Mollagoo Tanney, And Not Mulligatawny

For some reason, I have been hankering after some mulligatawny soup. So I decided to make some. But how?  Somewhat pathetically, Heinz was the touchstone.  I often ate their version when I was a kid.  I’ve been to India fair few times but I’ve never had this mighty dish and so I had nothing else to start with.

In less than authentic Hindi style, I wanted to use beef.  I visited the market yesterday morning and saw oxtails.  This was going to be the basis.  All of that bone and marrow would give me the juicy richness that the soup needs.  I didn’t want something consommé like.  I wanted a big soup.

But first the research.  This is one of those great recipes that doesn’t have an official version so there’s plenty of options.


Me, considering recipe options earlier.

This first recipe comes from Daniel Santiagoe, who was Sri Lankan or, more accurately Ceylonese.  It was written in 1887 and comes from an excellent book called The Curry Cook’s Assistant[i]. Daniel is described as the “son of Francis Daniel, butler and fiddler, of Colombo, Ceylon, and the Ceylon Court, Royal Jubilee Exhibition, Liverpool”.

MOLLAGOO TANNEY, AND NOT MULLIGATAWNY [Mulligatawny is the Anglicised version]

2 Good Quarts of Gravy of Mutton Beef or Chicken Soup.

2 Large Spoons of Coriander Powder.

1 Tablespoon of Rice Powder as No. 48, and Pinch of Pepper.

1 Pint of good Milk.

2 Large Onions, sliced.

1 Piece of Ginger.

1 Garlic, small one.

½ Teaspoon of Cumin Powder.

Pinch of Saffron.

1 Dessertspoon Butter.

Mode.—The Curry stuffs you use for mollagoo tanney should be very fine. Take a large stew-pan and mix all the above together, only one onion (sliced), garlic and ginger chopped up fine. Let these simmer for ten minutes, now strain it through a muslin or gravy strainer. Now fry the other onion in the dessertspoon of butter in another stew-pan. When the onions are browned add the mollagoo tanney with a small bay leaf, and skim off the grease, and send to table in a soup tureen as a soup; but this should be used instead of soup, or the first dish for a lunch or breakfast or dinner, but I recommend for dinner in Europe. Cut lemon should be handed round with the above and plain boiled rice. Fried red herring wouldn’t be a bad accompaniment. In India the mullagatawny is used generally once a week—say on a Sunday or Wednesday. The natives usually have this mullagatawny on Fridays after their caste. Some mullagatawny are made of plain Curry stuffs, tamarind, etc., not worth for Europeans. Some parties who visited India like native mullagatawny better than the above, according to taste, but I recommend the above for Europeans. The cayenne pepper should be added if required hot.

Note the lack of anything sweeter than an onion.  I like Daniel Santiagoe a great deal.

In 1918, Mary Kennedy Core, who was an American missionary, wrote and self-published a cookbook called the Khaki Kook Book.  It’s a fascinating insight into the attitudes of the civilising westerner to the “poor, benighted Hindu who has such a low ideal of the meaning of life” as well as being a cookbook which begins to Westernise the recipes of India.  What is interesting here is the association with the British colonial days and also the inclusion of peanut butter.  I can only recommend that you take some time to read the preface, for entertainment value if nothing else.  Her description of an Indian kitchen is something to be marvelled at.  Some of the best meals I’ve had have been cooked in places like that.

This is a very famous soup which has been associated with India since the beginning of the English regime. In India it is usually made with chicken, but beef or mutton do very nicely. Stew a pound of mutton. Scrappy mutton, such as neck or ribs, does very nicely. When meat is tender remove from soup.

Fry an onion with a teaspoonful of curry powder. When nicely browned stir into it a tablespoonful of peanut butter; also about a half cup of fresh cocoanut. Mix these up together to a smooth paste and add to the mutton broth. Also pick the mutton from the bones and add to the soup. If the peanut butter does not thicken it sufficiently, thicken with a little flour. Serve with rice. Sometimes the rice is boiled with the mutton, but usually it is boiled separately.  Lemon juice is usually served with this soup.


A bad scan of the scraggle-footed mulligatawny, from “If I ran the Zoo” by Doctor Zeuss.  No mulligatawny’s were hurt in the making of this soup.

Mrs Wilson, an American author and instructor to the US Navy in all things cookery, gives a very simple recipe.  Too simple perhaps and lacking a real gutsy heart.  How you could even taste the curry in this is beyond me, but perhaps my palate is no longer as sensitive as it once was.  Notice the apples.  This is nigh on against nature.  But there was some point where this was introduced and I can’t think why.

MULLIGATAWNY SOUP [from Mrs. Wilson’s Cook Book: Numerous New Recipes Based on Present Economic Conditions; J.B. Lippincott Co., Philadelphia, 1920]

Place in a saucepan:

Three pints of chicken stock,

One cup diced apples,

Four onions chopped fine,

One carrot cut in dice,

One clove,

One-half teaspoon of thyme.

Simmer slowly for one-half hour.

Now place in frying pan

Four tablespoons bacon fat,

One-half cup of flour,

One-half teaspoon curry powder.

Blend together, and then add one pint of cold water, and as soon as it is thoroughly blended turn into the soup; stir to prevent lumping and bring quickly to a boil; cook ten minutes; strain through cheesecloth; add juice one-half lemon and one-half cup of finely chopped chicken meat. Serve.

The Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences offer this recipe, but with the heretical suggestion that the curry powder [which gives an “unusual flavor”] may be left out.  What else is it after you’ve left out the curry here?  Oh, a chicken and veal broth.  At least rice is offered.

If a highly seasoned soup is desired, mulligatawny, although not a particularly cheap soup, will be found very satisfactory. The curry powder that is used adds an unusual flavor that is pleasing to many people, but if it is not desired, it may be omitted.

MULLIGATAWNY SOUP [from The Woman’s Institute Library of Cookery, Vol. 3, published in 1928]

(Sufficient to Serve Eight)

3 lb. chicken

1 lb. veal

4 qt. cold water

2 onions

1 Tb. butter

4 peppercorns

4 cloves

1 stalk celery

1 Tb. curry powder

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

1 lemon

Cut up the chicken and veal, add the cold water to them, and place over a slow fire. Slice the onions and brown them in the butter. Add them and the peppercorns, cloves, chopped celery, and curry powder stirred to a smooth paste with a little water to the meat. Simmer together slowly until the chicken is tender. Remove the meat from the bones and cut it into small pieces. Put the bones into the kettle and simmer for another hour. Strain the liquid from the veal and bones and remove the fat. Add the salt, pepper, chicken, and the juice of the lemon. Return to the fire and cook for a few minutes. Serve with a tablespoonful or two of cooked rice in each soup dish.

The main thing I learnt was that there is no definitive recipe for this soup.  It is a Tamil or Southern Indian Soup and is perhaps based on Rasam, a vegetarian soup of lentils, tomato, tamarind and paprika and other spices.  From then on, it has been corrupted or developed or evolved by the British and numerous others.  A quick search on Google gives hundreds of recipes, all slightly different.  Madhur Jaffrey is always worth listening too and she uses chicken breast or thighs [thighs surely Madhur] and potatoes, which is interesting and a possibility for next time.  So, I have pretty much a free hand.  Which is dangerous. Anyway, here goes…

I have my ox tail.  Five good sized pieces of it, which was nearly a kilo, if you’re interested in weights and measures [and I’m not].  Using a large, heavy casserole, I sealed the beef in sunflower oil before removing it to a plate and adding chopped onions, some mild chillies and a red pepper.  I softened this before adding a can of plum tomatoes [chopped is fine and even passata would work] and then a couple of handfuls of lentils.  Red or yellow are more traditional in Indian food but I have green so I used them.  I now added a couple of dessert spoons of Patak’s Kashmiri Masala paste which is loaded with chillies, coriander, garlic and mustard.  Their Madras paste would also be a good option.  With hindsight, I would have added some tamarind paste which would give the sour note suggested by the use of lemon in the recipes above.

It’s obviously up to you as to the strength you want but since I was using ox tail, I needed something robust.  If you want to use different meat or no meat then it is easy to use a milder spice base.

I then put my ox tail back in the pan, covered the dish with water, brought it to a boil and then reduced to a simmer for a couple of hours.  I then turned off the heat and left it over night.

The next day I gently reheated the dish for another two or three hours so that the meat was coming off the bones.  I stripped the meat and removed the bones from the dish, returned the meat to the soup and added a couple of handfuls of basmati rice, some coconut milk [according to your preference] and cooked it for another 30 minutes until the rice was cooked.  It is important to keep an eye on the water levels.  Thanks to ox tail I had an excellently unctuous and hearty dish, but if you were serving this is as a starter [you could easily get ten or twelve servings as a starter from this] you might want to have a more diluted soup.

I have seen some recipes use cream or yoghurt to the dish instead of coconut milk.  I prefer the coconut but if you want to use cream, add it to the bowls as you serve.

Serve the soup in bowls and serve topped with some chopped coriander if that’s your wish and offer hot naan breads.  Serve with an excellent IPA or a robust white.  A steely, flinty Greco di Tufo might do it.

[i] The book’s preface was written by John Loudoun Shand, a prominent plantation owner.  His son went on to be a colonel in a volunteer force called the “’The Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps” which was made up of Europeans [you can’t trust Johnny Foreigner with a rifle, good god].  Their badge was the flushes from a tea plant.  I find this very interesting.


8 thoughts on “Mollagoo Tanney, And Not Mulligatawny

  1. Elizabeth says:

    strange to have a soup recipe where the first ingredient is soup!

    • Alistair Leadbetter says:

      Ha ha! I find it makes cooking so much easier. Especially for the really hard dishes.
      Beef Wellington. Take one cooked Beef Wellington. Serve. Voila

  2. Bowie says:

    Jo used to be mad keen on vegetarian mulligatawny soup.

    • Alistair Leadbetter says:

      And the meat version was very well received last night. A success after the nigh on abject failure of my paella on Sunday

  3. Spence says:

    Why are you messing about with this trivia when there is Kedgeree to master…?

    • Alistair Leadbetter says:

      Trivia? It’s mulligatawny man! It’s the soup that keeps giving. Hopefully it’ll get finished today as three days of it starts to get a little tedious

      Kitchree can be the next one. I have a reliable version of that already but another fine colonial creation. Maybe that can be the next topic.

  4. Alison says:

    My father was in the CPRC (Ceylon Planters etc), during WW2. He was a tea planter. It was considered an essential industry, tea for the troops etc. I was at boarding school in Ceylon. We had beef mulligatawny once a week. I usually make it with chicken. But am trying beef now. We cook rice separately and add it at table. One accompaniment is cold, very cold mashed potato full of chopped green chili, bit of salt and oil. Excellent. My uncle was in the Gurkhas. They used to have it for breakfast as a hangover relief !,Sunday

    • Alistair Leadbetter says:

      Hi there, thanks ever so much for your comment – that’s fascinating. I am fascinated by the idea of using cold mashed potato with chilli. That sounds fantastic. I will have to make mulligatawny just to try your addition!

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