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Sultry Mulligatawny Recipe: Spicy Lentil Soup


A Quick & Easy Soup

When temperatures plunge so low the thermometer bursts and the air becomes so frigid it cuts me to the bone--I crave soup. And not just any soup. I crave soup that's warm and soothing, soup that transports me to an exotic destination where an endless, balmy day fades into a sunset that lights my soul ablaze.

A meal in itself, this hearty soup packs a bouquet of spices that renews the senses, making my chapped hide feel like it's snuggled into a cashmere blanket. Straightforward, simple to assembly and even easier to eat, it will scent your home with cumin, cardamom and coriander, the fragrance of the East.

Mulligatawny, which literally means "pepper water", is an example of Anglo-Indian fusion cooking. It was probably created by Tamil servants during the British Raj period to suit the tastes of picky British soldiers. Versatile, it can also be prepared with vegetable broth to satisfy vegetarians.

Let this recipe be your guide. Put on some tunes by Sukhwinder Singh and get ready to be transported.

green cardamom pods

green cardamom pods

How to make Garam Masala

Onion, garlic and ginger, the "holy trinity" of Indian cuisine, are the foundation of this soup. But spices create the flavors and fragrances unique to Indian cooking. Garam masala literally means mixture of hot spices and, although pungent, is not spicy in the same way as a chile peppers. There are as many recipes for garam masala as there are for chili powder, and they vary according to region. Cardamom, like perfume to the tongue, is one of the world's most expensive spices and figures prominently in garam masala.

An easy option is to buy a commercial powder. Be sure to choose a high quality blend, which I recommend in the Amazon links. I prefer Shan, whose spices are sealed in foil packets to retain freshness. But since spices quickly lose flavor after being ground, whole spices are the best choice. Toast them gently before grinding. I keep a dedicated coffee grinder for that purpose. You can also opt to make your own garam masala, which will keep several months if stored in an airtight container in a dark, dry place.

Garam Masala Powder

  • 4 Tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 1 Tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 Tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 ½ teaspoons black cumin seeds
  • 1 ½ teaspoons dry ginger
  • 1 ½ teaspoons black cardamom (4 large pods)
  • ¾ teaspoon cloves
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¾ teaspoon crumbled bay leaves

Toast spices in a heavy skillet on low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently and being careful not to burn them. Allow to cool, remove cardamom from pods and grind with other spices.

Now that you've chosen your spices, you're ready to make the soup!


Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

15 min

30 min

45 min

Serves 6

Sultry Mulligatawny


  • 2 Tablespoons garam masala
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, coarsley chopped
  • 8 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 8-1 inch chunks fresh ginger, peeled
  • 2 medium tomatoes, coarsley chopped
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup dried, unsweetened coconut
  • 14 cups chicken broth, divided
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1 cup brown lentils, rinsed
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • cilantro leaves, chopped
  • plain yogurt, for garnish
Saute spices, onion and garlic

Saute spices, onion and garlic



  1. Simmer lentils in 4 cups of chicken broth for about 30 minutes, until soft.
  2. Pour 6 cups of broth into a blender container. Add carrots, celery, tomatoes and ginger. Blend and set aside.
  3. Melt butter over medium heat, add olive oil. Sauté spices, onion and garlic, stirring frequently so as not to burn, for about 5 minutes. Stir in flour, cook about 1 minute. Add coconut and tomato paste, stir. Add reserved broth/vegetable mixture and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Cover and simmer til tender, about 20 minutes.
  4. Puree soup in a blender or with a stick blender, until smooth. Return to pot along with lentils and broth. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Serve with cilantro and dollops of yogurt. Or, as in photo, thin yogurt with milk until pourable. Drizzle in patterns over individual bowls of soup.

6. Serve with naan bread. Look for it in the frozen section of your grocery store, or use my recipe for easy whole grain naan.

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Click here for Whole Grain Naan Bread recipe

More Tasty Recipes:


Dale Anderson from The High Seas on September 17, 2020:

Came back for another look at this article because I remembered you included a recipe for how to make garam masala. Nice thinking on your part, well done.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on January 30, 2015:

GetitScene, you´ll definitely have to look up Sukhwinder Singh. The background music definitely sets the mood for this exotic soup!

Dale Anderson from The High Seas on January 28, 2015:

Weird! When I was just starting to read this I actually WAS putting on some tunes by Sukhwinder Singh.....OK i have actually never heard of that person but the soup sounds excellent!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on February 21, 2014:

Thanks DDE!

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 21, 2014:

A great idea for a soup and your recipes are delightful.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on January 07, 2013:

RobinGrosswirth, thanks for the kind words. You have an artist's eye for detail! : )

Robin Grosswirth from New York on January 07, 2013:

My favorite cuisine! Awesome recipe, written beautifully, love the chef hat detail.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on July 06, 2012:

sen.sush23, how nice to meet a fellow Mulligatawny lover! Yes, it's a wonderful soup you don't hear about often. Enjoy and thank you for stopping by.

Sushmita from Kolkata, India on July 05, 2012:

A lentil soup is something my family always likes. Mulligatawny was the star of the list of soups in my childhood, but nowadays we rarely hear of it. I never came by a short and easy recipe, but this seems without much hassle. Voted up.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on July 05, 2012:

Great! I'm glad that will make things easier. I'll clarify the instructions in my recipe as well. Thanks so much!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 05, 2012:

Thanks! This will make it much easier to make. I have everything in the house except a few ingredients. Can't wait to make this! We love homemade soups and enjoy them all times of the year. Appreciate your answer.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on July 05, 2012:

Peggy W, mulligatawny is such a warming and satisfying soup. I use dried, unsweetened coconut. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 05, 2012:

I make homemade lentil soup but have never made Mulligatawny soup. It sounds delicious with all of those spices and flavorings. The flaked coconut...I assume you are using fresh coconut? Is that correct? Or do you use dried and flaked? Wish I had one of your bowls of soup right now! Voted up and sharing. Thanks!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on May 12, 2012:

BethDW, enjoy the recipes! Thank you for your feedback. I really appreciate it.

BethDW on May 12, 2012:

Looks delicious! I've been looking for a good soup recipe with lentils...Thanks for sharing!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on February 18, 2012:

Hello ElizaDoole. Thanks for the live updates! How exciting! I'm glad you enjoyed the soup and hope it was a hit at your dinner party. I enjoyed hearing from you. : )

Lisa McKnight from London on February 18, 2012:

Hi from Mulligatawney live! I've got a hot bowl in front of me that looks just like the picture, and it is very delicious. I have enough to feed about 15 I reckon. Great recipe thanks Vespa for sharing this one.

Lisa McKnight from London on February 18, 2012:

Hey Vespa, Mulligatawny update ... it is bubbling on my hob right now. I am just about to mix the soup and lentil bit together and final blend. I should be eating in half an hour! Smells divine!

Lisa McKnight from London on February 17, 2012:

I've printed off the recipe I am ready to cook tomorrow.!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on February 17, 2012:

Thanks for your feedback and please come back and tell me what you think of the mulligatawny!

Lisa McKnight from London on February 17, 2012:

Hi vespa, I am going to make this soup tommorrow I have all the ingredients apart from the yoghurt and fresh cilantro/coriander. We must have been on the same page this week I wrote one on winter curry and chilli soups as well. I swear I had not see this recipe. I'll come back when I've made it. Thanks for the great ideas, voted up and thanks.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on February 05, 2012:

Please let me know what you think of the soup! Using a blender cuts prep time.

Susan Hazelton from Northern New York on February 05, 2012:

I have been looking for a good recipe for this soup for ages. Years ago a chef worked for the same hotel I did and he left before I could get the recipe from him. I am definitely trying it. Bookmarked, up, useful, and awesome.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on January 28, 2012:

It's a funny name for a tasty soup.

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on January 28, 2012:

So that's what mulligatawny soup is. Voting this Up and Interesting.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on January 27, 2012:

Thank you for dropping by!

Audrey Howitt from California on January 27, 2012:

This sounds heavenly!

IzzyM from UK on January 27, 2012:

I love mulligatawny soup, and will definitely try this recipe - it looks delicious, thanks :)

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on January 27, 2012:

Thank you for your nicely worded feedback!

stessily on January 27, 2012:

As a lover of soups, I definitely esteem mulligatawny, which features prominently in my repertoire of treasured soups. What is not to love about it? Its name is magical, exotic, promising. (In childhood I mispronounced it as Mulligawatny.) Each ingredient contributes to the whole while retaining its individuality. I especially love the interaction between the spices, coconut, and lentils. This soup superbly blends flavors.

The brief culinary background which you provide is informative and interesting.

It's so true that recipes for garam masala abound, differ from region to region, and in fact from household to household in India.

Thank you for sharing your recipe with clear instructions and photos.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on January 27, 2012:

As with any dish, mulligatawny is even better when made at home. Enjoy!

Peter Hoggan from Scotland on January 27, 2012:

Sounds brilliant, I have only ever had Mulligatawny soup while eating out, never tried to make it myself. Will definitely be giving this a try very soon.

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