Indian Tomato Pickle (Tomato Thokku)

Happy New Year! Wishing everyone a great 2014 filled with many wonderful culinary treats and experiences! I would like to start this year off with a guest blog post from a very special person, my mom! My mom, Usha Ramachandran is a great cook! A self-taught cook, her food is delicious and she is the source of inspiration for my own cooking adventures! She makes cooking seem to effortless, and if you’re invited over for dinner, be sure to come with an empty stomach! You’ll definitely leave with an extremely happy belly, and if you’re like me, you wouldn’t want to leave at all!

Here she is posting the recipe for her FAMOUS tomato thokku, which is a spicy and tangy Indian pickle made with tomatoes. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. It is one of my favorite pickles that my mom has been making for years! My favorite way to eat it is to spread it on sandwiches, but it is a good accompaniment to many different dishes, including rice and rotis (Indian flatbreads). Most of the ingredients for this recipe can be found at a local Indian grocery store or a well-stocked spice shop.

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I do!

Tomato Thokku
by Usha Ramachandran

Tomato Thokku

Tomato Thokku

How do you pronounce tomato, Tuh-MAY-toh or Tuh-MAH-to, and does it really matter when it comes to this incredibly delicious fruit-vegetable. Unbelievable as it may be, tomatoes were once considered poisonous and deadly. Tomatoes are native to South and Central America, and the first mention of tomatoes in print was in 1595. It is widely believed that the name tomato is derived from the Spanish word, tomate which in turn has its origins in the Aztec word, tomatl.  Being a member of the deadly nightshade family, Europeans believed them to be poisonous (although the leaves are poisonous) because of their bright, shiny fruit. Back then, the fruits were probably small, similar in size to cherry tomatoes, and most likely yellow in color, and not red (1).

In the early 1800s, an American, Colonel Robert Johnson, from New Jersey brought the tomato to his hometown. As the story goes, he then once and for all proved tomatoes non-poisonous and safe for consumption. He stood in front of 2000 people on the steps of the town courthouse and proceeded to consume an entire basket of tomatoes without suffering any ill effects. The crowd was certain that he was committing public suicide, so much so that the local firemen’s band even played a mournful tune to bid him goodbye. However, after seeing that he survived, North Americans were converted and their love for tomatoes was born (1).

Tomatoes remain one of the most widely consumed fruit, being used in a variety of ways. Tomatoes appear simply as toppings for pizza, can be transformed into ketchup, and they can even made into candy or baked into cakes. An important tip to consider when cooking with tomatoes is to use a non-reactive pot or pan. Aluminum pans are not advisable as the acid from the tomatoes reacts negatively with the aluminum and can not only result in potentially harmful side effects, but also create bitter tasting tomatoes and fade the vibrant red color of tomatoes (2).

Well, now that you have a brief note on the history of tomatoes, shall we make a delicious Indian pickle out of it?

Tomato Thokku

Preparation Time: 30 minutes


2 lb (1 kg) ripe red tomatoes
3 medium-sized red onions
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
A pinch of asafoetida
3 tablespoons chili powder (or more if you want it spicy)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup Indian sesame oil or any other refined oil
Salt to taste


1. Wash the tomatoes and blend them with the skin to a pulp.

2. Take a pan and pour ¾ cup of oil, splutter the mustard seeds, and add fenugreek seeds and asafoetida. Add turmeric powder and sauté the finely chopped onions.

3. Once the onions turn a light brown, add in the chili powder and let it froth a second.  Add the tomato pulp, sugar and salt and cook on medium flame stirring constantly.  Once the oil begins to separate add the remaining oil as well and let it simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes.

4. Your tomato thokku is ready!  You can eat it with rice, dosas, rotis, idlis, yogurt rice or sandwiches.  You can also refrigerate it in an air-tight container and use it for a month! A variation of it would be without the onions that will last even longer.

Delicious Thokku!

Delicious Thokku!





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