I discovered something late last year: I don’t generally like stews. It just so happens that most things called “stew” are things I don’t like. Not a fan of chili (except Cincinnati Chili, oh mama), try to avoid Brunswick Stew, and really don’t like boiled meat (beef is not meant to be boiled, y’all.)
But I won’t judge you if you do like stew. I just won’t cook it for you and if you have a habit of making it, or of boiling your meat, I will not be coming to your house for dinner (unless you buy wine in bulk, then I’m there.)
Because of this, I would much rather this recipe be called Mulligatawny Soup, but I’m not gonna try and rewrite history to suit my own preferences.
While I’m not a fan of stew, I am a massive fan of anything curry, the saltier and spicier the better. And bonus points out the buttcrack for coconut milk-based curries.
So I think I can overlook the name just this once…maybe.
I first had mulligatawny stew nearly a year ago, when I was still doing the food-writer-ing-editor-ing thing in Japan. One of the recipes submitted for a cold weather-themed spread I came up with was mulligatawny stew. I had never heard of it, but I needed photos for the spread, so I tried my hand at the contributor’s recipe (she is now one half of the food section editorial pair and her culinary endeavors are by far the most inspirational I’ve ever watched.) Needless to say, my attempt was a failure. I’m not a wonderful cook now, but a year ago I was abysmal. Unless I was making pasta or roasted potatoes, I was helpless. More stories about that throughout the year (think failed naan and that time I discovered chicken gizzard.)
My soup was thin, clear, and flavorless, but looked pretty enough in the photos. I’m trying to become more attuned to flavors in cooking and how to manipulate them. I have plenty of experience with pastry and baking that I can handle ingredients deftly, but when it comes to pots and pans, I’m a baby.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t trust this recipe. I put myself down but I have learned at least something since I started cooking. I spent the latter half of 2015 playing with soups (so expect a lot of soup recipes this winter and next), so I’m getting used to how things work together in the soup pot.
Between the first time I ever made mulligatawny stew and the recipe below, I noticed the big factor is the coconut milk. First of all, I’m lactose-intolerant and as I get older, my reactions become more intense/more frequent. Second of all, when there’s curry, there should also be coconut*. I can handle butter, but if you wanted to go full vegan, you could substitute coconut oil easily. If you’re paleo, coconut oil is the way to go, as well.
You may be thinking of green curry, which should actually taste like coconut, but I’m thinking of other curries. If you can’t handle dairy, don’t substitute soy milk. I learned the hard way (creamy vegan tomato soup) that soy milk breaks up. Coconut milk is smoother and holds together. I recently attempted tikka masala for the first time and had to make a non-dairy substitution. I thought coconut milk might be too strong a flavor for the tomato gravy, but you couldn’t even tell, and the texture was amazing.
So, when substituting for cream or milk, use coconut milk, and when substituting for butter, use coconut oil or other vegetable oils (peanut works very well.)
The chicken really adds to the soup but you could substitute it for vegetables of your choice (roasted cauliflower is brilliant, and as always, I love a good potato done any way. If you’re trying to cut back on starches, go with the cauliflower or some chickpeas.)
other important things I’ve learned:
1. Let the flavorings (garlic and onions) cook slowly and for a long time to really develop those particular flavors. In fact, cook everything for a little bit longer than you expect. Second, salt should be the last ingredient.
2. Most recipes say “salt for flavor” because salt determines the intensity of the other flavors. You can keep adding spices and it won’t change a thing if you don’t have any salt. Follow the recipe, and at the end, throw in a generous handful of salt, and then taste and adjust.
3. This one takes a long time to come together, so start preparing ~2 hours before you intend to eat. Fortunately this means you have time to prepare other things while the stew is going.
This is a perfect winter soup: it’s warm, rich and creamy, with enough spice to surprise you, but not so much that it’s hard to handle. The flavor is simultaneously light and strong, the broth is buttery even if you make it without butter, and the vegetables are sweet, savory, hearty, and refreshing. Using roasted cauliflower, or topping with roasted nuts, adds another delicious dimension, as well.
non-dairy mulligatawny soup/stew (with chicken but also with vegan substitutions included)
adapted from Well Fed 2: More Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat, by Melissa Joulwan
makes 9 servings (no really, it lasts a long time unless you eat it for every meal like I do)
2 yellow onions
1 large red apple
3 cloves garlic
1 lb carrots
salt and pepper
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast or thigh
oil (coconut, peanut, canola, etc.)
1 1/2 Tbsp curry powder
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 Tbsp flour or starch
pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp allspice
2 bay leaves
1/2 c unsweetened coconut flakes
4 c chicken stock
Salt, to taste
1-2 c coconut milk
for topping: toasted sliced almonds, toasted cashews, toasted shredded coconut
Dice onions and put in a bowl by themselves.
Chop apples, mince garlic, and slice carrots, and put in a medium bowl together.
In a large, deep stock pot, heat ~1 Tbsp oil.
Lay chicken on a paper towel lined plate and dry off with paper towels.
Sprinkle the chicken liberally with salt and pepper, and brown chicken on both sides. Remove meat and set aside in a bowl.
Add a little bit more oil to the pot and let it heat for a minute.
Sauté the onions, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes until they begin to soften and brown.
Add garlic, carrots, and apple, and continue to cook until everything starts to soften and turn brown.
Mix curry powder, chili powder, flour, cayenne, and allspice together in a small bowl. Add the bay leaves and spice mixture to the vegetables, and sauté for about 10 minutes until the spices become dark and fragrant.
Meanwhile, chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces.
Add the coconut flakes, and chicken stock to the pot, scrape up any brown bits at the bottom, and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat, add chicken pieces, and simmer for about 45 minutes, until thickened, tasting along the way.
When soup is seasoned and thickened, turn off the heat and stir in the coconut milk.
For serving: toast some sliced almonds, cashews, or shredded coconut on the stove in a dry frying pan, until they brown noticeably (don’t worry about burnt nuts, they add flavor), and put on top of the stew. Warm up some naan the same way, in the same frying pan, or roast some seasoned chickpeas in the already-hot oven. Alternatively, put out some yogurt (dairy or non-dairy) to eat on the side or add to the stew for a contrast to the warmth of the soup.
instead of 2 lbs of chicken, use one head of cauliflower or 2 lbs white potatoes
instead of chicken stock, use vegetable stock
If using cauliflower, preheat your oven to 450 – 500 F, or preheat your broiler. Chop the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces, spread out on a baking sheet, coat lightly with oil and season liberally with salt and pepper.
When oven or broiler are ready, roast/broil cauliflower until it starts to blacken on top.
Meanwhile, heat the oil and cook the onions, carrots, apple, and garlic the same way as the non-vegan version above.
Add the spices, flour, and bay leaves as above and cook until darkened.
Add coconut flakes and vegetable stock, and scrape up any brown bits from the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes, until thickened noticeably.
If using potatoes, chop them into bite-sized pieces and add them to the soup.
If using cauliflower, add them to the pot about 20 minutes before the soup is done.
Simmer as above, turn off the heat when the soup is done, and stir in the coconut milk.
Garnish and serve as above.