Meatless Madison: Weary Traveler’s mulligatawny stew

New menu item replaces Weary's vegan chili

By now you’ve probably heard of Meatless Monday — the international campaign to raise awareness about your health and the planet’s health by encouraging plant-based meals in lieu of meat on Mondays. But welcome to Meatless Madison, our new series that will highlight vegetarian and vegan dishes from Madison-area restaurants for the next few months. While a city Madison’s size falls behind other vegetarian-friendly locales in terms of restaurants dedicated to plant-based food lifestyles, there is no shortage of vegetarian and vegan dishes to be found.

First up is the mulligatawny stew at the Weary Traveler Freehouse. To know the Weary is to love it. Since the early 2000s, this dependable, near-east side bar at the corner of Williamson and Few streets has been serving comfort food to all who have pulled back the velvet curtain that leads to the bar– recently replaced by a wooden door that looks like it could lead to Bilbo Baggins’ home in the Shire. It’s a late-night food destination, too, as the kitchen serves until 1 a.m. When David Goodwin took over as head chef at Weary Traveler almost two years ago he noticed that Indian food was missing from the internationally themed menu. “And I think Indian food is the best vegetarian food on the planet,” Goodwin says.

Goodwin decided to make mulligatawny as a dinner special and he says people went nuts for it. Traditionally an East Indian stew made with lentils, mulligatawny became popular in England during the time of British rule in India. Anglicized versions of the soup are thinner and may include meat, but Weary’s mulligatawny is vegetarian and can easily be made vegan without the dollop of lemon yogurt, “a big selling point,” Goodwin says. A staff favorite, the rich, thick stew is made with hearty red lentils cooked with curry leaves, coconut, ginger and coriander and topped with whole toasted spices and green apple. A hunk of house-made pita bread comes on the side.

It replaces the long-time vegan chili on the menu. Goodwin hints that the chili might make a comeback, but the mulligatawny has become a popular replacement. “This has won a lot of people over,” Goodwin says. “And you don’t miss the meat. I’m not preachy about it — and I do eat meat — but I think veganism is is the way of the future. Creating vegan food for our menu is a challenge that I enjoy.”