South Indian tomato rice recipe with a twist

A traditional South Indian tomato rice recipe with a twist. Tomato rice is a wholesome meal, but here the pulses used in the preparation are coarsely ground instead of being used whole. The change provides a unique flavour to the tomato rice.

Rice dominates South Indian cuisine and a meal without it is generally incomplete. I have been living in Chennai for some time now and have over the years learnt to appreciate the distinct flavours and cooking techniques adopted by the locals.

While rice complements most meals in this region, there is another distinctive aspect of southern cuisine that cannot be ignored – that of using mustard seeds, asafoetida, curry leaves and whole dals in the tadka. Dals, particularly, channa and urad are used in the tadka, in a number of dishes. Dry vegetable dishes are seasoned with these dals. They are also fried and added to coconut chutney as a garnish. And rice dishes such as lemon rice, tamarind rice (puliyodharai) and tomato rice are seasoned with these dals, among other things.

Now here is where the twist in this tomato rice recipe comes. Though it uses both channa and urad dals, they are not added whole but are ground and added to the rice I found this recipe posted on an online group and gave it a try. The results were outstanding. The dry roasted dals, ground to a coarse powder gave the dish a unique crunchy texture and the flavours were of course spot on.

This is a very easy recipe that does not require any great cooking skills. It is perfect for novices and a great way to make use of leftover rice. I had some cooked rice lying in the fridge - I had bought South Indian meals the other day and some rice was leftover, which I used to make the tomato rice.

Tomato rice

Tomato rice with ground dals - serves 2

Ingredients required for the tomato rice

The ingredients are split into two groups.

Ingredients for group 1

  • Approximately 2 cups of leftover rice
  • 3 large tomatoes
  • 1 large onion
  • 4-6 green chillies
  • 1 tsp. ginger garlic paste
  • 1 sprig curry patta
  • A few sprigs cilantro (hara dhaniya)
  • ½ tsp. mustard seeds
  • A handful of raw peanuts
  • ¼ tsp. turmeric powder
  • Sesame oil - 2 tbsps.
  • ¼ tsp. chilli powder
  • Salt to taste

Ingredients for group 2

  • 2 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 5 tsp. urad dal
  • 5 tsp. channa dal
  • 1" piece cinnamon stick
  • 2-3 cloves
  • 5-6 pepper corns


Dry roast all the ingredients in Group 2 until the dals change colour. You need to roast them lightly, stirring continuously. Allow the ingredients to cool and then grind them into a coarse powder.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan and add the mustard seeds to it. Once the mustard seeds begin to splutter add the peanuts and fry them, stirring continuously, for about 5 minutes. Remove the peanuts from the pan and add finely diced onions into it along with the chopped green chillies and the curry patta.

Fry the onions until they turn translucent and then fry for another 2-3 minutes on medium heat. Don't allow the onions to turn dark brown. Next, add the ginger garlic paste and fry well, for another 2-3 minutes. Once the paste loses its rawness drop in finely diced tomatoes into the pan. Add some salt to the mix as this will help the tomatoes to cook faster. You want them soft and mushy.

Add the rest of the seasoning - chilli powder and turmeric powder and fry for another 2 minutes on low flame. You may add some water in case the mix becomes dry. Add the dry roasted ground masala mix into the pan and fry for another minute. The mixture should be on the dry side.

Tip the cooked rice into the pan and mix it well with all the ingredients. Garnish the tomato rice with chopped coriander leaves and the roasted peanuts. Add the peanuts just before serving for them to retain their crunch.

Serving ideas

I served the tomato rice with potato wedges and poppadum. In Tamil Nadu, you will always find some kind of poppadum served with a vegetarian meal. The tomato rice can also be served with a chutney. Tomato rice can be made 'richer' by adding fried cashew nuts and/or raisins to it, as a garnish. It is an easy dish to cook and a good way of turning leftover rice into a new dish.

Know your food

Rice comes in many varieties and ordinary white rice comprises basically of starch, which is a form of carbohydrates. Brown rice is better any day, so given an option choose brown rice over white rice. Though brown rice is higher in carbs than white rice. You can expect some protein and minerals and vitamins from a plate of rice, mainly iron, magnesium, folate, phosphorous and zinc and also thiamine and niacin
  • Onions have cancer-fighting compounds are low in calorie and provide vitamins and minerals, particularly B vitamins and vitamin C. It is also a good source of sulphur and potassium. It has antioxidant properties and is good for the heart health
  • The lycopene in tomatoes makes it a healthy fruit. It is a powerful antioxidant which increases in potency on being cooked. These fruits are also a good source of vitamins C and K and folate and minerals such as potassium. Tomatoes are also rich in fibre
  • Peanuts are loaded with heart-friendly fats - monounsaturated fatty acid, polyunsaturated fatty acid and omega 6. They are high in protein and fibre and rich in biotin, copper, folate, niacin, vitamin E, manganese, magnesium, thiamine and phosphorous
  • Mustard seeds are antibacterial in nature. They are high in selenium and magnesium, as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, protein and omega 3 fatty acids. They are high in fibre and also known to aid digestion
  • Urad dal like most pulses is a good vegetarian source for protein and other minerals and vitamins
  • Chana dal is also a high protein food and provides vitamins, especially B and minerals to the body

  • Try this tomato rice recipe for a change and let me know how you liked it. The ground and fried ingredients impart potent flavours to the dish, giving it a unique robust feel.

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