Tasty tomato soups in India
The flavors of India inspire this spiced tomato soup. A typical tomato-based Indian soup could be either a North Indian shorba, a vegetarian or non-vegetarian broth eaten during a meal. Another essential Indian tomato soup is the South Indian rasam. It is a highly seasoned thin soup eaten with rice, and often at the end of a meal. My tomato soup is somewhere in-between these two—it is rich, creamy, nutritious, and full of flavor from warming Indian spices.
When we think of tomato soup here in the U.S., we often think of the simple, comforting lunches our moms served us. My mother opened a can of Campbell’s tomato soup and always served it with a grilled cheese sandwich. Her sandwiches were even better because she made them with homemade honey whole wheat bread. When mom was in full earth-mother mode, she even ground the wheat berries for her weekly seven loaf bake to feed her family of nine.
Immensely satisfying when the weather is cold and rainy, spiced tomato soup is warmed with smoky cumin, garam masala, and a hit of chili. The bit of cream or yogurt, and a optional dollop of butter added at the end enriches the soup. It will undoubtedly cure whatever ails you. Straddle India and the West by serving it with your favorite grilled sandwich. Or eat it with flatbread or pappadum. This satisfying soup works well as a meal starter, lunch, or a light dinner.
Thick or thin, smooth or a bit chunky
Most of the time, I am too lazy to dirty up a blender, but one of the joys of tomato soup for me is a luscious smoothness you only get from a whirl in the blender. And if you are fancy, you can strain the mixture after blending for an even silkier soup.
If you are being casual and don’t mind some texture, go rogue and leave your spiced tomato soup a bit chunky. I like soups to be on the thick side, but you do you and add stock or water at the end if you feel your soup needs it.
Canned tomatoes vs. fresh
If tomatoes are out of season, I most often reach for canned tomatoes. Canned crushed or whole tomatoes are better than diced tomatoes. Manufacturers often use an additive to keep the diced tomatoes firm, so I don’t use them. If you want to use fresh tomatoes, even if they are out of season, look for cherry, grape, or plum tomatoes. In the Notes below, I give equivalent measures, depending on the type of tomatoes you have.
To thicken and add veggies
You may want to add more ingredients to this soup to thicken it or increase the nutrition. Since this is a quick soup, you will need to precook any additions before adding them to the soup. One way to make a heftier soup is to add cashews blended with a tablespoon or two of water. Other thickeners to consider are bread crumbs—either fresh or dried—potatoes, cooked rice, tortilla chips, or cooked carrots. To make spiced tomato soup even more of a meal, before pureeing the soup, you could add cooked squash, pumpkin, zucchini, red bell pepper (capsicum), or mushrooms.
How to make Indian spiced tomato soup
Choose the tomatoes you would like to use. If you are using whole canned tomatoes, roughly crush them. If using fresh tomatoes, give them a coarse chop.
In a small bowl, mix all the salt and the spices (not the ginger and garlic).
Over medium heat in a large saucepan, add the ghee or oil. When it is hot, add the ginger and garlic. Sauce for a minute or two until it is aromatic and smells cooked.
Add the spices, stirring continuously for 1 to 2 minutes, just until they fragrant and toasted. Be careful not to burn them.
Stir in the tomatoes and turn the heat to medium-high. When the soup begins to bubble, turn the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes to allow the spices to mellow. Add the sugar to your taste, cream, and the butter if you are using it.
Remove the soup from the heat and puree it. If using an immersion blender, blend immediately. If using a blender, allow the mixture to cool for 5 minutes and then mix it carefully. Only fill the blender half full. If you need tips on using the blender for hot foods, see the Notes below. Return the soup to your saucepan and reheat the soup over medium heat.
Taste for seasonings: salt, garam masala, pepper, and a pinch more sugar, if needed. If you like your soup thinner, add more broth or water. If you would like it thicker, cook it over medium heat and check in 5-minute increments or see Notes below for ways to thicken it.
To serve: garnish with all, some, or none of the suggested garnishes above and enjoy this delicious soup.
Will canned tomatoes work as well as fresh tomatoes?
Yes, whole or crushed canned tomatoes work very well. Just avoid diced tomatoes as they often have an additive that helps them keep their shape.
Can I use fresh tomatoes even out of season?
Yes, but I would look for grape, cherry, or plum tomatoes as they will have more flavor. You will need about 2 pounds of fresh tomatoes.
Is it easy to make this soup vegan?
Yes, simply substitute the ghee for oil, water or coconut water for stock, and the cream for a plant-based yogurt or coconut milk.
Is oil a good replacement for ghee?
Yes, ghee adds flavor but this soup already is so highly seasoned that it wouldn’t be missed.
Can I make this soup low-fat?
Yes, this soup as written is pretty low-fat, but if you want to reduce the calories even more you can reduce the ghee or oil. You may need to add a splash of water when cooking the spices if they stick to the pan. Also, replace the cream with low-fat yogurt or coconut milk. NOTE: milk will curdle because of the acidity in the tomatoes.
Is it okay to add other vegetables to this soup?
Absolutely! Keep in mind that this is a quick soup and your additions should be cooked before adding. Also, if you want to keep the flavor of tomatoes front and center, I wouldn’t add more than a 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of additional vegetables. See the Notes below for some veggie ideas.
If I want a thicker soup, can I use a powdered thickener?
Yes, start with one tablespoon of potato starch, rice flour, cornstarch (make a slurry with 1 tablespoon cornstarch to 2 tablespoons water), or chickpea (besan) flour.
Can I use other ingredients to thicken the soup?
Yes, cashew paste, cooked rice or lentils, bread, or bread crumbs, and even powdered tortilla chips.
Make it your own
The variations for this soup are endless. My recipe is lightly spiced because I like the flavor of the tomatoes to shine through. You can always add more garam masala and pepper at the end to your taste. After making this version, I encourage you can branch out and make it your own. Do keep in mind that the balance of spice to tomatoes is important, so tweak spiced tomato soup mindfully. And as usual, have fun playing with your food.
See the Notes below before you cook.
Other Indian soups you might want to try:
Indian Spiced Tomato Soup
- 1 tbsp ghee ~ Or olive oil
- 28 ounces canned whole tomatoes ~ Or canned crushed or fresh tomatoes. See Notes below.
- 1/2 cup chicken stock ~ Or water. More to finish, if needed
- 1 tbsp garlic ~ Or 3 cloves, minced. Or 2 tbsp ginger garlic paste
- 1 tbsp ginger ~ Or 2-inches. Skip if using prepared ginger garlic paste
- 1/2 teaspoon sea or table salt ~ 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala ~ Homemade or purchased
- 3/4 teaspoon Kashmiri ground red chili ~ Or 1/8 to 1/4 tsp cayenne & 1/2 tsp paprika. To taste.
- 2 tbsp yogurt ~ Up to 4 tbsp. Use cream or coconut milk. See Notes below.
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar ~ See Notes below to make
- 1 tbsp butter ~ Optional, cut recommended
- whole cumin toasted in ghee or oil
- toasted cashews
- a drizzle of yogurt
- a flurry of cilantro, mint, parsley, chives, or chopped scallion greens
- croutons using naan or any bread
- croutons using naan or any bread
- Prepare and gather your ingredients.
- If you are using whole canned tomatoes, roughly crush them. And if using fresh tomatoes, give them a coarse chop. In a small bowl, mix all the salt and 1/2spices (not the ginger and garlic).
- Over medium heat In a large saucepan, add the ghee or oil. When the pan is hot, stir in the ginger and garlic. Sauté for a minute or two until it is aromatic and smells cooked. Add the spices, stirring continuously for 1 to 2 minutes, or until they fragrant and toasted. Be careful not to burn them.
- Stir in the tomatoes and turn the heat to medium-high. When the soup begins to bubble, turn the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes to allow the spices to mellow. Add sugar to your taste, yogurt or cream, and butter if you are using it.
- Remove the soup from the heat and purée it. If using an immersion blender, blend immediately. If using a blender, allow the mixture to cool for 5 minutes and mix carefully. Only fill the blender half full. If you need tips for using the blender for hot foods, see the Notes below. Return the soup to your saucepan and reheat the soup over medium heat.
- Taste for seasonings: salt, garam masala, pepper, chili powder, and a pinch more sugar, if needed. If you like your soup thinner, add more broth or water. If you would like it thicker, cook it over medium heat and check in 5-minute increments, or see Notes below for other ways to thicken it.
- To serve: garnish with all, some, or none of the suggested garnishes above and enjoy this delicious soup with a grilled cheese sandwich, pappadam, and/or a salad.
- Tomato choices and equivalents for spiced tomato soup:
- Canned whole or crushed tomatoes: 3 1/2 cups
- Fresh tomatoes: (cherry, grape, or plum tomatoes if out-of-season): 6 medium tomatoes, 4 large tomatoes, or 2 pounds of cherry or plum tomatoes
- Dairy options: Some diary is a nice addition at the end to add richness and mellow out the acid from the tomatoes. Use 2 to 4 tablespoons or more, to your taste. Avoid milk as tends to curdle when added to acidic tomatoes. If you wanting a lower fat option consider low-fat yogurt or coconut milk. Use a plant-based yogurt if vegan.
- If you don’t have brown sugar, make your own with granulated sugar and molasses. Add 1/2 teaspoon of molasses to 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar. Don't worry if they don't blend together perfectly. They will melt into the soup.
- Blending hot food: Remember only to fill the blender halfway. Open the vent in your blender lid, cover with a towel and start blending at low speed, gradually increasing to high.
- Soup thickeners:
- 1 tbsp potato starch, arrowroot, rice flour, cornstarch, or chickpea (besan) flour
- 1/2 cup cooked potato
- a slice of crustless bread or 1 to 2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs
- cashew cream: See Love and Lemons on how to make your own cashew cream
- cooked lentils
- cooked rice
- powdered tortilla chips
- Cooked additions for flavor and nutrition: Up to 3/4 cup
- chopped carrot
- minced red bell pepper
- squash, zucchini, or pumpkin
- grated red beet (beetroot)
- sweet potato, chopped into small chunks