Mulligatawny Soup and the Bodhrán Teacher
I couldn't bring myself to eat mulligatawny for a long time. In the distant past, long before I became a happily married man, I was eating a bowl of mulligatawny in a London pub garden with my then girlfriend. Suddenly she jumped up, shouted “I've got to see my bodhrán teacher while I've still got the chance” and, without finishing her drink, ran off – very fast.
I've never felt quite the same about mulligatawny since.
No two people seem to agree what should be in this soup. This recipe makes a mild soup of contrasting textures which is how I like to think that mulligatawny tasted all those years ago, although, to be honest, it probably didn't.
The easiest way to make this soup, I think, is by pre-cooking the lamb in a slow cooker, but you can cook it in a more conventional way if you prefer. This recipe should make 8 portions.
For reasons I've already discussed, I wouldn't personally recommend listening to traditional Irish music while eating mulligatawny soup.
1 – 2 cm fresh ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp chilli powder – add more if you like, but mulligatawny is usually very mild
400 g red lentils
3 tbsp mild mango chutney
a dash or two of Worcestershire sauce
a squeeze or three of lemon juice
Preheat the slow cooker. Roughly chop one of the onions and one of the carrots and fry them briefly in a little oil. Add the lamb pieces and lightly brown them all over. Add 2 litres of water to the pan and bring it up to simmering point. Transfer to the slow cooker and leave it for as long as it takes for the lamb to become so tender that it's falling off the bone – overnight is ideal.
Fish out the lamb and shred the meat into small pieces. Put the meat in the fridge and discard the bones. Now pour the liquid through a sieve and set it aside somewhere cool. Discard the onion and carrot – they won't have a lot of flavour left.
Once the cooking liquid has cooled, skim the fat off the top and make it up to 2 litres again by adding stock or water. (A big advantage of the slow cooker is that very little liquid should have been lost.)
Finely chop the remaining onion and carrot, put them in a large pan and fry them gently in a little oil until softened – about 10 minutes or so. In the meantime, add the cumin, coriander and fennel seeds to a dry frying pan and lightly toast them over a low heat for a minute or so. Grind the seeds in a pestle and mortar together with the garlic. Add this mixture, together with the ginger, turmeric and chilli powder to the pan containing the onion and carrot . Now add the lentils and the reserved cooking liquid from the lamb. Cover the pan, bring to the boil and simmer gently until the lentils are thoroughly tender – lentils can vary, but this will normally take around 15 minutes. Stir in the mango chutney and Worcestershire sauce and set aside to cool a little.
Liquidise all the contents of the lentil pan until fairly smooth – a bit of texture is no bad thing – adding salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste. Add the shredded lamb and reheat before serving with a little blob of yoghurt in every dish.