South Indian Nicely Spiced Tomato Rice

Rice is an Indian staple and this nicely spiced South Indian recipe for tomato rice is endowed with incredible flavour and aroma. The secret? A bouquet of Keralan spices.

Ranjini Menon made this tasty dish for us as part of our welcome dinner to The Turmerica. Writing the recipe now takes us right back to her bustling kitchen and the joy of capturing another great South Indian recipe.

Ranjini whizzed around the kitchen, always smiling and thrilled to host us. We listened to the pressure cooker whistle, asked questions, took photos and got to know her and her family. This recipe brings back such happy memories. We hope you get to experience the Menon’s brand of hospitality someday.

A note on onions

When our recipes call for onions, we are referring to the small red onions that are found throughout India. Here in Canada, we substitute large shallots because we can’t find those delicate little Indian ones. Red Spanish onions are not a good substitute. Shallots have the most similar flavour. 

Nicely Spiced Tomato Rice Recipe

4 -6 servings


2 Tablespoons peanut oil
1 cup onions (or large shallots), sliced lengthwise
1 Tablespoon chopped ginger
2 – 3 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon salt (divided ½ and ½ )
1 teaspoon sugar
1 small cinnamon stick
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 – 2 whole cloves
3 large tomatoes, chopped
2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon red chilli powder
Pinch ground cumin
2 cups basmati rice
4 cups water
1 Tablespoon melted ghee


  1. Heat the oil in a wok over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until golden.
  2. Place the garlic and ginger in a food processor and pulse to form a paste, then add the paste to the onions with ½ teaspoon of salt and the sugar and continue to cook until the onions are brown and completely caramelized. Tip:the sugar helps this process.
  3. Place the cinnamon, fennel and cumin seeds and whole cloves in a mortar and pestle or food processor and grind to a powder then add it to the onions and cook for 2 – 3 minutes.
  4. Stir in the tomatoes and cook until softened.
  5. Add the coriander and mint leaves followed by the turmeric, red chilli powder and cumin.
  6. Put the rice, water and remaining salt in a large saucepan or pressure cooker and add the tomato masala (mixture). Bring to a boil and then simmer until cooked if using a saucepan or cook for 3 whistles in the pressure cooker.
  7. Top with ghee to serve.
  8. Enjoy as a side with other vegetables or meat dishes.



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