Thakkali Thokku| Instant Tomato Pickle

When life gives me lemons, I use them to make lemonade, among other things. When life gives me tomatoes, making Thakkali Thokku is the first-ever thing I think of. 🙂 It’s an eternal favourite at our place, after all.

Today, I am going to share with you all our family recipe for this Thakkali Thokku.

What is Thakkali Thokku?

Thakkali Thokku is an instant pickle made using tomatoes, hugely popular in South India. In Tamilnadu, the preparation of this pickle is a simple affair – tomatoes are pureed, then cooked along with a tempering of mustard seeds till the puree reduces and thickens, then seasoned. Every family has its own little variations to the method, of course.

When tomatoes are in season and flood the markets, as they are right now, the preparation of this thokku is in full swing in most Tamilian households. I recently picked up loads of tomatoes from the market very cheap, and made a batch of this thokku – now, we are all set for the next fortnight or so!

Why you should be making Thakkali Thokku

~ Like I was saying earlier, it is super easy to make. It just takes under half an hour to get a bottle of Thakkali Thokku ready.

~ As easy as it is to make, Thakkali Thokku is a delight to gorge on. The natural tanginess from the tomatoes, the salt, jaggery and red chilli powder that go into the thokku make for a lip-smacking combination.

~ It is a great way to make use of seasonal vegetables, i.e. tomatoes in this case.

~ It makes for a great accompaniment to just about everything. In our house, once a bottle of this thokku is ready, it is eaten as an accompaniment to idli, dosa, vada, curd rice and upma, rotis and parathas. We use it as a sandwich spread too. It also comes in handy on busy days when I’m unable to cook anything else – just mix this thokku with some hot steamed rice or cooked vermicelli (semiya), and a hearty meal is ready!

~ Just look at the beautiful red colour of the thokku! Pack it in a glass jar and tie a ribbon around the neck, and it makes for a lovely edible gift for near and dear ones. Think about this – isn’t this an easy to make home-made gift for Diwali or Christmas? Or even for small get-togethers and parties?

~ Making stuff like this thokku at home means you can avoid buying store-bought pickles and spreads, which are more often than not laden with artificial colours and flavours, preservatives, loads of oil and salt! You can control the quality of the ingredients that goes in, too.

~ I use only a limited amount of oil in my Thakkali Thokku, which makes it a healthy addition to our everyday meals. It is a completely vegetarian and vegan preparation, suited to those on a plant-based diet. Skip the asafoetida used in the tempering, and this becomes a gluten-free preparation as well.

~ I make some little variations to the Tomato Thokku, every time I make a batch. So, the taste is different for every batch I make – to keep the interest quotient alive. 🙂

~ Made with a wee bit more salt and oil, cooked a little more thick than I usually do, the Thakkali Thokku stays well for over a week without refrigeration. It therefore makes for a great travel companion – a bottle of the thokku with some thepla, some slices of bread or parathas will serve you well on a long train journey.

Our recipe for Thakkali Thokku

Here’s how we make Thakkali Thokku, in our family.

Ingredients (makes about 1 cup):

1. 12-14 medium-sized tomatoes
2 . 2 tablespoons sesame oil
3. 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
4. 1/2 teaspoon asafoetida
5. Salt to taste
6. 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
7. 1/2 tablespoon tamarind paste or to taste
8. 3/4 tablespoon jaggery powder or to taste
9. Red chilli powder to taste


1. Wash the tomatoes well under running water. Pat dry using a cotton cloth.
2. Chop the tomatoes roughly. Transfer to a big mixer jar.
3. Grind the tomato pieces to a smooth puree. Keep aside.
4. Heat the sesame oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the mustard seeds, and allow to pop. Now, add the asafoetida and allow it to stay in for a couple of seconds.
5. Add the tomato puree to the pan. Mix well. Cook on high flame till the mixture begins to bubble, about 2 minutes.
6. Now, turn the flame down to low-medium. Cook covered, on low-medium heat, till the mixture starts thickening. This should take 10-12 minutes. Uncover intermittently and stir.
7. When the mixture begins to thicken, add in salt to taste, turmeric powder, tamarind paste, red chilli powder and jaggery powder. Mix well.
8. Cook uncovered on low-medium flame till the mixture attains spreadable consistency, as in the picture above. Do not make it too thick, though. Switch off gas when the pickle reaches this point.
9. Allow the pickle to cool down fully, then transfer to a clean, dry, air-tight bottle. Use as needed, alongside steamed rice, parathas, rotis, idlis, dosas, etc.

Tips & Tricks

1. For best results, use the tart country (Nati) tomatoes, as opposed to the ‘farm’ variety. However, if you are not able to find country tomatoes, the farm version will do.
2. Adjust the quantity of jaggery powder, red chilli powder and salt, as per personal taste preferences.
3. Make sure you cook the mixture on low-medium flame, to ensure that there is no burning.
4. There is a whole lot of sputtering when you start cooking the tomato puree, till it gets thicker. Cooking the puree covered helps in containing the sputtering to quite an extent.
5. Sesame oil (nalla ennai) is best for this kind of pickle. However, in its absence, you may use any other type of oil instead, too. You may use more or less oil, as per personal preferences.
6. Stop cooking the mixture when it reaches a considerably thick, spreadable consistency. Don’t make it overly thick.
7. For a gluten-free version of the thokku, skip the asafoetida used in the tempering. This is because most commercial brands of asafoetida use wheat flour. However, if you are able to find a completely gluten-free version of asafoetida, please do go ahead and use it.
8. I use only a limited amount of oil and salt in the pickle and, hence, keep it refrigerated. Stored under refrigeration and used hygienically, it stays well for at least 15-20 days.

Some variations to the Thakkali Thokku

1. You can do the tempering at the end, instead of at the start, as I have done here. In that case, just cook the tomato puree as above, till it thickens, add in the seasonings. Then, add the sesame oil tempering with mustard seeds and asafoetida. Doing this helps in retaining the unique fragrance of the sesame oil in the thokku.

2. Curry leaves and dry red chillies can be added to the tempering, for added flavour, as can a few fenugreek (methi) seeds.

3. Powdered fenugreek seeds (methi dana) and/or mustard (rai) can be added to the Thakkali Thokku, for enhanced flavour. In case you are using these, add them in when the mixture has started to thicken. Cook everything together for a few minutes, and switch off gas when the thokku reaches spreadable consistency.

4. You may omit the tamarind paste (if the tomatoes are tart enough) and jaggery, in the above recipe, if you so prefer. Personally, though, I like using them.

5. Some onion and/or garlic cloves can be added to the tomatoes while grinding the puree. Then, cook the thokku the same way as above.

Did you like the recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!