South-Indian Spiced Cream of Tomato Soup

Most people in America associate Indian food with either tandoori meats or spicy curries. They are familiar with just one kind of Indian food and don’t realize that there is immense regional variation in flavors and ingredients. I find that except a handful of Indian restaurants in the US, most have very limited flavor profiles – thereby they tend to use the same masala/base sauce in the majority of their dishes – which makes Indian food very monotonous and monochromatic in spectrum. I especially dislike the buffet style restaurants because they have a wide array of saucy dishes that are loaded with food coloring but all of them taste very similar. It always gives me immense pleasure when I travel to India with my non-Indian friends and they discover the subtlety in Indian cuisine and how the taste of the ingredients is not overpowered by the excessive use of spices and the onion-tomato-based sauces. Indian food in the US is mostly what Indians call Mughlai food (pre-dominantly North Indian) but very few restaurants here utilize the delicate flavors of South Indian cuisine. Sometimes, I get intense cravings for South-Indian food but most of the South Indian restaurants here pale in comparison with their counter-parts in India. So then I have to resort to making my own South-Indian dishes (and being a total Northerner/Punjabi, these don’t come to me very naturally) or I adapt their flavors to other standard recipes. This tomato soup came out of one such endeavor where I adapted some south-Indian flavors to integrate with a standard cream of tomato soup. To my surprise this worked out real well


1. One large sweet white onion
2. One clove of garlic
3. One cup of chopped fresh tomatoes (fully ripe ones would work best)
4. One can of chopped (no salt) tomato
5. Two cups of chicken stock or vegetable stock (for the vegetarian version of this soup)
6. 3 teaspoons of black mustard seeds
7. 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
8. 2 tablespoons of sugar
9. ½ cup of light cream
10. 1 teaspoon of salt (or to taste)
11. 1 teaspoon of finely ground chili powder
12. One sprig of fresh curry leaves (available at all South Asian grocery stores)


1. Peel and dice the onion in small pieces.

2. Peel and dice the garlic clove.
3. Heat a medium sized sauce pan over medium heat and put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in it

4. When the oil is hot, put the diced onion and garlic in it and stirring frequently, cook the onion till they are slightly caramelized (takes 5-7 minutes).

5. Add the chopped fresh tomatoes to the sauce pan and stir everything thoroughly and continue cooking.

6. When the tomatoes get cooked and slightly mushy, add the can of chopped tomatoes to the pot and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

7. Add salt, sugar, and red chili powder to the pot and also add the stock and continue cooking till the contents come to a boil.
8. Using a blender, grind the contents of the pot to a creamy consistency.

9. Put the blended soup back to the pot and continue cooking till the soup comes to a boil.

10. Add the sprig of curry leaves.
11. Pour the cream into the tomato soup and stir it in thoroughly and let it cook over low heat.

12. In a second sauce pan, add the remaining olive oil and heat it.
13. While the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds to the oil and cook them till you hear the seeds start to sputter and jump out of the pot.

14. Pour the hot oil and mustard seeds to the pot with the soup and stir again.
15. Serve the soup while it is still hot, with an extra sprinkling of olive oil on top and with a crusty bread or toasted bagel on the side.

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  1. Permalink Submitted by Shilpa Patel on Tue, 17/04/2012 - 01:14

    and for those of us who like it spicy, perhaps some red chilly powder or some finely chopped chillies in the tadka…
    also curious why you don’t put the curry leaves in the tadka?

    • Permalink Submitted by Shabnam on Tue, 17/04/2012 - 02:15

      Shilpa – unfortunately I don’t have a homegrown supply of curry leaves and the ones from the Indian store don’t have a lot of flavor and so if I fry them, they lose the little bit that they have. This is why I didn’t fry it 🙂

      • Permalink Submitted by Shilpa Patel on Thu, 19/04/2012 - 20:06

        Shabnam – come take some of my leaves! I have to trim the plant as it’s growing too tall and I’m throwing them away : (

        • Permalink Submitted by Shabnam on Thu, 19/04/2012 - 20:24

          No no, please don’t throw them away – I will surely take some off your hands!!! Let me know when is a good time for the pick up. Or maybe we can meet for lunch in Bethesda and I will get them from you then 🙂 I’ll send you an email!

    • Permalink Submitted by Shabnam on Tue, 17/04/2012 - 02:23

      And I forgot to add – I did put in a teaspoon of red chili powder to the soup (actually Kashmiri Chili powder) but I didn’t fry it with the tadka – just added it to the soup while it was cooking – so it did have quite a kick to it.

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