“It started with the Tamils in the south of India. The name proclaims it — molagu, meaning pepper in Tamil, and tunni, meaning water. The Brahmin yogis of the south, who were strict vegetarians, drank this pepper water….. Somewhere along the line, the Anglo-Indians (in this case, those with one British and one Indian parent) adopted the soup and even added a little chicken — which would have horrified the Brahmins….. The British Raj appropriated it, or rather their cooks did, and it began to show up on lunch tables throughout the British areas of the subcontinent, particularly in Madras.” Jennifer Brennan, Curries and Bugles: a Memoir and Cookbook of the British Raj

2 cloves of garlic, smashed, peeled and finely chopped

a 1 inch piece of fresh gingerroot, peeled and finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 bay leaf, broken into fragments

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter)

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped

the meat from 4 boned and skinned chicken thighs, with the bones reserved

6 fluid ounces coconut milk

1 quart chicken stock

6 tablespoons lentils (toor, arhad, or masoor dhal)

1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate or 2 tablespoons tamarind pulp, dissolved in 4 tablespoons boiling water and strained

3 tablespoons rice

½ teaspoon garam masala

coriander leaves for garnish

salt and pepper to taste

Serve with: Pappadams

1. Place the first 8 ingredients, including the vegetable oil, in a food processor or grinder and process or grind into a paste.

2. Place the ghee in a large saucepan and fry the onion, stirring, over moderate heat until it is golden, about 7 minutes, then add the spice puree from the processor and continue to stir and fry for 3 minutes, until the spices are well cooked and mellowed.

3. Add the chicken meat and bones and stir fry for 1 minute more. Then pour in the coconut milk and let the mixture simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

4. Pour in the chicken stock and add the dhal; stir and cover the pan. Bring barely to a boil, reduce the heat and let soup simmer for 15 minutes, add rice and continue cooking 15 minutes more, or until the dahl has totally disintegrated and the onion is soft enough to squash against the side of the pan.

5. Strain out the meat and bones. Discard the bones and chop the meat. Return meat to pot and puree the soup with a stick blender, or puree in batches in a stand blender and then return it to the pan over heat. Stir in the tamarind until it has dissolved, bring the soup just to the point of boiling again. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

6. Turn off the heat and pour the soup into a tureen or into individual soup bowls. Sprinkle with garam masala and garnish with coriander leaves.

adapted from Jennifer Brennan, Curries and Bugles, a Memoir and Cookbook of the British Raj


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