Mulligatawny Soup

Local friends: I’ll be having a talk, cooking demo, and book signing in a couple weeks – for more info, see the bottom of this post.

This little soup has made quite a journey over its lifetime. It was traditionally a sauce served over rice in its native India, but British colonials returning to England from travels abroad in the 19th century sought to recreate the dish at home. It eventually evolved into a mildly-flavored soup and spread as far as Australia, and there are now hundreds of variations of the dish.

While coconut milk was likely the original ingredient used to add richness to the soup, cream eventually took over in the UK. Personally, I like the exotic notes that coconut milk provides, so I reverted this dish back to its roots. This soup is typically thickened by adding rice and blending it with the other ingredients, but if you’re rice-free, don’t worry about it, the soup will still have a fairly hearty thickness to it thanks to the soup’s blended sweet potato.

One of my favorite aspects of this dish is that it imparts a slightly exotic flavor while using common ingredients (much like another favorite, Sukuma Wiki). Lastly, one fun fact: the name mulligatawny is derived from the Tamil (Southern Indian) words மிளகு தண்ணீர் (mullaga and thanni), which translate to “pepper water”.

Mulligatawny Soup (Gluten-free, Paleo, Primal, Perfect Health Diet)

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy

2 cup cooked white basmati rice (optional, see #1 below)
2 tbsp ghee
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 apple, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp mild curry powder
1 tbsp garam masala
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
4 cups chicken broth
4 cups water
1 can (15 oz) coconut milk
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized chunks
2 tbsp lemon juice (juice of 1/2 lemon)
salt and pepper to taste (about 1 tsp each)
cilantro to garnish

1. First things first – you’ll need 2 cups of cooked white basmati rice if you’re going to use it, so get that started if you haven’t already. Note that “2 cups cooked white basmati rice” is the finished product – since rice basically doubles in volume when cooked, you only want to cook up 1 cup of dry rice. To do so, the easiest way could be to throw it in a rice cooker or an Instant Pot and follow the instructions as indicated by the manufacturer. To do it the old fashioned way, rinse the rice and put it in a pot with 1.75 cups of water. Cover and bring it to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the water evaporates (you’ll hear a hissing sound from the pot, don’t open the cover!), about 20 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave it covered for 20 minutes before uncovering and fluffing with a fork. It’s okay if the rice is a bit mushy or not perfectly cooked – it’s going to be blended into the soup anyway.

2. In a large stockpot, warm the ghee over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and saute until softened, about 6 minutes. Add the carrots and celery, and saute until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the sweet potato, apple, garlic, bay leaves, curry powder, garam masala, turmeric, ginger, and nutmeg; saute until aromatic, about 1 minute, then add the chicken broth and water.

3. Bring everything to a boil over high heat, then reduce to med/low and simmer until the sweet potatoes are easily pierced with a fork, about 15 minutes. Add the coconut milk and half of the cooked rice then transfer the soup to a blender and blend (in batches if needed) until smooth. Check for thickness; if you’d like it thicker, add more of the rice and re-blend. Pour the soup back into the stockpot, pouring it through a strainer to catch any chunks (like apple skins).

4. Add the chicken thighs to the pot; return to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce heat to med/low and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Add the lemon juice then add salt and pepper to taste; serve garnished with cilantro.

** If you want to be fancy like me, reserve a bit of the coconut milk to drizzle into the soup when serving.

** You can freeze the heck out of this soup for future meals, go for it.

** To make your own garam masala, combine 1 tsp ground cumin, 1/2 tsp ground coriander, 1/2 tsp ground cardamom, 1/2 tsp black pepper, 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground cloves, 1/4 ground nutmeg, and a pinch of allspice (yields a little more than 1 tbsp garam masala).

If you live on Florida’s Emerald Coast, come see me at the event above! It should be a great time.

30 thoughts on “Mulligatawny Soup

  1. Perfect – I just made Roasted Chicken(from The Ancestral Table!) the other night and I can use the leftover chicken from that in this. I was going to ask if you used Granny Smith apples but I see from the picture that you use some kind of red apple so I’ll go with that. I may even break down and mix up my own garam masal instead of the stuff from the jar that I’ve been using. Thank for another fabulous – I’m sure – recipe.


  2. Russ, a happy night with friends enjoying this soup. You totally nailed the spices, very balanced!! Great recipe!! Easy to follow. I first had Mulligatawny in a restaurant, wanted to make it at home, but could not find a recipe that we liked. My search has ended :-). THANK YOU. It was a hit with everyone and I will make again and again.


  3. I’ve made this three times and I love it. Once I forgot the coconut milk and it was still yummy. Once I threw in chunks of fish and that was good too. Very versatile recipe.


  4. It’s pronounced “Mullagu Thanni” meaning Pepper Water in Tamil. The origination of the soup was from Madras South Indian (Modern day Chennai India) which was picked up by the British Raj members at the Madras Club in the late 1800’s.


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