This easy, quick and delicious Tomato Rice recipe is a favorite dish from the Tamil Nadu state of South India. Also known as Thakkali Sadam in Tamil language, this one pot wonder is tasty, healthy and perfect to pack in a tiffin for lunch on the go. While this tomato rice is a tad spicy, you can easily adjust the heat to your liking. Serve it plain, or with crispy papad and boondi raita. It makes a wonderfully filling and light lunch!
Table of Contents
What is Thakkali Sadam?
Thakkali Sadam is a popular rice dish from the Tamil Nadu cuisine. It is a slightly spicy rice dish that is made with tomato, spices and rice. In the Tamil language, ‘thakkali‘ means tomato and ‘sadam‘ is rice.
I love to make a big batch of this tomato rice and serve it for lunch all week long, as it is an ideal dish for packing in a tiffin.
If you are looking for a quick recipe to make meal that is delicious and nutritious, look no further than this simple tomato rice! It requires only one pot, leaving very little clean up.
My recipe is made in a stove-top pressure cooker. Like most rice recipes, it can also be made in the Instant pot or in a pan on the stove-top. I have shared quick Instant pot and stove-top instructions in the recipe card below.
About this recipe
This thakkali sadam recipe is inspired by the tomato rice we would eat at the cafe in the Isha Yoga Centre in Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu, India. Isha Yoga Centre is set at the foothills of the Velliangiri Mountains and has been a wonderful place to meditate.
This tomato rice transports me back to our days visiting the Isha Yoga Centre and all of the silence & tranquility I felt while I was there.
It has taken me multiple attempts to get this recipe right, and I am so excited to share the flavors of our rich time in Tamil Nadu.
How to make Tomato Rice
1. This recipe is simple and quick. First up, rinse your basmati (or other long grain rice) under water until the water comes out clear. Now soak your rice in fresh water for 20 to 30 minutes, then drain the rice and set it aside.
TIP: Do not skip this step! Rinsing the rice removes surface starches that can cause the rice to become gummy while cooking. Soaking gives the rice the opportunity to cook more evenly and will ensure you don’t get any al dente pieces.
Sautéing spices, onions, tomatoes
2. Next up, pull out your trusty 3 litre pressure cooker and heat oil over a low flame until barely shimmering. You could use any neutral tasting oil. I have used sunflower oil.
TIP: Using an Instant Pot? Set it to the sauté function for the next several steps.
Add ½ teaspoon mustard seeds to the heated oil and allow them to cook until crackling. Next, add 4 to 5 fenugreek seeds (methi) and fry for about a couple of seconds making sure you do not burn them.
3. Next, add ⅓ cup chopped onions, ½ inch cinnamon stick, 2 green cardamom pods and 2 to 3 whole cloves.
4. Stir and sauté until the onions are translucent.
5. Now add 1 ½ teaspoons ginger garlic paste*, 6 to 7 curry leaves and 1 chopped green chili (½ teaspoon chopped chillies)
6. Stir, then continue to sauté until the aroma of raw ginger-garlic goes away, about some seconds.
7. Add ½ tablespoon of chopped mint leaves and ¼ cup chopped fresh coriander leaves (also known as cilantro).
8. Stir and sauté for a minute.
9. Now add in 1 cup of finely chopped tomatoes. This required about 3 medium tomatoes for me.
10. Add ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder, ½ teaspoon red chili powder, ½ teaspoon black pepper powder or crushed black pepper*, ½ teaspoon coriander powder and 1 teaspoon cumin powder.
*TIP: If you are averse to spicy foods, you can adjust the heat level by dropping the ginger-garlic paste to 1 teaspoon and using only ¼ teaspoon each of chili powder and black pepper.
11. Stir well to coat the tomatoes in the spices and sauté.
12. Cook until the tomatoes become soft and pulpy, and the oil begins to release from the sides.
13. Add the soaked rice and stir to combine.
Pressure cooking the tomato rice
14. Sauté the rice for a moment to allow it to soak in some of the toasted spice flavours.
15. Next up, add 1¾ cup water. Add 2 cups water for more softer rice. For separate grains, add 1½ cup water.
16. Season with salt to taste, then put the lid on.
TIP: If using the Instant Pot, put the lid on and switch the function to pressure cook on high for 6 to 8 minutes, then allow a natural release after 10 minutes.
17. Once the pressure is released, remove the lid and fluff the rice with a fork.
18. Serve in a bowl with crunchy papads (also known as papadums or appalams), plain curd or flavored raita, and a garnish of fresh coriander leaves for a bit of brightness. Enjoy!
Expert Tips + FAQs
No problem! Simply substitute about ¼ teaspoon of garam masala instead.
You can use parboiled rice (converted rice) for this recipe, but you will need to increase soaking time to an hour. You will also need to add more water and cook for longer.
Yes! Just make the tomato masala as listed above, then stir the cooked rice in very thoroughly.
Yes! You can use any kind of rice you wish for this recipe. I prefer an aromatic long grain variety, but short grain or even brown rice could be used. Be sure to increase cook time for brown rice.
Both 240 ml and 250 ml measuring cups work well for this recipe. 1 cup of uncooked rice should yield 3 ½ – 4 cups cooked rice.
While you can make this recipe for a larger group, increasing the ingredients proportionally doesn’t work. We use the method of andaaz (approximation) by eyeballing the ingredients. I’m sorry I can’t help you approximate!
Yes, you can make this in a normal saucepan as well. Start out with 2 cups of water to cook the rice, then cover with a lid and simmer. Check when the rice is about halfway done, and if it looks dry, add up to another ¼ cup of water.
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Tomato Rice (Thakkali Sadam)
For soaking rice
- 1 heaped cup basmati rice or any regular rice
- water as required
- 1 cup finely chopped tomatoes (tightly packed) or 3 medium to large tomatoes or 200 grams
- ⅓ cup finely chopped onions or 1 medium-sized onion
- 1.5 teaspoons Ginger-Garlic Paste or 1 inch ginger + 5 to 6 small to medium garlic crushed in mortar-pestle
- ½ teaspoon chopped green chilli or serrano pepper or 1 green chilli
- ½ teaspoon mustard seeds
- 4 to 5 fenugreek seeds (methi seeds) – optional
- ½ inch true cinnamon
- 2 green cardamoms
- 2 to 3 cloves
- 6 to 7 curry leaves (medium-sized)
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
- ½ teaspoon red chilli powder
- ½ teaspoon black pepper powder or crushed black pepper
- ½ teaspoon Coriander Powder (ground coriander)
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder (ground cumin)
- ½ tablespoon chopped mint leaves
- ¼ cup chopped coriander leaves (cilantro)
- 1.5 to 1.75 cups water or add as required
- 2 tablespoons oil – any neutral oil
- salt as required
- Rinse basmati rice or any regular rice for a couple of times in water.
- Then soak the rice in water for 20 to 30 minutes. Later drain the rice and keep aside.
- Chop the tomatoes, onions and green chillies finely. Peel and crush the ginger-garlic in a mortar pestle. Also, chop the mint and coriander leaves
- Keep aside all the spices required for the rice.
Sautéing onions, tomatoes, spices
- In a 3 litre pressure cooker, heat the oil. Keep the flame to a low and add mustard seeds and crackle them. Then add fenugreek seeds and just lightly fry for a couple of seconds without burning them.
- Then add finely chopped onions and cinnamon, cardamoms and cloves.
- Stir and sauté until the onions turn translucent and soften.
- Add the ginger-garlic paste, chopped green chilies and curry leaves.
- Stir and sauté for some seconds until the raw aroma of ginger-garlic goes away
- Now add chopped mint leaves and coriander leaves.
- Stir and saute for a minute.
- Keep heat to a low or switch off the heat. Add the finely chopped tomatoes and turmeric powder, red chilli powder, black pepper powder or crushed black pepper, coriander powder and cumin powder.
- Mix very well and sauté the tomatoes until they soften and become pulpy with oil releasing from the sides.
Cooking tomato rice
- Add the soaked rice. Gently mix the rice with the tomato mixture very well. Sauté for a minute.
- Add 1.75 cups water. For a more softer consistency in the rice, you can also add 2 cups water.
- Season with salt as per taste.
- Cover and pressure cook tomato rice for 2 whistles on medium flame or about 10 to 11 minutes. To get a softer rice, you can also pressure cook for 3 whistles.
- When the pressure settles down on its own. Then remove the lid and gently fluff the tomato rice.
- Serve tomato rice with appalams or chips or with a side raita.
- Reducing spiciness: To reduce the heat and pungency, use less amounts of ginger-garlic paste, black pepper powder and red chili powder. So you can add 1 teaspoon ginger-garlic paste, ¼ teaspoon red chilli powder and ¼ teaspoon black pepper powder.
- Quantity of water: I have added 1¾ cup water as this amount was perfect for the basmati rice that I had used. The amount of water that you need to add will also depend on the quality of rice. For a softer rice you can add 2 cups and for separate grains, add 1½ cup water.
- Scaling: While you can make this recipe for a larger group, increasing the ingredients proportionally may not work for this recipe.
- Cooking in a pan: Start out with 2 cups of water to cook the rice, then cover with a lid and simmer. Check when the rice is about halfway done, and if it looks dry, add up to another ¼ cup of water.
- Cooking in an Instant Pot: Begin with setting the the sauté function for the steps of sautéing spices, onion and tomatoes. After you add the rice and water, put the lid on and switch the function to pressure cook on high for 6 to 8 minutes, then allow a natural release after 10 minutes.
Ingredient SwapsCooked rice: You can skip adding raw rice. If you have leftover rice or cooked rice, then mix it with the tomato masala and mix thoroughly. You can add about 3 ½ to 4 cups of cooked rice. Canned tomatoes: You could easily add 1 cup of chopped or crushed canned tomatoes in place of fresh tomatoes.
Nutrition Info (Approximate values)
This recipe post from the archives (June 2015) has been republished and updated on 30 November 2020 with a video, my experts tips and FAQs.