"...I still like to think that there are many rooms in the house of
poetry, and sooner or later we'll all meet over mulligatawny in the kitchen:
slam poets and psalm poets, page poets and stage poets..."
- Janus Kodal
It all started with a scratchy throat a week or so ago. A night or two after, I started to sneeze. By Thursday, I knew I was ordering soup for dinner at the Thai restaurant where we were meeting friends for dinner. Friday, after several pitiful sneezing fits and sporting a nose that couldn't have been redder if I'd used steel wool instead of a hanky, I was sent home midday from work. By Friday night, G was starting to sneeze, and by Saturday we'd eaten our way through takeout soups ranging from simple wonton to Dominican chicken sancocho, Mexican tortilla-cilantro and on to chicken-coconut Tom Kha Gai.
We were tired of them all, and yet we still wanted soup, soup and only soup, perhaps with a bit of bread. So it was with soup in mind that I dragged myself from our sorry shared sickbed late Saturday afternoon, to see what the pantry had to offer. After all, I had brought the germs home, and clearly needed to provide medicine for us both. Oh happy circumstance: it appeared that I had everything I would need for a mulligatawny, which I could cobble together after reading a few online recipes and digging through my memory of mulligatawnys I had known and liked in the past. According to existing literature on the subject, mulligatawny (from the Tamil for "pepper water") is a bit of a kitchen sink supper, having many versions. Soup as a course by itself was not part of India's traditional cuisine. Apparently the British who lived and colonized there a century or so ago wanted soup, and something like this is more or less what they got.
For G and myself in our mutual, miserable nose-blowing state, this was a perfect remedy: exotic, spicy enough to allow us breathing room, yet very, very comforting. We brought our tray, which held nothing but a basket of toasted spiced naan bread and our bowls of this soup into bed with us, and amidst comforters, pillows, old movies and each other, the healing began.
My Own Mulligatawny
The ingredient list here seems a little daunting, I know, especially if you're not feeling a hundred percent. However, you won't believe how quickly this soup goes together. Like so many good soups and stews, each spoonful allows you to beam with the accomplishment of a dish that is truly delicious, yet requires minimal effort. This recipe is, of course, easily adapted to a vegetarian (dare I say vegan?) version by simply using vegetable stock in place of chicken, and omitting the chopped cooked chicken at the end.
1 tablespoon clarified butter or vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium leeks, washed, cleaned and chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom, or 4 bruised pods
2 bay leaves
2 large carrots, chopped
1 large apple - peeled, cored, and chopped
1 large potato, peeled and diced
1 1/2 cups red lentils
8 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate
2 cups coconut milk
2 cups chopped cooked chicken
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves
salt and pepper to taste
Heat ghee or vegetable oil in a large pot (use low heat); cook onion and leeks until softened and translucent. Add garlic, ginger, and spices, stirring, until mixture is browned lightly and fragrant. Add carrot, apple, and potato; saute for a few minutes. Add red lentils and chicken stock to the pot; simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes or until vegetables are just tender. Discard cardamom pods and bay leaves; stir in tomato paste and cook a few minutes longer. Blend or process half of the soup mixture, in batches, until pureed; return to the pot. This gives you a smooth, velvety soup with some vegetable chunks for texture. Add tamarind and coconut milk; heat through and adjust seasoning. Stir in chopped chicken and heat gently; add fresh chopped coriander leaves just before serving. Garnish with more coriander -- chopped or in sprigs, as you like.