Classic Mulligatawny Soup

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Mulligatawny Soup

Mulligatawny, meaning literally pepper water, is an English creation and essentially based on South Indian rasam. Rasams are brothy soups that typically feature tamarind and chilies, and though there is not actually a definitive version of Mulligatawny soup, my preference has always been the ones more closely influenced by South Indian cuisine. There are very many different preparations that have evolved over time. Usually quite brothy, there are also creamy versions and ones that are not quite so hot or spicy.

I call this one a classic because it is loosely based on memories of one of the first vegetarian Mulligatawny soups I ever tried, and that was at a local Indian restaurant in the city I reside in. It was free of chicken broth, and thus a viable option for vegetarians. It also most closely resembled a classic rasam. Basically, I wanted to recreate my initial enjoyment of a brothy and chili-infused preparation. I know that when hit with chills or sniffles, this Mulligatawny always seemed like the soup to go to. After many years of making my own Mulligatawny, I hit the jackpot with this one. And my best friend Basil has been waiting for me to create just the soup he so fondly remembers, and with his eager nod and exclamations of approval, I'm quite satisfied that I did indeed finally achieve the result I was looking for.

Vegetarian Mulligatawny Soup

Sweet and sour tamarind melds beautifully with lots of heat from fresh chilies, some tartness from tomato, and some texture with just a hint of creaminess from split urad beans. The brothy element is just want I was looking for, and it's easy to make and well suited to play around with — to make it hotter, add more chilies, or fewer for a mellower experience. It is best if you make the soup the day before serving to allow the flavors a chance to blend together for a harmonious taste experience. May be served as a starter soup or as part of the main meal.

I served this as the first course for my Christmas vegetarian meal, which was followed by a savory samosa potpie and for dessert, a raspberry and blackberry dark chocolate truffle tart with a teff crust.

Classic Mulligatawny SoupClassic Mulligatawny Soup
Recipe by
Cuisine: Anglo-Indian
Published on January 7, 2019

Hot, sweet and sour homemade Mulligatawny soup

Preparation: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes

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  • 1/4 cup seedless tamarind pulp or store-bought tamarind paste
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 4 1/2 cups water, or more as needed
  • 1/3 cup split skinned urad dal, rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 3 to 5 dried whole red chilies, to taste, broken into pieces
  • 1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 large shallot or small onion, minced
  • 1 to 2 fresh red or green chilies, seeded and minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or crushed
  • 1-inch fresh ginger, grated or minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon asafetida
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
  • If using tamarind pulp, soak in 1 cup boiling water for 60 minutes or longer. Using your hands, rub together the tamarind to loosen the tough fibers from the pulp and discard any seeds. Push the tamarind through a strainer, making sure to reserve the soaking liquid and to get out as much pulp as you can. Add another few tablespoons of water to any remaining fibers in the strainer, let sit, and again strain to get more of the pulp.

  • While the tamarind pulp is soaking, toast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns and fenugreek seeds in a small unoiled saucepan over medium heat until the seeds darken a few shades. Remove from the heat and transfer the seeds to a spice grinder. Process into a fine powder. Set aside.

  • In a large saucepan, whisk together the tamarind and the soaking water, the tomato, and 4 1/2 cups of water over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for a few minutes. Whisk in the urad dal and ground toasted spices and simmer for another 15 minutes or longer, until the dal is soft and cooked. Whisk this mixture together until the dal breaks down further.

  • In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the dried chilies, mustard seeds and cumin seeds, and cook until the mustard seeds begin to splutter and pop. This should happen almost immediately. Reduce the heat to medium and add the shallot or onion and sauté for a few minutes until softened and slightly browned on the edges. Stir in the fresh chilies, garlic and ginger, and cook for another few minutes. Stir in the turmeric and asafetida and cook for another minute.

  • Transfer this mixture to the spiced tamarind and tomato base and simmer over low heat for another 10 minutes. Stir in the salt at the end of the cooking time and adjust for seasoning.

  • Note: This soup is best if prepared the day before so that the flavors meld together before serving.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Classic Mulligatawny Soup

Other spicy soups to enjoy from Lisa's Kitchen:
Tomato Tamarind Soup (Rasam)
Spicy Lentil Rasam
Spicy Yellow Lentil Soup
Curried Indian Vegetable Soup

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