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Sultry Mulligatawny Recipe: Spicy Lentil Soup
A Quick & Easy Soup
When temperatures plunge so low the thermometer bursts and the air becomes so frigid it cuts me to the bone--I crave soup. And not just any soup. I crave soup that's warm and soothing, soup that transports me to an exotic destination where an endless, balmy day fades into a sunset that lights my soul ablaze.
A meal in itself, this hearty soup packs a bouquet of spices that renews the senses, making my chapped hide feel like it's snuggled into a cashmere blanket. Straightforward, simple to assembly and even easier to eat, it will scent your home with cumin, cardamom and coriander, the fragrance of the East.
Mulligatawny, which literally means "pepper water", is an example of Anglo-Indian fusion cooking. It was probably created by Tamil servants during the British Raj period to suit the tastes of picky British soldiers. Versatile, it can also be prepared with vegetable broth to satisfy vegetarians.
Let this recipe be your guide. Put on some tunes by Sukhwinder Singh and get ready to be transported.
How to make Garam Masala
Onion, garlic and ginger, the "holy trinity" of Indian cuisine, are the foundation of this soup. But spices create the flavors and fragrances unique to Indian cooking. Garam masala literally means mixture of hot spices and, although pungent, is not spicy in the same way as a chile peppers. There are as many recipes for garam masala as there are for chili powder, and they vary according to region. Cardamom, like perfume to the tongue, is one of the world's most expensive spices and figures prominently in garam masala.
An easy option is to buy a commercial powder. Be sure to choose a high quality blend, which I recommend in the Amazon links. I prefer Shan, whose spices are sealed in foil packets to retain freshness. But since spices quickly lose flavor after being ground, whole spices are the best choice. Toast them gently before grinding. I keep a dedicated coffee grinder for that purpose. You can also opt to make your own garam masala, which will keep several months if stored in an airtight container in a dark, dry place.
Garam Masala Powder
- 4 Tablespoons coriander seeds
- 1 Tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1 Tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 ½ teaspoons black cumin seeds
- 1 ½ teaspoons dry ginger
- 1 ½ teaspoons black cardamom (4 large pods)
- ¾ teaspoon cloves
- ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¾ teaspoon crumbled bay leaves
Toast spices in a heavy skillet on low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently and being careful not to burn them. Allow to cool, remove cardamom from pods and grind with other spices.
Now that you've chosen your spices, you're ready to make the soup!
- 2 Tablespoons garam masala
- 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 Tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 3 Tablespoons butter
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, coarsley chopped
- 8 garlic cloves, pressed
- 8-1 inch chunks fresh ginger, peeled
- 2 medium tomatoes, coarsley chopped
- 2 teaspoons tomato paste
- 1/3 cup flour
- 3/4 cup dried, unsweetened coconut
- 14 cups chicken broth, divided
- 3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 celery ribs, chopped
- 1 cup brown lentils, rinsed
- salt and pepper, to taste
- cilantro leaves, chopped
- plain yogurt, for garnish
- Simmer lentils in 4 cups of chicken broth for about 30 minutes, until soft.
- Pour 6 cups of broth into a blender container. Add carrots, celery, tomatoes and ginger. Blend and set aside.
- Melt butter over medium heat, add olive oil. Sauté spices, onion and garlic, stirring frequently so as not to burn, for about 5 minutes. Stir in flour, cook about 1 minute. Add coconut and tomato paste, stir. Add reserved broth/vegetable mixture and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Cover and simmer til tender, about 20 minutes.
- Puree soup in a blender or with a stick blender, until smooth. Return to pot along with lentils and broth. Season with salt and pepper.
- Serve with cilantro and dollops of yogurt. Or, as in photo, thin yogurt with milk until pourable. Drizzle in patterns over individual bowls of soup.
6. Serve with naan bread. Look for it in the frozen section of your grocery store, or use my recipe for easy whole grain naan.