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Mulligatawny soup with chicken

Updated: Jan 15

Mulligatawny soup is a classic soup of the British Raj. However, it is not Indian in origin as commonly thought, but initially from Sri Lanka. Mulligatawny literally means, "pepper water" from the Tamil "mulliga thani". The first known recipe for the soup is in a French cookbook from 1856, with many variations being published after that. The British served this soup, mainly to the soldiers, unlike a traditional "pepper water" or "rasam" as a digestif after dinner, it helped sooth the stomach. However, the soup caught on and became popular both in India and England.

There are as many variations of this soup as can be, with or with lentils, with meat or vegetarian, thick or runny, and with or without rice. However, they all have one thing in common, this is a delicious soup.

Most mulligatawny soups produced in restaurants (or colonial clubs in India) are remembrances of the old British Raj days gone by. However, this is a complex soup to make and getting it right is a challenge. Getting the prefect balance of spices, not too spicy, but a soup with well balanced flavors is a challenge and as you will see a complex and involved task.

This soup is a classic recipe. It is bold and pops with spices, the chicken is also deeply flavored having been cooked with the spices. It is thickened with lentils and topped with a touch of rice and a lime wedge that adds the perfect tart tones to the soup. The soup is complex and has layers of flavors that go from the initial tartness to a smooth a slow burn on the palate.

This will be one of the many variations of this soup that I will be making. The other variations will include a clear brothy version, a meat version, a seafood version, so stay tuned.

This is one of my first cookbooks I purchased, and one that I use quite a bit to make wonderful soups. Every page has been stained and every recipe has been amazing, this book taught me to love soups, not ordinary soups, but soups with flavor. The collection of recipes go beyond the ordinary and the chef opens up a world of amazing soups from around the world in this cookbook. This is an older cookbook, but still a classic and one that I recommend for anyone who wants to make excellent soups.

For more recipes for this amazing cookbook, click here.


1 cup red lentils (masoor dal), soaked overnight in 6 cups water

4 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt

2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 lb chicken, boned or boneless

2 cups water

1 bay leaf

2 carrots, finely diced

3 tablespoons oil

1 large onion, finely diced

2 celery stalks, finely diced

1 Granny Smith or tart apple, finely diced

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 tablespoon ginger paste

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon chili powder, or to taste

1 teaspoon Madras curry powder

2 tablespoon all-purpose flour (maida)

Salt, to taste

1 teaspoon pepper

Cooked long-grain rice, to garnish

Lime wedges, to garnish

Drain the lentils and add to a pot with 4 cups water and salt. Bring to a boll and simmer for 45 minutes. Watch the pot so that it does not dry out and stir occasionally. After 45 minutes, the lentils should be very soft and begin to break down completely. You are looking for a thick stock, not too runny. Turn the heat off when cooked and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large frying pan add the oil and fry the chicken till well browned. Remove and set aside, keeping the pan unwashed for further use.

Add the chicken to a pot with water, bay leaves and carrot and bring to a boil. Simmer gently for 45 minutes.

In the large frying pan, from above, add the oil and sauté the onions till translucent. Do not let brown. Add the celery and apple and cook till they are both cooked through and soft. Add the ginger and cook till the ginger is no longer raw and smells aromatic, about 1 minute. All this while do not let the onions and vegetables get brown, cook on a low flame. Add the dry spices, cumin, coriander, turmeric, chili, and curry powder. Toss well to cook the spices, they burn very quickly, so be careful, and they should coat the vegetables well. Add the flour and pepper and toss well cooking the flour for 1 minute.

Add a ladle of the hot chicken stock to the vegetables, and mix in. Add a couple of more ladles and make the roux into a thick soup. Pour this back into the chicken pot and mix in well not allowing any lumps to form. Add the cooked lentils to the pot too. Taste the soup and adjust salt, spice with chili powder (you want it flavorful and not spicy as hell), and flavor with Madras curry powder. Bring to s a boil and simmer closed for 30 additional minutes.

When the soup is cooked, remove the chicken, cool and shred. Set aside.

I like the soup quite smooth. Remove the bay leaf and discard. Remove 10% of the soup with solids and purée the rest with a hand blender or in a blender till smooth. Add back the removed soup and solids and mix in. Taste again and adjust salt. You may choose to leave the soup chunky or at a consistency you like.

Serve hot in bowl topped with 1 tablespoon cooked rice, some of the shredded chicken, and a wedge of lime as garnish.

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