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Mulligatawny Soup

Mulligatawny Soup

Leftovers—who says that they have to be boring? At my house a juicy roasted chicken and rice one night often means a big pot of spicy mulligatawny soup the next. No one is ever disappointed.

If you’ve never heard of this beloved Anglo-Indian soup, you’re in for a treat. Indian cooks all have their favorite versions, but the soup basically combines a fragrant curry broth with cooked chicken pieces and rice, fresh lime juice and cilantro. Rich and deeply flavorful, it at once warms the soul and nourishes the body.

I learned how to make mulligatawny soup from my late friend Leela Manilal during one of our marathon cooking sessions. We were into the third day of recipe development and had lots of leftovers. Always frugal, Leela stressed the importance of never wasting food but re-working dishes into new and exciting meals the second day.

Everyone at our table that day called mulligatawny “the soup with the funny name,” so Leela patiently coached us in its correct pronunciation. She told us that the name comes from the Tamil language and means “pepper water.” I thought that a tad strange, as there is no pepper in the base recipe (though there is a bit of chile).

Fast forward to my kitchen last Saturday as I prepared lunch for some friends. I find picking chickens for this recipe boring, but am driven forward by the promise of a kitchen filled with the scent of sautéing onions, garlic and ginger. As I stirred in the coriander, earthy cumin, golden turmeric, red chili powder and Turkish bay leaves, my tummy growled with anticipation.

With the soup pot simmering, I decided to set the table on the deck and take full advantage of a small window of warm sunshine on an otherwise dreary day. I covered the table with some beautifully gauzy orange Indian fabric and got out my favorite Jaipur Blue pottery—all hand carried from India over the years. Their brilliant colors and patterns are the perfect contrast for this reddish soup. In this pretty setting, my humble but inspired pot of leftovers became the high point of the weekend; good friends, good food and time to catch up on everyone’s life.

Barbara Adams ladeling Mulligatawny soup.

I ladled the piping hot soup into bowls and…

Barbara Adams spooning rice into Mulligatawny soup.

…encouraged my friends to help themselves to rice. None of the guests had ever added rice to soup this way…

Barbara Adams spritzing limes into Mulligatawny soup.

…or spritzed in fresh lime juice. Some commented on the taste and beauty of the contrasting green cilantro leaves as they sprinkled them on top. We all inhaled the divine scent with each bite, and agreed that mulligatawny soup is sensational.

Could things get any better? Well yes, they did. I brought out a large basket of warm naan, the Indian flatbread, as a special treat. Some guests dipped it into their soup while other simply devoured it. I told them that I found it in the artisan bread section of my local market, but they could also find it in Indian markets and restaurants.

The afternoon flew by as we savored every last drop of soup. One guest looked at me and laughed, “I guess there won’t be any leftovers today, so you’ll have to create something new tomorrow. Can I come for dinner?”

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