Spicy soup that is light on the tummy

You can use coconut milk to thicken the soup or red lentils to add more flavour.
You can use coconut milk to thicken the soup or red lentils to add more flavour.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Mulligatawny soup is like a curry but not as overpowering nor as thick

It's soup season, at least in my home. This is the period between Christmas and Chinese New Year, when we try to eat light to prepare for the feasting that is to come.

I like soups, especially on rainy days, but not just any soup.

I like Asian soups and I like them hearty and full-bodied. Not the blended vegetable soups with cream served in Western meals.

No, I like my soups spicy, such as tom yam; and full-bodied, such as Peranakan soups, replete with meatballs, fishballs or even a whole duck.

Such soups demand a good stock, which I usually make in advance.

I buy chicken carcasses, with the fat and skin removed. I put them in a stockpot together with onions, carrots and celery and, sometimes, dried scallops and red dates, add water and bring it to a boil.



    2 to 3 Tbs meat curry powder

    1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, chopped finely

    1 onion, peeled and chopped

    2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped finely

    1 cup red lentils, rinsed

    6 cups chicken stock

    2 cooked chicken drumstick meat, shredded

    Lemon juice

    1 Tbs salt

    1 Tbs oil

    Fresh Chinese celery and fried shallots for garnish 

    Cooked rice, as needed


    1. Peel and chop onion, ginger and garlic. Leave aside.

    2. Heat 1 Tbs oil in a pot. Saute onion, ginger, garlic and curry powder till the oil rises from the mixture. 3. Add lentils, then the chicken stock. Bring to a boil and when the lentils have softened, season with salt. Simmer till lentils melt into the soup.

    4. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, if you like.

    5. To serve, put some shredded chicken and

    1 Tbs of cooked rice in a bowl, and pour hot soup over them. Garnish with fried shallots and celery.


An hour or so later, during which I skim off any fat and scum, it is done. Once cooled, this stock is scooped into small plastic tubs and frozen for use any time. With ready stock, making soup is easy.

I decided to make mulligatawny soup, simply because I could not find one that I liked. While one social club does offer it on its menu, it is unfortunately a Northern Indian version, with the lavish addition of cream.

This curry soup is an Anglo-Indian dish, probably invented by the British colonials who loved their curries and their soups.

The English version has chopped apples and root vegetables. My recipe is a stripped-down version (with chilli in the curry powder).

Coconut milk can be used to thicken the soup but I prefer to use red lentils to add more flavour. While the soup is like a curry, it is not as overpowering nor as thick.

But what is most interesting about the soup are the spices in it.

Curry powder is a spice mix that may include turmeric, chilli, coriander, black pepper, cumin, fenugreek, mustard seeds, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and nutmeg. They provide vitamins and minerals and have many health benefits.

The key ingredient appears to be turmeric, whose main active component is curcumin.

According to the Journal Of The American Chemical Society, the spice contains a wide range of antioxidant, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-carcinogenic and anti-inflammatory properties.

Ginger contains chemicals that work like some anti-inflammatory medications.

All the spices are cooked in what is basically a chicken soup, which is touted as a tonic in various cultures.

With chicken stock already in my freezer, I merely buy a couple of roasted drumsticks and use that to bulk up the soup.

Serve with a spoonful of cooked rice or more, while a squeeze of lemon juice, and Chinese celery leaves and fried shallots add more flavour to this delicious soup.

You can also have bread with it if you are not watching your calories too closely. Otherwise, mulligatawny is a healthy choice when you want something to eat, but not too much.

  • Sylvia Tan is a freelance writer and cookbook author. Her previous Eat To Live recipes can be found in two cookbooks, Eat To Live and Taste.

Make it healthier with different types of vegetables

Mulligatawny soup is a good source of protein as it contains red lentils and chicken meat. It is also low in fat.

Replacing the coconut milk with red lentils will help to make the dish healthier.

Moreover, red lentils will help to increase the feeling of fullness as they are high in fibre and have a low glycemic index.

Red lentils have a lower saturated fat content, compared with coconut milk. They are an excellent source of folate, which is an important vitamin for pregnant women as it helps to prevent neural tube defects in babies.

Red lentils are also a good source of dietary fibre, which is important for the general functioning of the gastrointestinal tract.

This dish uses curry powder, which is a mix of many ingredients.


  • Per serving: 255g

    Energy: 156kcal

    Protein: 15.4g

    Fat: 5.1g

    Saturated fat: 1g

    Carbohydrate: 12.1g

    Dietary fibre: 3.2g

    Sodium: 503mg

The common ones are cumin seeds, coriander seeds, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper and fennel seeds.

Studies have suggested that turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties and can help to prevent Alzheimer's disease or treat indigestion, among other potential benefits.

As for ginger, it has been used to help with digestion, reduce nausea and fight the common cold.

We need very small amounts of curry powder and ginger to reap the health benefits.

To make it an even healthier dish, you can add different types of vegetables like tomato, radish, turnip and carrot to the soup.

And you can also use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.

Fried shallots can be left out of the dish as it already has a fresh onion.

  • Afrose Parveen, Nutritionist, Eat Right Nutrition Consultancy
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 24, 2017, with the headline 'Spicy soup that is light on the tummy'. Print Edition | Subscribe