A blend of exotic Indian spices makes a simple bowl of lentil soup into a very versatile mulligatawny that can be enhanced many different ways.
Arguing about the authenticity of mulligatawny is pointless as the soup began as a curry, closer to a sauce or salsa to be served over rice or meat. The occupying British were accustomed to a soup course, thus the mullaga thanni (Tamil for “pepper-water”) was interpreted more as a thinner broth than a thick condiment. In its own unique way, it is both of Indian and British origin.
The characteristic garam masala is a ground master spice blend with widely varying recipes that are almost unique to every Indian household. Generally containing elements such as peppercorns, cloves, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg and mace, it serves as a flavoring base for many dishes and can range from simple to spicy. Commercial varieties are easy to find, or you may wish to build your own.
Although Indian food may sometimes be considered “hot,” the heat is not necessarily of a burning capsicum nature. The “heat” can refer simply to the level of overall spice flavor, as the Ayurvedic system of alternative medicine regards spices as a source of elevating body temperature. Of course, the soup will not suffer at all if a few fresh jalapeño or red chile peppers are included to taste.
With no canonical version, mulligatawny lends itself willingly to additions and enhancements. Basmati rice is almost always a welcome accompaniment, and including spicy lamb meatballs can bulk up this vegetarian soup into a full, satisfying meal.
No matter your customization, be sure to serve this with plenty of warm naan bread for sopping up the broth.
1 c red lentils (dried)
1 rib of celery
1 clove of garlic
½ yellow onion
14.5-oz can of tomatoes (diced)
¾ c coconut milk
¼ t cayenne
1 t cumin (ground)
2 t garam masala
1 in. piece of ginger
¼ t turmeric
1 Chop the onion, carrot and celery and sauté in the oil until soft, about 5 min. Peel and finely grate the ginger and garlic into the pot.
2 Add the lentils, tomatoes, spices (except salt) and 4 c water. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 30 min.
3 Remove 1-2 c of soup to a blender and purée until smooth. Thin the solids with a little water, if necessary for processing.
4 Return the purée to the soup and add the coconut milk, cilantro and the juice of the lemon. Stir to combine and season to taste.