Something More Than Fruit
And this continued to puzzle me. Not for long, though. I was sure I'd never had mulligatawny until my housemate put the bowl down in front of me, yet the savour seemed oddly familiar. Then I remembered… Several years before I started college, I'd gone climbing in the North Cascades. The job of camp cook had rotated with each new day, and on one occasion the duty chef had attempted to "liven up" a pot of beef stew with a generous lashing of curry powder. As things turned out, it proved rather too generous for some in the group. But not for me. I was pleasantly surprised by the symphony of sweet and spicy notes that the curry imparted to an otherwise bland beef stew.
This olfactory memory was the Rosetta stone I'd needed to unlock the final mystery of mulligatawny. The secret of the dish was curry. Not that curry is a fixed star in the culinary firmament, however — the powder is a variable compound of several spices, in which coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, and red pepper predominate. With the exception of red pepper, these aren't household names, but they are nonetheless familiar spices. The turmeric that gives curry powder its characteristic orange color is often used as a coloring agent in other dishes. Coriander and cumin flavor chilies, while fenugreek seeds are used to season pickles.
In any case, curry powder's variability has important consequences. Depending on a curry's exact composition — make no mistake, curries do exhibit a wonderful variety — it will fall somewhere on a range from mild to maddeningly hot. Aficionados see this as an opportunity, compounding their own mixtures to precise caloric standards. My housemate contented herself with store‑bought, however, and her mulligatawny was on the mild side. That suited me just fine. It still does.
But why, you may be asking yourself, have I gone on at such length about a dish I was introduced to while still a student? The answer isn't hard to guess, of course. Because …
Mulligatawny Is a Natural for Camp
Despite its exotic antecedents, mulligatawny is a soup, and soups make regular appearances in my camping menus. There are good reasons for this. Soup warms, rehydrates, and nourishes. It's also easy to prepare, and soups — unlike some stews — don't demand extraordinary cleanup efforts after the meal, either. Even the high salt content of many commercial soups can be welcome at the end of a sweaty day. (Paddlers with a history of hypertension will need to think twice before loading up on salt, though.) So it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that mulligatawny has become a favorite.
There is, however, no single, "ideal" mulligatawny. It can be made with any kind of soup stock or meat — though most recipes that I've seen call for chicken — and the only unifying ingredient is curry powder, which, as we've already noted, is equally protean. But we have to start somewhere, so I'll begin with this basic recipe:
Simple and Good Camp Mulligatawny
Yield: Two Servings
- Olive oil (any will do, but extra virgin is best)
- 1 teaspoon mild curry powder
- ½ cup dried apple pieces, or 1 small apple, cored and chopped small
- 3 cups water
- 1 packet vegetable soup mix, approximately 1.8 ounces dry weight
- ¼ cup raisins
- 1 small can (or retort pack) of chicken, about 5 ounces in all
Assemble your ingredients (Step A in the photo below). Drizzle olive oil over the bottom of a medium‑sized pot (minimum capacity: 1½ quarts). Sprinkle the curry powder over the oil. Now light your stove or place the pot on a hot fire. Add the apple pieces and stir to coat them with curry and oil (Step B).