I owe the discovery of my inner Indian to my beautiful, crazy, Brit friend and cooking soul mate Laura S-C. I met Laura when she applied for the inglorious job of right hand woman in my little tiny café I use to own years ago. This place was so small you could barely turn around without hitting yourself on a wall or a counter. We made everything from scratch, serving breakfast and lunch in a medical building. For the most part, it was just the two of us. I never laughed as hard in my life than when I was working with Laura. The customers adored Laura: she became the star of the shop thanks to her extremely addictive laugh and her amazing personality! She was also an unparalleled kitchen aficionado: not only could she cook, but boy oh boy could this chick ever bake! Some of the recipes she graciously let me keep are now family favourites… Beyond turning out amazing scones, Laura brought her passion for many Indian inspired dishes to the café.
One of the café’s claim to fame was a daily offering of “made from scratch” soup. We had a huge repertoire: a soup seldom made it twice on the menu in the same month. Every morning, the soup of the day was posted for everyone to see on a big blackboard just outside our front entrance. Some of our customers would even ask the day before what soup was on the menu for the next day! The café’s ultimate all time favourite was Laura’s very own rendition of Chicken Mulligatawny soup. This soup was to the café what the flute was to the Pied Piper of Hamelin: magical and cast spelling!!! The spices’ pungent fragrances would tantalize everyone that walked in or around the restaurant and by the time is was ready to be served, at 11:30 sharp, a line-up had already formed at the door.
Thanks to this soup, I was introduced to wonderful world of spices: I dig Marco Polo’s travels to the middle and far east!!! Indian cuisine is extremely broad and can be quite intricate, so I will not claim to be a pro nor claim to use the proper techniques: I simply dabble with it… However, I now include in my everyday cuisine many spices that used to be foreign to me and sometimes even a bit intimidating. As much as I enjoyed eating Indian cuisine, it wasn’t until Laura started to marry many of these spices together under my nose that I actually started to use them on a regular basis. This lentil mulligatawny soup is an offspring of Laura’s original chicken mulligatwany: the spice blend is quite similar and the results are equally as good. I am confident that if you were to swap the lentils for chicken and add a little bit of basmati, the results would be pretty close to the one we used to serve at the café.
My lentil mulligatawny includes many different root vegetables but don’t fret over having the exact ones on hand: I simply used the vegetables I had in my fridge. Onions are a must though :). If the ingredient list seems intimidating, keep in mind that the spices account for a good chunk of the list.
- 1 tbps each coriander seeds, cumin seeds and black mustard seeds, coarsely crushed with a mortar and pestle.
- 3 tbsp oil, use your favourite neutral oil
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 3-4 celery branches, chopped
- 2 cups dry brown or green lentil, rinsed and drained
- 2 tsp salt
- 10 cups vegetable broth
- 1 cup tomato sauce or diced stewed tomatoes
- 3 medium carrots, peeled and diced in cubes
- 1 small to medium rutabaga, peeled and diced in cubes
- 1 each parsnip and sweet potato, peeled and diced in cubes
- 2 cups coconut milk
- 2 tbsp tandoori paste
- 1 tbsp curry powder
- 2 tbsp fresh grated ginger
- 1.5 tsp cinnamom
- 8 oz fresh baby spinach
- 1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped
- In a large stock pot, heat oil on med-high heat. Add the coriander, cumin and mustard seeds and toast for about 2 minutes to release the flavours, stirring constantly.
- Add the onion and celery and cook until they start to soften.
- Add the lentils and cook another few minutes.
- Add the broth & tomato sauce and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a gentle boil. Cover and cook for 30 minutes.
- While the lentils are cooking, dice all the remaining root vegetables. After 30 minutes, add to pot, bring back to a gentle boil, cover and cook for another 30 minutes or until the lentils and vegetables are tender.
- Stir in the remaining spices and coconut milk. Cook for a few minutes, taste and adjust seasoning. Add salt if needed.
- Add the cilantro and spinach and cook until just wilted.
This soup keeps well for a few days in the fridge and freezes beautifully.