At the beginning of Soup Week we asked our readers what soups they would like to learn. One soup that cropped up with surprising frequency was mulligatawny. I decided to tackle it myself, and so I turned to my latest soup handbook: Clifford Wright's The Best Soups in the World. I grabbed his version of mulligatawny and tasted it, tested it, and ultimately tweaked it for a gently spicy, fragrant soup chock-full of turkey, onions, ginger and garlic.
Mulligatawny is an interesting soup with a checkered past. Its origins lie in India and with the British colonial occupation. Apparently the British took the spicy, tangy soups of Southern India and stretched and pulled them into a form acceptable to British palates. Mulligatawny is an omnibus word from the Tamil words mulaga and tanni, meaning pepper water, or pepper broth.
This soup became an Anglo-Indian classic, and it is now well-known throughout the English-speaking world. It has hundreds of variations; sometimes it leans hard on its Indian roots and is very spicy, or includes a dose of pureed lentils. Other versions are indulgent and creamy, with full cream whisked in at the end.
So I was curious to see what I would find in Clifford Wright's version. His book The Best Soups in the World (Wiley) came out last year, and it is basically a compendium of soups from all over the world. It's fabulously researched and written (as are all of his cookbooks!) and as a one-stop-shop for international soup recipes it is well worth picking up.
• Find the book: The Best Soups in the World by Clifford A. Wright (Wiley, 2009). $13.95 at Amazon.
Wright's recipe for mulligatawny goes right back to the beginning, with a version adapted from a recipe published in London in 1818 by one Dr. William Kitchiner.
The recipe is simple: Simmer chicken in water, add onions and a few modest pinches of spices. Shred the chicken, sauté with a little more onion, and add back into the soup. Done! It's an easy recipe, and it turned out a bright golden soup, turmeric-yellow.
The problem? Well, most people agree that the roots of mulligatawny lie in rasam, a peppery tomato and tamarind soup from Southern India. Now, I adore rasam with all my heart. It satisfies me when no other soup will do. And while Wright's soup was excellent and quite authentic, my tastebuds wanted something even more exciting!
So I pulled out a few recipes for rasam, and added a bit of this and a pinch of that to this soup. I added fresh garlic and ginger for a more piquant taste, and I increased the spices slightly. I also used turkey, because that's what I had in the freezer. The taste is so much richer than chicken.
And finally, to give it that last tangy note, the note I love so much in rasam, I added the juice of a whole lemon.
The result is a bright soup in both taste and color — golden yellow in the pot, and bright and happy on the tongue. It's rich from the turkey, and pleasantly warm from the spices. It's not too hot, though; you could feed this to most children with impunity.
So, there you have it. Mulligatawny with more than a hint of rasam added back in — I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I'm off to have a second bowl!
Two large turkey wings, 1 to 1/2 pounds
4 small yellow onions, about 10 ounces
1 inch fresh ginger, about 1 ounce
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 teaspoon powdered turmeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground black mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground chile powder
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lemon, juiced, about 1/4 cup
2 teaspoons salt, divided
Separate the turkey wings into individual joints, and place in a 4-quart stockpot and cover with cold water. Peel and finely dice two of the four onions. Stir into the turkey broth. Cut the unpeeled fresh ginger into slices and peel and smash the garlic cloves. Add to the broth. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cook at an extremely gentle simmer for 1 to 2 hours.
After at least 1 1/2 hours of cooking at a gentle simmer, stir in the spices. Simmer for 30 minutes, or until the turkey is nearly falling off the bone.
Turn off the heat and remove the turkey wings from the broth. Let cool for 15 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Strip off the skin and discard. Shred the meat from the bones and cut into small pieces. Discard the bones.
Peel and finely dice the remaining two onions. In a 10-inch sauté pan heat the olive oil. When hot, add the onion and cook for several minutes, or until translucent. Add the turkey pieces, and 1 teaspoon of salt, and cook until heated through. Add the onion and turkey back into the broth, along with the remaining salt (or salt to taste), and the juice of the lemon. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes, until hot.
Serve with a garnish of fresh cilantro or a dusting of paprika, and a bowl of basmati rice. If you want a little creaminess, serve with a dollop of yogurt in the bowl.
Related: Recipe: Lemon Rasam
(Images: Faith Durand)