Who has not heard of mulligatawny, that derivation of a simple South Indian digestive soup that has been adapted to become something far richer and more robust? Mulligatawny, as Europeans know it, is a hybrid dish. It is the Anglo-Indian version of a very simple soup known as “pepper water”.
(In the Tamil language, molagu means pepper and thanni means water.) The colonizing British would not have enjoyed pepper water in its original form. The cooks in their employ (who were brilliant at adapting dishes to suit their masters’s taste buds) added meat or chicken, the richness of coconut milk and onions or shallots fried in ghee as a final finishing touch.
Going one step further, grand hotels in the sub-continent and neighboring lands adopted the “Curry Tiffin”- long and leisurely lunch starting with mulligatawny. The soup can be based on chicken, beef or mutton, variations which would have horrified the vegetarian originators. As served to Europeans, often there was a mound of rice ladled into the middle of the soup plate that held the mulligatawny. Not content with that, some cooks offered side dishes of quartered hard-boiled eggs, fresh grated coconut, lime wedges and crumbled fried bacon. Truly a case of gilding the lily, and a far cry from what “pepper water” started out to be, but there is no denying its popularity.
- 1 kg (2 lb) gravy beef or best end of lamb neck
- 1 kg (2 lb) soup bones
- 1 large onion, stuck with 4 cloves
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
- 4 slices fresh ginger, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
- 6-8 cardamom pods, bruised
- 2 tablespoons coriander seeds or ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds or ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- ½ teaspoon chilli powder (optional)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon dried tamarind pulp
- 1 tablespoon ghee
- 4 shallots or 2 small onions, finely sliced
- ½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
- a sprig of fresh curry leaves (about 12)
- 1 · 400 ml (13 fl oz) can coconut milk
- a squeeze of lime or lemon juice (optional)
Put the beef and soup bones into a large saucepan with sufficient cold water to cover. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, spices, salt and tamarind pulp. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer gently for about 2 hours, skimming from time to time. The meat should be tender and the liquid reduced. Cool slightly, remove the meat from the stock and finely dice. Set aside. Pour the tock through a fine strainer and discard the spices. There should be about 1.5 liters (3 pint/6 cups) stock.
Finishing the mulligatawny is a process known as “tempering”. Heat the ghee and fry the shallots until a dark golden brown. Add the mustard seeds and curry leaves and fry for a minute or two longer. Pour the hot stock into the pan, taking care because it will sputter. Simmer for 5 minutes. Just before serving, stir in the coconut milk. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and, if liked, a good squeeze of lime or lemon juice. Return the diced meat to the pan and heat through without boiling. Serve hot.