Oxford where he ate lunch at work. A variety of soup combinations work equally well. Combine with water or milk, whichever is preferred.


Combine soups in a pan. Add recommended water or use milk and bring to a boil. Stir in rice and seasonings, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes or until rice is tender.


Mrs. Thackery's Lentil Mulligatawny

A British cooking instructor provided her favorite meatless recipe.

1/2 pound lentils. Cover with boiling water and let soak for 30 minutes while preparing the rest of the ingredients.


In a large pan, sauté onion in a little butter until tender. Drain soaked lentils and add to the pan. Add garlic, diced sweet red pepper and curry powder and stir well to combine.

Add remaining ingredients and simmer for an hour and 30 minutes or until lentils are tender. Serve with a spoonful of cooked rice in each serving and lemon wedges.


Chicken Mulligatawny

This Indian version from Sri Lanka made with individual spices and coconut milk, is adapted from "The Complete Asian Cookbook" by Charmaine Solomon.


Place chicken in a large pan with enough water to cover. Add salt, peppercorns, celery leaves and one onion peeled and stuck with the whole cloves. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Add spices, garlic, ginger and tomatoes and simmer until chicken is tender. Remove chicken. Cool and dice meat and return it to the stock.

In a fry pay, fry remaining sliced onion and bay leaf in oil until onion is browned. Add this along with the zucchini and mushrooms to the soup. Cook an additional 5 minutes. Reduce heat, stir in coconut milk and reheat to the simmering point. Turn off heat and add lemon juice to sharpen the flavor.

Betty Thompson has taught cooking classes in Humboldt County since 1974.

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