It’s a bit of a tongue twister and a bit of a twisted story. Mulligatawny is actually a traditional Indian pea and lentil dish, really more of a puree with a consistency more hummus like. It was the Brits, during their early colonial years in India, who had their Tamil servants turn this into a soup. The name is derived from the Tamil “molegoo” (pepper) and “tune” (water) … ‘molegootune’ … Mulligatawny.
When the British returned home, this favorite recipe came along for the ride and the home crowd made it their own, turning it into a more stew-like soup. From there, it took another oceanic voyage, making it here where it has now become a favorite of the more adventurous, food forward restaurants and a staple in Indian restaurants. Ironically, it is curry-like in that, as with curry, no two Mulligatawny soups are exactly the same; the consistency is in its inconsistency … or its appeal is in its unpredictable variety.
These days, most start with a chicken broth base then add onions, celery, apples, almonds, rice, cream and curry. Vegetarian versions may contain lentils, tomatoes, cucumbers, cream and fresh coconut. Yogurt or coconut milk can be substituted for cream. Spice levels range from mild to that of the original Tamil “pepper water”.
We thought long and hard about calling ours what it is but chickened (sorry bad pun!) out. Sweet Chicken Curry seems so much more accessible than Mulligatawny. We start with the core British ingredients – chicken stock base, chunks of chicken, onions, celery, apples, rice, black pepper and curry … and then build layers of flavors by adding raisins, lemon juice, turmeric, cumin and nutmeg … continuing the delightful American ‘tradition’ of altering and adjusting that which was once British to our “New World” tastes.