Inevitable Mulligatawny Soup (with Homemade Curry Powder)

Lunch plus a quart to freeze.

We had curried chicken on rice and inevitably, mulligatawny soup followed. Well, perhaps not inevitably: had we eaten every morsel of the curried chicken, then there would be no soup, but that was not the case. I had leftovers and extra cooked rice.

“Milagu thanni” is Tamil for “pepper water.” Many Asian Indian recipes migrated into the Anglo diet during the British Empire, their names Anglicized like chutney, ketchup, and kedgeree, and mulligatawny show up in the 1700s and 1800s, mostly based on chicken with curry added to give it a peppery snap.

I made my curry using a whole chicken cut up, which I doused liberally in curry powder and baked in the oven. Then I removed the cooked meat from the bones and made a sauce with the juices in the pan, essentially curried gravy. I made a broth out of the bones and curried chicken skin, degreasing it for the sauce and soup. There was celery, onions, and a cut-up apple involved, and when it was done, I served it over a scoop of rice in the soup bowl. In fact, I made enough soup that I had plenty for supper and lunch and still had a quart more to freeze, ready-made for a future fast meal. I do that a lot, and I’ll bet quite of few of you, do, too, when you are making chili, or spaghetti sauce, or any kind of soup. Make twice as much and give yourself an instant supper later.

There was not a large supply of curry powder in the house, and I used up every bit. Fortunately, curry powder is a mixture of spices that you can make from scratch and tailor to your taste, and I made up a small batch to augment the mix I had on hand. Chances are very good that you already have ground ginger, cumin, black pepper, red pepper flakes or cayenne in your supply. If you make pickles, you probably have whole mustard seed. The other spices you need are ground coriander seed, ground cardamom, turmeric, and, optionally, fennel. I buy my spices and herbs from a bulk supply at the Coop in Belfast, though there are lots of other places where you can do that, too. I acquire only what I need, so my spice supply doesn’t sit around fading like the rose.

I am exceedingly fond of cardamom, cumin, and coriander, so I tend to load up on those in my curries. I go easy on turmeric, which gives curry its distinctive color, and prefer red pepper flakes over cayenne. You can tweak the formula below to suit your taste.

Ideally, any whole seeds ought to be toasted before you grind them. I am a bit lax on that front, though I do toast the mustard seeds, and add them whole.

Making mulligatawny soup is no big deal, and you don’t need a recipe for it. Sauté a couple of ribs of chopped celery and chopped onion in a bit of oil until it is tender, add chicken broth, leftover curried chicken, or cooked chicken and curry powder to taste. Chop up an apple and chuck that in, too. Serve on cooked rice.

Curry Powder Mix

1 tablespoon ground cardamom

2 tablespoons ground cumin

2 tablespoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons turmeric

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes or cayenne to taste

½ teaspoon ground black pepper or to taste

1 teaspoon ground fennel seed, optional

Put in a bowl and mix thoroughly or put into a jar and shake until combined.

Makes about 7 tablespoons of curry powder


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.