With recipes dating back to the late 1700s, mulligatawny soup is a highly distinctive, spicy, one-pot dish and a grand meld of Indian and British cuisines. Plus, it’s a great way to make the very best of leftovers from a big, outstandingly good roast chicken. The layers of spice here are oh so good.
What’s in a name?
Mulligatawny. Odd sounding name, that. Could it be Scottish? Kind of sounds as if it could be. For years I certainly thought it was. Wrong. Turns out that it’s a combo of two words adopted from the Tamil language of southern India.
The ‘mulliga’ bit comes from similar sounding Tamil words for chili and black pepper, and the ‘tawny’ part from a word meaning water. Put them together and you get ‘pepper / chili water’ — mulligan-tawny.
Mulligatawny has a rich history
At the height of the British Empire towards the end of the 19th century, this hybrid dish had become hugely popular. And I mean hugely popular. It was a symbol of Empire, synonymous with ‘Rule Britannia’. In short, mulligatawny became the quintessential soup of imperial days when the sun always shone somewhere on a British colony.
Prized as it may have been in millions of Victorian-era households around the world, mulligatawny was a victim of its own popularity. It came to be seen in later years as awfully old-fashioned. And gradually it faded from memory. As so many truly great dishes do. Like oven-made, slow-cooked rice puddings and chilled, traditional trifles.
Mulligatawny’s fall from grace strikes me as seriously strange. Just think about the huge, modern buzz around so-called ‘fusion’ food. The fact that it’s over 200 years old has to make mulligatawny the very epitome of fusion. So, you could view it as fusion’s grandaddy. And with good reason. It’s astonishingly good.
Making mulligatawny a main course
Although traditionally served as a thickish soup, done our way you can transform mulligatawny into a fab main course meal. Hearty and warming, its big-hitting, smoky layers of flavor come from chili (here cayenne peppers), ginger, garlic, cardamom, cumin, onion, cilantro, and fenugreek. Plus – the sharp tang of a little lemon juice.
And the layers just keep on coming. Bite-sized chunks of just-cooked butternut squash and slightly shredded leftover chicken keep their individual flavors. A few finely diced potatoes give this mulligatawny its body. Coconut milk adds silkiness. Celery and lentils add yet more depth.
Apart from all those outstanding attributes, this mulligatawny is also a prime reason for roasting a big, top-quality chicken. I’d go for one that’s much bigger and higher-priced than you might usually choose for a happy chicken dinner. Here’s why. The carcass will make a fine stock and you’ll be doubly rewarded by the upscale flavor of the leftover meat.
Those two big plus points mean you’ll be extracting max value from a big, top-dollar chicken. And you’ll also be making a really different dish — so it won’t feel as if you’re eating chicken two days running.
Like this recipe? You’ll love these too:
- Spicy Indian Lentil Dhal: These spicy red lentils are delicious as an appetizer or served with salad as a meal, featuring curry powder, ginger, and more.
- Hawaiian Chili Pepper Water: A simple form of hot sauce – the ginger inside makes it delicious with Indian dishes.
- Sopa Azteca (Mexican Tortilla Soup): Another delicious soup recipe that eats like a meal.
Explore the Scoville scale through our Up The Scale spice set, featuring medium heat jalapeño, extra-hot habanero, and fiery super-hot ghost powders.
- 3 cayenne peppers cut into 1/4 inch slices, seeds and all
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 2 yellow onions peeled and roughly chopped
- 4 cloves garlic peeled and finely chopped
- 2 carrots medium-sized, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch slices
- 2 potatoes medium-sized floury, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice
- 8 ounces butternut squash peeled, seeds removed, cut into bite-size chunks
- 2 celery sticks roughly chopped
- 1 ounce cilantro finely chopped, stalks and all. Half for the cooking, half for garnish.
- 2 teaspoons fresh ginger heaped, peeled and very finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons ground fenugreek heaped
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin heaped
- 6 green cardamom pods
- 4 ounces split lentils red or orange, the pre-soaked, ready to cook variety are preferable
- 1/2 cup coconut milk
- 3 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 2 pints chicken stock freshly made.
- A good handful of leftover chicken meat roughly shredded into bite-size pieces
Preparing the pre-roasted chicken
- Start with the remains of your roast chicken. You need to do this about 2 hours before you want to make the mulligatawny. Strip all the good meat off the carcass, remove the skin but don’t discard it, and put the meat in a bowl in the refrigerator.
Making the chicken stock
- Fill a good-sized saucepan with two pints water and three heaped teaspoons ground sea salt. Break the carcass apart with your hands, add all the pieces together with the skin to the pan and set it on a high heat. As soon as it starts to boil, reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and let it simmer away for two hours with an occasional stir. Drain the stock through a sieve into a bowl and set it aside – stock done.
Making the mulligatawny
- Heat the coconut oil in a good-sized saucepan on a medium heat. Add the roughly chopped onions, give them a good stir and turn the heat down to medium-low. You want the onions to soften and to get themselves a good golden color – not crisply browned – but a good golden color. That’ll take about ten minutes with some attentive stirring.
- Now turn the heat to medium and add the potatoes, celery, carrots, and butternut squash. Give that lot a good stir so that it mixes with the onions and let it all cook for 5 minutes with few stirs. You’re looking to get just a bit of color on the potatoes, celery, carrots and butternut squash.
- Keep the heat on medium and add the cayenne peppers, garlic, cumin, fenugreek, cardamom pods, and lentils. Stir so that everything comes together with a coating of the coconut oil. Now, the mix is going to look a little dry and will perhaps start catching on the bottom of the pan. That’s great. Pour in the coconut milk and add half the chopped cilantro. Drop the heat to low and give the pan a good stir.
- Add all the chicken stock and the black pepper. Stir the pan, cover it, and up the heat to medium high. The stock is fairly salty, but now’s the time to check if you need to add more salt to suit your taste.
- As soon as the mulligatawny barely starts to boil, drop the heat to low and let it simmer gently with an occasional stir for about 40 minutes with the pan’s top just slightly ajar.
- Your guide to when it’s cooked is the butternut squash. You want that squash to be just cooked through – so try a chunk. If it’s a little underdone for your taste, let the mulligatawny simmer away for a few more minutes until you are happy with the butternut squash texture. As soon as you are, add the shredded chicken and turn the heat to medium-high until the pan just begins to boil and then remove it at once from the heat.
- Add the lemon juice, stir and you’re done. Serve at once in big, warmed soup bowls garnished with the remaining cilantro.