Literally meaning ‘pepper water’ (molaga tanni), mulligatawny was made by patient Indian cooks for British colonials who craved the familiarity of soup, even though it was not part of Indian cuisine. The British brought the recipe back to England and proceeded to wreak havoc with what was a judiciously spiced broth. It developed a dreary reputation – pieces of apple and inappropriate British vegetables floating in a flour-thickened liquid flavoured with curry powder.
This version made with pink rhubarb, good broth and coconut milk should put mulligatawny back on the culinary map. Simultaneously tart and spicy, it has a touch of sweetness from the coconut, the fresh green astringency of coriander leaves and a lovely warming after-glow from the black pepper and chilli. Almost a meal in itself, this is a great soup for feeding a crowd.
Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and celery, and cook, covered, for about 5 minutes or until the onion is translucent.
Add the lentils, stirring until well coated with the oil. Stir in the chilli, garlic, ginger, peppercorns, curry powder, cumin and salt. Mix well, then cover and cook for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables are soft. Stir every now and again to stop the lentils from sticking.
Pour in the stock and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, partly covered.
Meanwhile, chop the chicken into 1cm/½in cubes.
Tip about half the soup mixture into a blender and whizz to a purée. Pour the purée back into the pan. Add the chicken and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for another 15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
While the chicken is simmering, prepare the rhubarb. Slice the stalks lengthways, then crossways to make 2cm/¾in cubes. Heat the butter in a medium-sized, heavy-based pan until foaming. Add the rhubarb and toss gently for 3–4 minutes over medium heat until it just starts to soften.
Tip the rhubarb into the soup. Add the lime juice, then simmer gently for about 10 minutes or until the rhubarb is soft. Stir in the coconut milk and simmer gently to heat through – take care not to let it boil.
To serve, divide the rice between shallow soup plates. Ladle the soup over the rice and sprinkle generously with shredded coriander leaves. For the finishing touch, add a few toasted coconut flakes and a sliver or two of red chilli.
© 2008 Christine McFadden. All rights reserved.