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Monday, December 13, 2010

Mulligatawny Makes You Feel Better

There are many upsides to being a vegetarian, but one undeniable downside: it's tough to find comforting soup when you're getting sick. There's simply nothing that can compare in restorative properties to chicken soup. At least, that's what Ruth always thought, until weekend before last, when she started feeling bad.

She wasn't sick exactly, just achy and sniffly, with all the warning signs of an impending head cold. As it happened, Tim was craving Indian food—not just any Indian food, but the food served by one of our favorite local restaurants. The wind was cold and blowing in circles, so we bundled up and trundled off.

Chilled and cranky, Ruth only wanted soup, so she decided to try mulligatawny for the first time. Why had she never tried it before? Maybe there was always something more enticing on the menu, but that night, after the waiter assured her it was vegetarian, she hopefully ordered a big bowl.

She was glad she did.

Hot, lemony, subtly spicy from cayenne and subtly sweet from coconut, the soup made her feel better instantly. The next night she made a big pot at home, working off several Internet recipes. She intended to freeze half of it, but there wouldn't be enough left to freeze: in a cold, achy week, mulligatawny was the only thing either of us wanted.

But that head cold? It never happened (note: sadly, it did happen, not long afterward—R&T). Mulligatawny might work even better than chicken soup.

This recipe seems infinitely adaptable—some versions call for apples, some for green peppers and cabbage—so feel free to experiment. Just aim for a balance of spice, sour, and sweet.


1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 cups chopped onion
5 chopped garlic cloves
1 1/2 T. garam masala
1 1/2 t. ground coriander
1 t. turmeric
3/4 t. cayenne pepper
a couple of whole dried red peppers (optional, depending on how much heat you like)
2 bay leaves
2 cups dried red lentils
8 cups vegetable broth
1 medium-size potato, peeled and chopped
1 big carrot, peeled and chopped
1 1/2 cans coconut milk
4 T. lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
lemon wedges

1. Heat the oil in a big pot over medium-high heat.

2. Add the onions and cook until starting to brown, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes

3. Add garam masala, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, dried peppers, and bay leaves. Stir for a minute. Add the lentils and stir until they are coated in spices.

4. Add broth, potato, and carrot and bring to a boil, then simmer until the vegetables and lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Discard the bay leaves.

5. Using either a hand blender or a regular blender, purée the soup until smooth. (If using a regular blender, do it in small batches to avoid burning yourself.)

6. Add the coconut milk and lemon juice, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve with lemon wedges.

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