Thursday, October 29, 2009

Garam Masala Mulligatawny

In my last post I talked about where I'd found inspiration for the soups I'm writing about this week.

I mentioned my favorite Thai dish, the French classic, Vichyssoise, and Russian Borscht as influential.

Today's soup was inspired by a fun little indie movie, a romantic comedy starring Jennifer Aniston; I watched Management the other night and was pleasantly surprised. It really is a delightful flick.

There is a hilarious scene wherein Woody Harrelson's character, a former punk rocker turned yogurt guru, has made dinner spiced with garam masala.

Jennifer Anniston, Woody's ex-girlfriend now wife, is eating a plate of Woody's garam masala along with Mike (played by Steve Zahn), Jennifer's forlorn, former one-night stand.

Steve Zahn's character asks Woody if he's eating, since Woody doesn't have a plate in front of him. Woody replies that he's drinking his garam masala and he holds up a long-stemmed glass filled with a yogurt-infused brown liquid.

"Yum" isn't what comes to mind!

But the image of that glass of whirled food reminded me of comments I made on Monday comparing summer smoothies to winter soups -- both are made up of whole nutritive produce, and oftentimes a blender is involved.

Additionally, Woody's garam masala smoothie took me back to the first time I had a really spicy winter soup. I was working in a ski resort in Australia and one of the village's lunchtime spots served a great chicken sandwich and a soup the likes of which I'd never had.

It was a version of Mulligatawny made with stock, pearled barley, vegetables, lamb, and Indian spices. Mulligatawny is Tamil for "pepper water," which alludes to the heat or spiciness of this soup, though pepper is not a primary ingredient, but garam masala is in many variations.

The variation I like to make includes the ingredients in the pic above: brown lentils, brown rice, onion, butternut pumpkin, garlic, fresh ginger and garam masala, raisins, and chicken stock.

Sometimes I'll use barley or no grain or all. Or I might add celery, and acorn squash, and or a can of peeled tomatoes. And sometimes I'll make it with lamb stock or just plain water.

Like Woody, I like the addition of yogurt, though I prefer a big blob on top of my bowl of soup versus blending the lot a la smoothie.

Garam Masala Mulligatawny
1) In a large pot saute 1 chopped onion, 2 cloves of smashed garlic, a heaping tablespoon of garam masala and a tablespoon (or thereabouts) of peeled and grated or chopped fresh ginger.
2) Peel and chop a small butternut pumpkin or a small acorn squash and toss into pan. Continue sauteing gently over low heat.
3) Add a cup of brown lentils and a 3/4 cup of brown rice (optional). Coat grains well with ingredients in the pot.
4) Saute gently on low for another few mins. Add about 6 cups of water or stock and about a 3/4 cup of raisins (optional).
5) Place lid on pot and simmer gently on low for about 45 mins or until rice and lentils are soft. Add more water or stock as needed.
6) Taste-test. Add salt if you wish.

To Serve: Ladle mulligatawny into bowls. Top with a blob of yogurt or a generous swirl of coconut milk. You may also like to serve sides of chopped banana, chopped apple, toasted cashews, and or chopped chicken pieces. Add these sides to your soup just as you'd add toppings to a plate of curry.

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