Spicy Tomato Pickle

Spicy Tomato Pickle

Family recipes, recipes that have been cooked for eons are very close to my heart. These recipes acquire a certain character and repute after being cherished by generations. Tastes, preferences and choices change as time moves further and as the plethora of choices increase, but such recipes withstand the test of time. They bring back memories, refresh long forgotten associations and evoke emotions within us.

Tomato pickle has been an important part of my childhood holidays. With two of my aunts making it (they have different recipes), I remember  scooping up the bright coloured spicy sour pickle with crispy dosas and savouring it with good old plain curd rice. As we children sat around the table eagerly waiting with anticipation for our plates to be filled, the bottle of this magnificent coloured pickle lying on the table always brought solace to me with the knowledge that breakfast or lunch would never be a dull affair with it as an accompaniment. This also makes me marvel about the ease with which the previous generation of women fed their families with unmatched energy and love. And makes me introspective about the fact that most of our generation gets tired with just managing day to day affairs and with routine activities which makes me ask the question  “along with the hereditary genes, why wasn’t the energy of these remarkable women transferred to us?”

The recipe that I’m sharing with you today does not belong to either of my aunts. It was given to me by one of my favourite south Indian cooks, my sister’s mother-in-law Mrs Uma Jayaraman who makes the most awesome paruppu vadai (lentil dumplings) and chakkarai pongal (a milk based pudding with rice and lentils) and tomato pickle.

My sister with her mother-in-law

I had heard quite a few things about Uma aunty’s tomato pickle. When my brother-in-law was at Insead, it rescued many drab meals for him and when I visited my sister’s home, I finally had a taste of one of the most delicious pickles and then realized that it had acquired a prized status in her family for good reason.

I immediately wrote to this charming and erudite lady and got the recipe with the side note that she learnt how to make this from her mother-in-law who could make pickles and lehiyams (home remedies) in a flash.

Just a little of this spicy and sour pickle goes great with Indian breads, parathas, rice, dal and pulao. And it is perfect with curd rice (rice made with yogurt)! A jar of this homemade pickle at home can be comforting and heartening and can enliven many meals while adding more drama to great meals. With a clean spoon, dig into this jar and I assure that you will not only lick the spoon clean but will also be left with the a lingering taste that will not be forgotten for a long time to come.


Tomato Pickle Recipe

This pickle is best made with indegenous tomatoes known as nati tomato in Karnataka and desi tomato in the hindi speaking states, which has a very short season. I’m sure other varieties of good quality tomatoes would work too.


1 kg ( 10 medium sized) tomatoes

15 dry red chillies

5 green chilies (or use more for a spicier version)

1 1/2 to 2 tsp salt or to taste

4 tsp packed tamarind

125 ml (1/2 cup) sesame (til) oil

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 1/4 tsp asafetida, divinded

1 1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp fenugreek seeds (methi) (dry roasted for a few seconds and crushed)


Wash tomatoes and cut into halves. Remove the eyes of the tomatoes.

Place the tomatoes in a sauce pan and cook covered without any water until the skin starts to peel. Peel off the skin and place in a food processor or blender and grind to a puree. With the help of a soup strainer remove the seeds and keep aside.

In the food processor or blender, place the red chili, green chili, 1/2 tsp salt and tamarind along with this tomato paste and blend again.

In a heavy bottomed wok or kadhai, heat til oil and add mustard seeds. When they pop add 1/2 tsp asafetida or hing, turmeric powder and the ground paste and allow to cook on low heat, stirring in between so that it does not stick to the bottom of the wok or pan.

When the pickle starts leaving oil add the roasted and crushed methi seeds and the remaining asafetida and salt.

Allow to cool and place in an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator.

P.S  This pickle has a tendency to splutter and splash while cooking making it a  messy affair. Using a thick bottomed vessel or pan and wearing gloves can help!

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47 thoughts on “Spicy Tomato Pickle

  1. family recipes passed down from generation to generation- fascinating. i love tomato pickle, everyone and every family seems to have their own version. i hope you'll share some other recipes from Mrs. J. lovely pics. x s

  2. My mom makes this same pickle and i must say it tastes great with steaming hot rice as well.. :)Nice pictures as usual !!

  3. Dear Anu,

    Thanks for this excellent recipe,I was really getting bored eating and serving the same type of pickels and chutnies,finally got something new,shall try this immedietly,and your statement that most of our generation gets tired with just managing day to day affairs and with routine activities. And makes me ask “along with the hereditary genes, why wasn’t the energy of these remarkable women transferred to us?”
    is soo very true I too was thinking the same that we really find it difficult to even manage the day to day affairs forget preparing something new.and our generation is full of health complications at such a small age,I really wish we had the same stamina that our previous 2 generations had.

    The photographs are superb as usual….specailly that Irkal piece below the pickel jar takes me much more closer to my hometown.A special thanks to your sis's mil (they both look cute)for sharing such a wonderful recipe with you as all of us are benefited 🙂

  4. She's your sis's MIL?????????????? LOOKS SOOOO VERY YOUNG…..BOTH LOOKIN PRETTY AND GORGEOS:))

  5. Hello Anu……Lovely and easy recipe ..Love pickles…. will try this one too.
    please tell me what is " packed " tamarind?

  6. Hi Anu,

    Tomato Thokku as its called in the south is a very very important recipe in a household as everyone loves the "nattu thakkali" which is very ripe and juicy yet tart. I have mine with rotis, parathas, dosas, idlis and curd rice and even on bread as a spread. Mine is EXACTLY the same as yours, only has a pinch of jaggery to bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes against the flavour of the ground fenugreek.


  7. Shayma: How true! Yes..ill try and post some of her other specialities too.

    Rashmi: This would taste awesome with steaming hot rice and a dollop of ghee. 🙂

    Shruti: Glad that you echo my thoughts too. I have come to believe that a big reason for our generation to be plagued with health woes at an early age is because of wrong food habits. Highly processed food, chemical laden produce and the environment are some contributing factors.

    Shoba: This is known by many names in different households but we have always called it pickle and it is the same in my sisters family too. I'm sure jaggery would taste good too but we prefer this pickle without it. Thanks for sharing your recipe. 🙂

    p.s: Shoba: I checked your recipe and it is quite different from the one featured above.

  8. Brought back sweet memories of my mom's kitchen! She makes this so often and so quickly, and makes a simple meal look exotic. If I am not wrong, my mom calls this bisi-uppinakayi – any pickle which is made instantly. Will try this variation too, very soon. Common tomatoes look so special in these pictures! Your sis and her mil look very cute 🙂

  9. The pickle looks mouth watering!! We make a very similar pickle, the only addition is about 2-3 Tbsp of grated jaggery!

  10. This recipe has taken be back to summer holidays back home 🙂
    Definitely going to try this and relive some of that!

    Just one question though: I know sesame oil is inherent to the recipe, but would regular cooking oil ruin the taste? Or alter it greatly?

    Also, could you share the parripu vada recipe too?!

  11. recipe and pictures totally drool-worthy! this tomato pickle takes me back to my mom's mallu brahmin kitchen, and it goes so well with rasam, hot rice and ghee! ok, lunch menu decided!

  12. Hi Anu,

    Lovely presentation and recipe details. I really like your passion for preserving the traditional Indian cuisine and retaining its Satvik flavors. I am positive the world will turn once again to authentic, healthy, home cooking and say good bye to junk food.

  13. Chinmayie: Hope you like it as much as we do.

    Ashwini: There are different versions of this and from what you describe, seems like your mother makes the quick version. 🙂 Either ways this is delicious, though I prefer the taste of this long drawn recipe. Thanks for all the compliments. You are very sweet, as always.

    Ambika & Nags: As Shayma has stated above, each family seems to have a version of this pickle.

    Revati: How nice to be reliving childhood through a recipe like this…isnt it? You could try it with any other oil, but sesame oil adds great character to this pickle and I wouldnt be making this without it. Let me see and try and post the paruppu vadai. You will have to bear with my speed as I have long standing recipe requests.

    Anju: It's quite interesting to note that there is a mallu version of this too. As of now I have only come across telugu, tamil and kannadiga households making this.

    Uma aunty: Thank you for this lovely recipe and for your kind appreciation.

  14. Anu,
    Thanks a lot for presenting this awesome recipe from my mother's kitchen!
    Can we get a small jar of this the next time we are in Mumbai?

  15. I am wondering if sesame cooking oil can be used on the skin? Or would that be a different kind of sesame oil?

    I was reading about sesame oils many uses and one of them was for massage purposes.

  16. Hi Anushruti,

    Can't agree with you more on this! – “along with the hereditary genes, why wasn’t the energy of these remarkable women transferred to us?” The same thought passes through my head at least once daily 🙂

    Thanks for sharing a treasured traditional recipe! Will give it a try soon.

  17. Did the universe just conspire to bring me to your blog so I could finally make this pickle!! I think so. I had been looking for a tomato pickle recipe that I connected with . This is the recipe I was looking for. I just know this is going to work.

    So I am going to make it right away.. in a smaller batch as I have just a few tomatoes..

    Oh BTW ( calm after the happy dance)You have a great blog..


  18. Mihir:It was my pleasure!

    Pan Cuisine: Hope you enjoy it.

    Kiara: Yes…sesame oil has a very short shelf life and starts giving a bad smell after some time. I store mine at room temperature and use it up as quickly as possible. You can use sesame oil for massage…but if you have sensitive skin it is better you avoid it for the face.

    DJ: You are most welcome. 🙂

    vini: Great! So glad you enjoyed it.

    Chitra: No doubt about it.

    Ansh: Aww…hope you like it after you try it!

    EL: It is indeed sensational. Hope you like it.

  19. Looking for a nice and south indian style tomato pickle…found your lovely blog!!nice and tangy recipe and wonderful blog..

  20. Oh This was DIVINE! I made it with vinegar though ( I was too keen to make it on the day and had no tamarind). I am sure the one with Tamarind with absolutely out of this world.

    Thank you for sharing a great recipe 🙂

    I am from Kashmir, where traditionally we only have Kohl Rabi,eggplant, french beans, almonds, onions, carrots and radish, cauliflower as pickles. So I get super thrilled so see South Indian pickle Recipes as in my opinion those are the BEST pickles ever.

  21. Ansh: Thanks for your feedback!All your pickles sound interesting.Would love to know more about them. You will enjoy this even more with the tamarind.

  22. Hi Anushruti,

    Looks so tempting… i dont have the red chillies at home … will surely try it out on Monday… wanted to ask though… what is the shelf life of this pickle… do i keep it outside or in the refrigerator ?

  23. Dear Anushruti,

    I would like to make some lehiyams (this help with food digestion)
    Can you email me or post some recipes on your webside

  24. Hey Anu!
    I came across your blog today..thank you so much for sharing all your yummy recipes! I'm definitely gonna try some of them! I find your writings very interesting as well as informative too, it's nice to read in depth about some of the basic food ingredients and dishes, that one takes for granted in India!
    I tasted this south-Indian Tomato pickle a few years back, at one of my friend's place and it was divine!..will definitely try to make this at home!
    lots of love an lots of fun with cooking 😀

  25. Memories… how true. It's amazing how the human brain associates taste and smell to memories long forgotten. A whole lot of my memories came flooding after reading your recipe. My mom used to make a similar recipe with about 4-5 kilograms of nice ripe tomatoes when they are in season. While in season, they were sold for around 3-4 rupees a kilo. The outcome was about two huge jars full of this lovely pickle, supposedly meant to last for at least a month. Unfortunately, too much of this pickle is never enough and we would be back to asking her prepare more at the end of two weeks. Sure it happens to all – this pickle goes with everything – rice, roti, bread, idly, dosa… you name it!

    I would like to add few tips:

    Tip 1: Increasing the oil used extends the shelf life of the pickle as the oil layer on top of the prepared pickle protects it from humidity – the culprit that encourages formation of moulds.

    Tip 2: Using a fork to help yourself to this pickle drains a bit of the oil back into the jar – helps retain the oil in the pickle to extend shelf life and also helps avoid excessive oil consumption.

    Tip 3: This recipe completes at only about a fraction of the quantity of initial ingredients. In case you get it right and like it, you might want to consider doubling all the ingredients so the output is considerable – although it is a simple recipe, it is time consuming and can get extremely messy.

    Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer!
    Tip 4 may not be to everyone's taste. Use your discretion.

    Tip 4: Doubling the quantity of Fenugreek, asafoetida and mustard gives this pickle a special flavour.

    Overall… great recipe, great write up and great pictures. I am off to preparing this pickle. Hey WTH… I just ran out of tamarind yesterday! 🙁

    Screw it… I'm off to the Indian grocery store at the other end of town! 🙂


  26. Hi, Just tried this recipe. Couple of points. 1/ Chilli should be de seeded or not. 2/ What would you expect finished consistency to be. 3/ How hot the finished taste is bearing in mind 19 chilli's used.

    1/ I did not de seed. Processed, stirred into tomato purée strained again. 2/ Finished consistency very liquid, spoon usage only. 3/ Very seriously hot.

  27. Jedoch erhalten Betrachten ihnen konnte nehmen ɑ wenig besonders Geduld аls Sie
    vorausgesetzt. Nacch eineг Stunde entfernte/löschen/ausbauen іch die Änderung am Objektprogramm/Flecken սոd löschte/reiben іn restliche Medikation, als diе Richtungen mitgeteilt.

    Loook Ñ–nto my web-site :: was hilft gegen pickel

  28. THANKYOU FOR THIS RECIPE. I like this recipe very much becose it make my mother very happy.

  29. hi Anu…made it this evening….
    it was so so delicious and tasty…..
    it was so divine without any onion or garlic…which I used earlier for tomato chutney…
    my 8 year old son who is a fussy eater….finished his plate of rice in few minutes …and also ordered to make this chutney always…he dint touch sambar today….
    thanks a ton….love your blog and recepies….

  30. Truly appreciate the way you made this yummy tomato pickle. Nicely described everything helped me to make this pickle at home. Thanks and looking for more such recipes in future too.

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