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Mulligatawny Soup

December 21, 2009

“Mulliga-what?” That’s the reaction that SoupAddict usually receives when people ask the name of the delicious concoction she’s placed before them. This is asked with an accompanying cringe, as though such a name could only mean roasted grubs or fried ants or poached squid. SoupAddict smiles brightly and answers, “It’s the Kramer Soup,” and more often than not, they nod, relieved, remembering the “Soup Nazi” episode of Seinfeld.

It’s pronounced mull-eh-gah-TAH-nee, by the way, and be prepared to have your chicken soup world rocked.

Mulligatawny’s history is sketchy and ethereal. Literally “pepper water,” mulligatawny is sometimes attributed to Indian cuisine, but more likely comes from the Brits, who love Indian food more than meat pies, bless their little stringy-meat-lovin’ hearts.

Ah, the aromatics. SoupAddict does love her aromatics.
For this soup, SoupAddict recommends shaved carrots. SoupAddict is also fairly lazy, but oddly impatient, so she shaves her carrots the weird way: run a vegetable peeler back and forth in short strokes, rotating the carrot all the while. When down to the core, move to another area of the carrot. Then she runs her chef’s knife through the pile a couple of times to further shorten the shavings.
SoupAddict is always amazed that something so pretty can grow out of a pile of dirt.
SoupAddict grew her own lemongrass this year. Just when she thought she couldn’t love lemongrass anymore than she already does, this comes along, fragrant as all get out. Seriously. She’s thinking about keeping a stalk in her purse and dabbing it on as perfume.
Peel off the dried outer leaves to get to the firm, juicy center.
Lemongrass is not for eating—it’s far too tough—but rather for flavoring. Slice the stalk into matchsticks to expose as much of the interior as possible (don’t chop or dice, as you’ll need to remove all traces of the stalk before serving).
For easy removal, tie the sticks into a bundle, leaving a long trail of string.
A combo of breasts and thighs is absolutely delicious … and economical.
SoupAddict loves to turn up the spices, which is why she browns the chicken coated in flour and her own blend of garam masala. The flour will add a creamy thickness to the soup later (much like flouring the beef does to stew).
Ahhh. Between the scent of the freshly sliced, aromatic veggies and lemongrass, and the spices in this mixture, SoupAddict is in soup prep heaven. She only wishes that smell-o-vision were possible, so that you could share, too.
The chicken is browned; set it aside.
Courteously, the browned chicken left behind fond, which are the ultra-flavorful bits left stuck to the pan. Deglaze the pan with just a splash of white wine—the purpose is to free the bits so they don’t burn to black when the veggies are added, not to add wine flavor. Then add the fat for the veggies. Sauteed veggies taste best when they are cooked in butter. That’s SoupAddict’s philosophy.
Mmmmmmmm. More Indian spices, this time for the soup.
Scootch the veggies aside in the pan, and dump the spice/flour mixture into the cleared area. Add a splash of chicken broth and stir the spices until they form a tender paste. Then mix in with the rest of the veggies, and add the rest of the broth to the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, add the browned chicken, put your left foot in, put your left out, put your left in, and shake it all about.
Tie the string of the lemongrass bundle to the pot handle or to a long spoon that won’t fall into the pot.
While the soup simmers, prep the apple. Pretty, pretty Honey Crisp apple. A more delicious apple was never invented, SoupAddict believes.
SoupAddict is a veteran of many apple pies, young(ish) whipper-snapper though she is (well, young compared to some apple pie veterans), and can peel an apple in one long, curly strip, a la “Sleepless in Seattle.”
Grate the apple right into the soup, so that all of the juicy drippings will land in the pot.
Math alert! Look at the instructions on your rice package to see how long it will take to cook, and calculate backwards from serving time to determine when to add the uncooked rice to the soup. You really can’t add it too soon (as long as the soup is at a good simmer), but you want to make sure there’s enough time for the rice to fully cook. Just before serving, stir in the coconut milk. Shake the can really, really well to ensure the thick coconutty goodness is loosened from the can and mixed into the liquid. SoupAddict loves this brand, and bought the very last two cans on the shelf, even though they were both dented.

(SoupAddict would like you to think that she artfully composed this picture with random grains of rice scattered throughout as a prop, but the truth is that the bag got away from her and dumped rice all over everything, including the floor.)

This soup has forever replaced chicken noodle soup as SoupAddict’s go-to chicken soup, even when SoupAddict is feeling under the weather. (Coconut milk is not dairy, so, no tummy upset.)

SoupAddict loves Indian spices with her whole heart, and does what it takes to stuff as much flavor into this soup as possible, hence the hokey-pokey with the chicken. That being said, this soup can be as easy or as complicated as you want. Slow-roasted rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, pulled into strips, is a fine substitute when time is short. (SoupAddict adores those bags of rotisserie chicken, as they have saved her keister more than once, and she hopes that you, too, have a grocery store that roasts its own chicken.) If you can’t find fresh lemongrass, just skip it. The dried stuff you find in jars is way-ey-ay past its prime—don’t waste your money. If you forget to add the rice early enough, and don’t have 20 minutes to stand around toe-tapping and sighing heavily, just use instant rice, white or brown. It’s all good.

This soup is even better after an overnight stay in the fridge, and freezes well. So, there’s no excuse not to make it.

Mulligatawny Soup, a.k.a The Kramer Soup
The Chicken
  1 tablespoon flour
  2 teaspoons garam masala
  1 teaspoon curry powder (your choice of hot or mild)
  1 teaspoon salt
  1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
  1 tablespoon canola oil
  1 1/2 lbs chicken, cut into small, thin pieces (a mix of breasts and thighs works well)
The Soup
  2 tablespoons butter
  1 medium onion, diced
  2 ribs celery, diced
  2 medium carrots, shaved (or very thinly sliced and chopped)
  3 cloves garlic, minced
  1 tablespoon flour
  1 tablespoon garam masala
  2 teaspoons curry powder (your choice of hot or mild)
  1 quart chicken broth or stock
  1 stalk lemongrass, leaves removed, cut into matchsticks and tied into a bundle with kitchen string
  1 medium apple, peeled and grated (tart works best, like Granny Smith, but a Honey Crisp is also delicious)
  1/2 cup uncooked rice (Jasmine and basmati are favorites, but even instant brown rice will do)
  1 cup coconut milk
      salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the canola oil in a large stock pot over medium heat, until shimmering. Meanwhile, combine the flour, garam masala, curry powder, salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the chicken pieces, turning to coat well.

Add the chicken to the pot, and cook until lightly browned, about 10-15 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate and set aside.

Deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine, scraping up the browned bits. Add the butter.

When the butter is mostly melted, add the onions, celery, carrots and garlic, stirring in the browned bits. Saute until soft, about 8 minutes.

Push the vegetables to one side of the pan. Add the flour, garam masala and curry powder to the cleared area. Stir briefly to cook the flour. Add a splash of chicken broth and stir until a paste forms, then mix in with the vegetables. Add the remaining chicken broth. Bring soup to a boil, and then reduce heat to maintain a good simmer. Add the chicken.

Tie the lemongrass bundle to the handle of the pot, or to a long spoon laid across the top of the pot. Make sure the bundle is completely submerged in the soup. Continue simmering for 15 minutes.

Add the apple and rice, stir, and continue simmering for at least as long as the rice requires to fully cook.

Just before serving, remove the lemongrass bundle and discard. Stir in the coconut milk. Taste, and adjust salt and pepper, as necessary.

  1. January 1, 2010 9:16 am

    Mulligatawny is one of our favourite family soups – when my children were growing up Saturday was Soupday, and it was in our grand Top 4. The recipe I use is very similar, except I start with floured chicken breasts made golden in the oil and then set aside while all the veg and apple soften with the spices. The chicken goes back in with the broth, and I tear it into bite-sized chunks when everything is almost ready for the coconut milk and serving. The lemongrass is new to me, and I’ll bet it’s delicious!
    I don’t add rice – the soup goes on the table with a pot of steamed rice, and a bowl of chopped coriander, and everyone serves their own combination….

    • SoupAddict permalink
      January 1, 2010 11:13 am

      Mmmm, I’m getting hungry just reading this. I love that idea of serving rice and chopped coriander/cilantro separately – I may have to steal that!

  2. Noelle permalink
    January 23, 2010 12:37 am

    I just found your blog from a comment you left on Smitten Kitchen. This soup sounds so good, I can’t wait to try it. I have never cooked with any indian flavors but am excited to add something new to my repetoire. You mentioned you make your own garam masala, would you mind sharing your recipe for that?

  3. SoupAddict permalink
    January 24, 2010 10:28 pm

    Hi Noelle,

    Sure – I posted it sometime back, right here. I’m about to make another batch myself. This time, I think I’ll also add 1/2 teaspoon or so of fennel seeds. Hope you enjoy the spices and soup!

  4. June 17, 2010 3:02 pm

    I stumbled upon your recipe while searching for something…can’t remember what now. Anyway, it intrigued me so I tried it. I live in northern Canada so I had to adapt a few things including using pike fillets instead of chicken and getting by with wilting lemongrass. I was darn impressed the grocery store had any at all. I also used fish stock from a friend who had recently poached a trout so I think that worked wonders.

    This turned out pretty good although I probably won’t fry the fish first next time. It didn’t seem necessary and added more unhealthiness. Thanks for the great recipe and inspriation. (I like the carrot shaving tip – how fun!)

  5. sherry permalink
    October 19, 2010 6:40 pm

    You have the best recipe for Mulligatawny soup; My husband had 2nds. I added cooked cauliflower, it gives you more to bite into without changing the taste. Can’t wait to try your other recipes. Thanks

  6. November 7, 2010 5:39 pm

    I’m looking forward to making this soup. I love all things coconut milk and hot curry. Thanks,


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