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Mulligatawny soup

Mulligatawny soup combines chicken, curry, vegetables, and cream for an Indian-inspired dish.

By We Are Never FullStaff Writer / November 3, 2011

Mulligatawny soup is actually based on an Indian stew that was changed into soup to placate the fussy British soldiers during the British Raj (1858-1947).

We Are Never Full


One finds mulligatawny soup on an Indian restaurant menu the same way one always finds buffalo wings or nachos on a bar menu. It just has to be there – if it wasn’t on the menu you just know there’s something wrong with the place. But how many of you have ever ordered it over the papadums or samosas to start your meal?  Like many dishes ordered at your local Indian, it can feel like a bit heavy. This is a good thing if you make this your lunch or your dinner, which is why I absolutely love making batches of this incredibly hearty and extremely inexpensive soup that lasts for many meals.  

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The funny thing is, mulligatawny soup has a kind of shady past.  After doing research, I realized that there is no cut and dry history of the soup. There are so many variations of mulligatawny, it almost makes sense that it was difficult to pin down its origins. One thing we do know, it’s not strictly an Indian dish. It’s actually based on an Indian dish that was changed into soup to satiate (and placate) the fussy British soldiers during the British Raj  ((the period between 1858 and 1947 when Britain ruled parts of South Asia/India).

Mulligatawny means “pepper water” and is believed to be loosely based on a stew the Brits loved that their Tamil servants would often serve.  They “demanded” a soup course which, before this time in history, had never been a part of Indian food culture.  The result was a thinned out version of the stew base that they liked so much. According to research, the British eventually brought the invented soup dish back home where it became a well-loved classic there, but because of its many, many variations, it is hard to know what the original recipe contained.

Some mulligatawny soups contain rice or noodles, some are made vegetarian, but traditionally it should have a meat base (like chicken or mutton).  Some contain cream, others coconut milk or yogurt.  Some add apples for a sour/sweet flavor, others add tomato while some people just dump in some chutney.  Your head could spin with all the recipes out there!

So how did we come up with our recipe?  Well, we went to our main source – our local Indian restaurant.  We absolutely adore their mulligatawny soup and wanted to eat a version as close to theirs as possible. This homemade recipe is relatively close to one we found in a Madhur Jaffrey book, but with a bit of help from our local Indian restaurant. It can most definitely be made vegetarian or even vegan (!) and the lentils provide a great heartiness. Pair with some naan (store-bought for us) and you’ve got an amazing lunch or dinner. Regardless of it’s history, mulligatawny soup is going to remain a staple in my household.  It’s too easy to make and too delicious.

(see next page for recipe)