A Soup’s Journey

Mulligatawny started its windings in southern India, where it is a refreshing stew of peppers, onions and fruit, seasoned with curry powder and stewed with rice.  When the British were in the subcontinent they became as keen on the soup as were the locals.  Naturally, the Brits brought the recipe home with them and made it a bit heartier by using poultry stock and adding chicken.  In addition, they threw in their own nearby fruit, the apple.   Thus, an Indian soup adorned many a table in the Isles.

From there mulligatawny showed up throughout the English-speaking world, including, eventually, the US.  Though it never gained quite the avid following it enjoyed in the UK, the soup was popular enough for the Atlantic Coast Line railroad to serve aboard its dining cars through the middle of the twentieth century.  The railway’s recipe made it into James Porterfield’s Dining by Rail cookbook and finally, into this journal.

The Tamils invented the soup, yet it picked up ingredients and evolved as it made its way in the world.  Mainly, though, it’s an Indian/English collaboration.  It developed its refreshing profile in India, and the British made it more substantive, perfectly suitable for a meal.  As such, it’s a great preparation for early spring, when the weather fluctuates from warm to cold, and back again.

Served hot, it keeps at bay March winds and April showers and is British comfort food.  When the sun parts the clouds and hints at the approaching swelter, mulligatawny is best served barely warm or even chilled, the apples, rice and curry vibrantly soothing the heat.

So we’ve visited, what, three continents?  It’s quite an expedition, acquiring treasure along the way.  Where’s mulligatawny now?  At last report, it was onboard a dining car in eastern North America, speeding toward immortality.


Chicken Mulligatawny Soup

  •  2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 onions, diced (*1)
  • 1/2 green pepper, diced
  • 1/2 cup uncooked rice (*2)
  • 1/2 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • pinch of cayenne powder
  • salt, to taste
  • 1 cup chicken, cooked and diced (*3)
  • 1 cup tart apple, peeled and diced (*4)
  • juice of a lemon

Place a large saucepan over a medium flame.  Add the butter and, when melted, add the onions, green pepper and rice.  Cook, stirring frequently to avoid coloring, until the onions are tender, about five minutes.

Stir in the curry powder.  Add the flour slowly and stir constantly, to make a roux.  Cook for ten minutes.

Pour the chicken stock into another saucepan and bring it just to a boil.  Add the boiling stock, carefully and slowly, to the vegetables, stirring constantly. (*3)  Keep stirring until the mixture is boiling and smooth.  Add the cayenne pepper, salt and the pre-cooked chicken, if using.  Simmer until the rice is done, about twenty minutes.

Add the apples and lemon juice.  Simmer until the apples are tender, about ten minutes, and serve.


1 – Two large shallots are even better.  Who’s right, me, or three continents?  Yeah, obviously.

2 –  Given the soup’s Indian origins, basmati rice is a great choice.

3 – Cooks aboard trains needed to make full use of every ingredient, thus they specified using pre-cooked chicken, likely harvested from parts of birds used mainly for other meals.  Very efficient, yet substituting boneless, skinless chicken thighs  results in better flavor and moister meat.

Just before serving, use tongs to pull the thighs from the soup.  Transfer them to a cutting board, shred them with forks and return the meat to the pot.  Simmer for thirty more seconds to bring the chicken back to temperature, then serve.

4 – One Granny Smith apple works well for this, and I left the skin intact, as it adds an interesting color, while tenderizing along with the rest of the apple.

Moreover, place the apple in a bowl after you dice it.  Pour the lemon juice over it until you’re ready for it.  The juice will prevent the apple from oxidizing while you prepare the other ingredients.  Dicing the apple ahead of time is a good idea (mise en place) and the lemon juice is an ideal instrument for preserving the color.

27 thoughts on “A Soup’s Journey

  1. ditch the chicken and you’ve got a delicious soup! And totally appreciated the meander around 3 continents, thanks 🙂

    I had a very tasty soup last night thanks to the Kiwis foil packets … had no idea what they where like but threw a veggo collection in with my first stock up. First one was mediocre but this sweet potato, veg and chickpea soup might become a regular 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Kate!

      Well, were I to “ditch the chicken” I only would be getting back to the original recipe chefs on the subcontinent developed millennia ago. Thus, the recipe would have traversed continents and centuries, only to return to where it started!

      Look at you, Chef Kate, trying different combinations, and sharing your conclusions. And you’d have us believe you’re not a foodie!

      There’s something wonderfully satisfying about a stockpot steaming away on the stovetop, wrapping you in a cozy blanket. Granted, cold only goes so far in the subtropics, but you are headed into winter, and the occasional chill will manage to slip past the palms. Such are perfect soup-making moments. While you’re happily experimenting away in your kitchen, I’ll make you an honorary Northerner for the day. ,

      Liked by 1 person

      1. lol hold your horses cowboy, you missed my key point there … in a packet! I merely pushed a microwave button and yum … another handy gadget I don’t have at home 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Still, Kate, you were curious, and you did what was necessary to satisfy it. Not a bad piece of work.

        No matter whether your chosen gadget is the microwave or the cutting board, you took steps to transfer delight from your mind to your stomach. Completing that transportation makes foodies of us all.


    1. It was, Jennifer, thanks! Especially appealing as winter threw its last tantrum this weekend, making a pot bubbling contentedly in the kitchen oh-so-satisfying!

      More Indian mysteries will be revealed in the coming months, so keep that curiosity piqued, Jenn. I’d ask you to stay tuned, but you’ve been a faithful reader since, like, forever. Cool. Forthwith, my thanks for your interest.


  2. Perfection! Coincidentally, I’m planning chicken soup for tomorrow but it won’t have all the elements of this delicious mulligatawny. This makes me want to throw an apple in there for a little extra sweetness.

    The British do seem to have a passion for the cuisine of India! When we were in London we made sure to try the chicken tikka masala (one of their national dishes). I guess a lot of tourists do this, as they seemed to expect this would be our order in the Indian restaurant we visited in the area. haha

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Much obliged, Summer! How’d your soup fare? Or, more in keeping with your track record, how awesome was it?

      In addition to the mulligatawny, I made a big pot of chicken stock last weekend, as reserves were nearly depleted. The market’s one package of chicken thighs went into the Indian soup, and the only option was to use a whole chicken for the stock.

      Out came the big Chinese cleaver. Chop-chop-chop, and guess what? Now there’s a new preferred method for making stock. Even when the stores revive, from now on it’ll be a whole bird, instead of just thighs or drumsticks.

      Interesting relation of what you found in the UK, Summer. It confirms what I’ve seen on TV, read in magazines, and heard from other friends who’ve been there. Go figure. The two countries’ 200-year association bore fruit. Nowadays, when I go down the supermarket’s “international” aisle, in the British section, between the malt vinegar and clotted cream, and just below the scone mix, are three different kinds of chutney.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The soup was great! I used fresh veggies from my produce home delivery box. I think I’ve reached the point where I need to go back to ordering groceries weekly. It appears that this is going to be our normal for a while longer and I need the fresh ingredients. Even when cooked into a soup, there is a large difference between fresh and frozen.

        Using a whole chicken is my preferred way to make stock (including the chicken feet, haha)! Are you using a slow cooker or letting it simmer on the stove all day?

        Your store might be on to something with its arrangement of ingredients. I think a spicy chutney might be a nice accompaniment for a scone.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Good for you, Summer. Your soup success confirms my expectations.

        No question, fresh ingredients are vital to what we do Dry goods are great, but they only sing tenor. We need a full range in this chorus.

        Despite earlier bravado, my grocery pick-up dreams fizzled. It seems people took all the pick-up/delivery spots early, meaning I’ve had to don my Halloween costume and venture forth to Mask Central. The good news is, stock levels are starting to recover, though paper products and non-seafood meats still are scarce.

        Scones and chutney, huh? At first the combination seemed odd, but then, its virtues emerged. In fact, brilliant! In fact, Summer!

        Chutney usually has a fruity profile, which compliments scones perfectly. And the spice? What better way to accent the mild savoriness?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. At least around here, the grocery delivery spots reappear throughout the day. I like what Instacart is doing with flexible delivery (no waiting for spots!) but there has been several errors in my orders.

        I’ve been able to find what I need at different stores. Everything but toilet paper, that is. Someone tipped me off that Costco has plenty of flour and brown rice, something that I was having difficulty getting. If I can continue my system as I currently have it I won’t have to go inside a store until this is over!

        I think we’re required to wear masks in CT now when we can’t keep the distance, so I imagine everyone must be wearing one in the stores. I still see pople walking around outside without them.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Good for you, really maximizing your shopping experience, Summer. Plus, it sounds as though the situation is a little less dire, at least as far as pick-up option go, in exurban areas than it is here, mid-metro.

        Just got done talking with a friend who suggested Super Wal-Mart as an additional resource. I do know SWM carried plantains years before the local grocers (normally produce superstars) did, so maybe there is hope.

        Right now, I’m looking for peanut oil, for a preparation I have planned in a month or so. The grocers have been out-of-stock for a month now, but maybe SWM has supply. Worth a try, at least.

        Oh, masks have been mandatory here in PA for a couple weeks now. So yeah, pretty much Michael Jackson, except without rhinestones on the gloves. At least not yet anyway.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Aw, if you were a neighbor I’d be happy to share some peanut oil with you. I have both cold-pressed and the regular stuff. I have actually been encouraging my family members to use it on popcorn and so on because we are running through bottles of evoo at the speed of light with everyone at home.

        Yes, SWM does pick-up orders, even if you can’t get home delivery! We haven’t used them because they are all 30-45 min away and not on Instacart but I bet they’d be a great option for you.

        Michael Jackson was really ahead of his time with the mask and gloves, eh? lol I’ve seen some of the folks who are into fashion making theirs snazzy with fun patterns and so on.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Much appreciated, Summer! Were I a neighbor, could I land a gig as one of your food tasters?

        Actually, SWM did have peanut oil. The local supermarket’s shelves were cleared, and Target had big ol’ empty space, but SWM came through! Of course, the grocers and Target carry Planters (my preferred brand) whereas SWM had only its house brand, called “Great Value, I think I don’t know about that. Sounds a bit underwhelming, but I’m willing to give it a chance.

        Yes, I too am starting to see all sorts of fashionable masks. Most people, but not all, stick with the medical surplus, A good number of the others tie on a folded bandana, making it look as though they just held up the Cattlemen’s Bank of Topeka, circa 1881.

        An increasing number, though are sporting stylish patters and intricate stitching, proving, perhaps, we needn’t be too grim.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. This would be the perfect meal for me because I love Indian food! Curry makes everything tantalizing, especially chicken, as well as the other ingredients in your recipe. Tandoori Chicken is another favorite. My mouth is watering. 😋

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Much appreciated, Tamara!

      More Indian dishes to come in those days yet to be. In fact, lots of neglected cuisines will get the attention they deserve. Japanese, Lebanese, Colombian, Cuban, US Southern, US New England… The possibilities excite. A thousand thoughts, all at once.

      Focus, TA, focus. Deep, cleansing breaths…

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! “Multicultural” in the best sense of the word. Dreamed up in Asia, refined in Europe, and realized in North America. Throw in a couple hundred years of cross-cultural pollination, and you have the best of three continents.

      Plus, it gives me an excuse to write about train travel, which always has been one of my minor obsessions!

      Liked by 1 person

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