Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Muligatawny Soup Minus Meat: Hey, it's still Lent for some of us

Muligatawny soup is one of those fusion foods that fused so long ago that it took on its own life. A 19th Century British soup, it is derived from the Indian cuisine that the British enjoyed so much in their favorite colonial territory, the "Indian Raj". Muligatawny was made with lamb or chicken, lentils, and the sorts of spices that cooks in India combined to make some of their curries. And for very British reasons that I can't fathom, the soup contained apples. The origin is the South Indian "muligatuny", or "pepper water" in Tamil (the language that also gave us the word curry), a thin vegetarian lentil broth which is served as an accompaniment and moistener with rice and savory snacks and which can be quite fiery with black and red pepper and strangely fragrant with asafoetda or "hing". The Anglo-Indian muligatawny is fairly distant from this, usually somewhat thick and with meat.

Given how far this fusion wandered from both Indian and English cuisines, I have few qualms about pushing it further. Although I make a chicken or turkey-based muligatawny for our family deli in Athens, Donderos' Kitchen, I also make a purely vegetarian version (in that respect closer to the Indian original) but have worked in one of my favorite vegetables, sweet potato, which is not at all Indian or British. The lentils are there, the little red "Egyptian" lentils, or "masoor dal" in Hindi, giving protein and body to the soup. (These lentils are readily available at health food and at Indian shops.) The spices are the sort used in Tamil cooking (of which I ate a lot during those years in Malaysia) minus the odiferous asafoetida which I like but which is not to everyone's taste.

The occasion recently to make this soup was the challenge to prepare another tasty, nourishing, as well as purely vegetarian (read "vegan") lunch dish in the middle of Lent for my wife Christina's midday staff meeting at St. Bartholemew's Episcopal Church, where she is a Deacon. Here's my recipe.

Sweet Potato Muligatawny Soup Tim

Soak 1-1/2 cups red lentils in boiling water while preparing the next ingredients.

2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1-inch chunks
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
Place sweet potatoes on roasting pan and sprinkle then mix with salt, pepper, and oil. Roast about 12-15 minutes at 375 degrees, or until tender and starting to brown. Break up the chunks with a fork or potato masher.

Chop 1 large onion finely in Cuisinart (do not purée) or by hand. Then in a large soup pot, fry the onion in a little canola oil, stirring frequently.

Meanwhile finely chop:
3 large cloves garlic
1-1/2 inches fresh ginger sliced paper thin before chopping
Add to Cuisinart and chop:
1 carrot (ends off but not peeled)
1 small bell pepper, cored
2 small or 1-1/2 large apples, peeled and cored

Add the chopped ingredients to the onions and fry the mixture, adding just enough canola oil so as not to stick, until translucent and just beginning to brown. Stir in and fry briefly:
2 large bay leaves
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon paprika
3/4 teaspoon ground fennel seed (you may need to get whole fennel seeds and grind or finely chop them)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Add 8 cups water and simmer a few minutes. Add 1/2 (18-ounce) can coconut milk plus the soaked lentils, drained, and simmer until becoming tender and breaking up, adding more water, if needed, to keep from getting too thick. STIR FREQUENTLY SO THE LENTILS DO NOT STICK TO BOTTOM OF POT.

Add 1 cup crushed tomato, the roasted sweet potato and any pan drippings, and 2 teaspoons salt. Simmer 10 minutes. Skim off foam and excess oil. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt as needed.

Stir in 1-1/2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice plus 1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro as soup is transferred to serving bowl.


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