Tomato Pappu| Andhra-Style Tomato Dal

Tomato Pappu is one of those hug-in-a-bowl kind of dishes. It is a hugely comforting food, something that would soothe you when you are sick or just generally need a pick-me-up. It is a very simple thing to put together, yet hearty and flavourful, nutritious and healing, a brilliant accompaniment to hot rice. No wonder I am turning to this dish often as I recover from Covid along with my family, and am slowly regaining control of my tastebuds.

In today’s post, I am going to share with you all how I make Tomato Pappu.

What is Tomato Pappu?

Tomato Pappu is a beautiful dish from the cuisine of Andhra Pradesh. It is a sort of Tomato Dal, cooked the South Indian way, if I may say so.

Pappu‘ refers to lentils in Telugu. Andhra cuisine offers several varieties of pappu – different types of lentils cooked with different ingredients – each more delicious than the other. Tomato Pappu refers to lentils (toor dal, in this case) cooked with lots of tomatoes, along with a few other ingredients. The end result is just the right amount of tangy and spicy, and spells out ‘bliss’ with some hot steamed rice and a dollop of ghee. You don’t really need a side dish with this meal, but some Potato Roast or Bhindi Sabzi tastes brilliant.

Tomato Pappu also goes really well with Jeera Rice or a simple Matar Pulav.

Tomato Pappu and me

Tomato Pappu is not something that I grew up with, in the sense that it wasn’t something we made in our family. When I was in high school or so, a couple of Telugu neighbours moved in next to us, and I would say that was the start of a golden period in my foodie life. 🙂

The neighbours were generous enough to share boxes and boxes of lip-smackingly delicious Andhra food, with the spice level toned down for us (they loved the boxes of Tamilian and Gujarati food that my mom sent back). This was when I fell in love with Andhra food, and learnt how to cook a few simple dishes from these neighbour aunties. I learnt the recipe for Tomato Pappu from them, and it has been an integral part of my family meals ever since.

How to make Tomato Pappu

Here is how I make it. It takes under 25 minutes to make, including hands-free time when the lentils are being pressure-cooked. I find it the perfect thing to make on rushed weekdays, when I need to put together a meal quickly.

Ingredients (serves 4):

1. 3/4 cup toor dal

2. A small ball of tamarind

3. 1 medium-sized onion

4. 2 large tomatoes

5. 2 green chillies or as per taste

6. 1 sprig curry leaves

7. 5-6 cloves of garlic

8. Salt to taste

9. 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

10. Red chilli powder to taste

11. 1/3 tablespoons jaggery powder or to taste

12. 1/2 tablespoon + 3/4 tablespoon oil

13. 3/4 teaspoon mustard seeds

14. 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

15. 2 pinches of asafoetida

16. 2 dry red chillies

17. 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander


1. Wash the toor dal well under running water. Drain out all the water, then transfer to a wide vessel. Add in enough fresh water to cover the toor dal completely. Place the vessel in a pressure cooker. Pressure cook on high flame for 7-8 whistles or till completely cooked and soft. Let the pressure release naturally.

2. In the meantime, soak the tamarind in boiling water for at least 15 minutes, for it to become soft. Let it cool down enough to handle.

3. While the toor dal is cooking, peel and chop the onion finely. Slit the green chillies length-wise. Chop the tomatoes finely. Keep the curry leaves ready.

4. Also, peel the garlic cloves. Pound them roughly using a mortar and pestle. Keep ready.

5. When the tamarind has cooled down enough, extract thick juice out of it. Use a little water to help with the extraction process, but do not make the juice too watery. Keep ready.

6. When the pressure from the cooker has completely gone down, get the cooked toor dal out. Mash it thoroughly. Keep ready.

7. All the prep work is now done. We will start to actually make the Tomato Pappu. Heat 1/2 tablespoon oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add in the finely chopped onion. Saute on medium flame for about 2 minutes or till the onion starts browning.

8. Now, add in the chopped tomatoes, along with a bit of salt and some water. Mix well. Cook on medium flame for 3-4 minutes or till the tomatoes turn mushy and lose their raw smell.

9. Add in the slit green chillies and curry leaves.

10. Also add in the tamarind extract, salt to taste, turmeric powder and red chilli powder. Mix well. Cook on medium flame for a couple of minutes.

11. At this stage, add in the cooked and mashed toor dal.

12. Add in the jaggery powder. Mix well. If the mixture is too thick, add about 1/2 cup water or as needed to adjust consistency.

13. Let everything cook together on medium flame for 3-4 minutes, stirring intermittently.

14. While the dal is cooking, we will prepare the tempering. Heat 3/4 tablespoon oil in a small tempering pan. Add in the mustard and let it pop. Then, add in the cumin seeds, asafoetida, dry red chillies and crushed garlic. Turn the flame down to low. Mixing gently with a spoon, wait till the garlic turns brown, about a minute. Now, add this tempering to the dal cooking in the other pan. Mix well. After it has cooked for 3-4 minutes, switch off gas.

15. Mix in the finely chopped coriander. Close the pan with a lid to let the flavours of the tempering seep into the dal. After 10-15 minutes, the Tomato Pappu is ready to serve. Serve it hot with plain white rice or a rice dish of your choice.

Is this Tomato Pappu vegan and gluten-free?

This Tomato Pappu recipe is completely vegetarian and vegan (plant-based).

To make it gluten-free, simply skip the asafoetida used in the tempering. This is because most Indian brands of asafoetida contain wheat flour to a lesser or greater extent and are, therefore, best avoided when one is following a gluten-free diet.

Tips & Tricks

1. Make sure the toor dal is cooked well and soft. Mash it well before using. You may soak the toor dal before cooking it, but I do not.

2. Adjust the quantity of tamarind you use as per personal taste preferences.

3. Adjust the quantity of water you use depending upon the consistency of the Tomato Pappu you require. Ideally, it should be thick, not too watery. The consistency of Tomato Pappu should be thicker than regular Dal Fry.

4. Adjust the quantity of green chillies and red chilli powder you use depending upon personal taste preferences.

5. I prefer using the tart Nati (‘country’) tomatoes to make this dish, rather than the ‘farmed’ version. These tomatoes add loads of flavour to the pappu. Tomatoes are the soul of this dish, so do not skimp on them. I have used two large ones here. Make sure the tomatoes are well-cooked and mushy before adding in the cooked toor dal.

6. Make sure the tempering does not burn. At the same time, do make sure the garlic is cooked and not raw before adding it to the Tomato Pappu.

7. You may use ghee instead of oil for the tempering. I have used oil here.

8. Adding the jaggery is purely optional. The family friends I learnt this recipe from used to add jaggery and I love doing the same. I think it makes the Tomato Pappu all the more flavourful.

9. Do not miss keeping the Tomato Pappu covered for a few minutes after the tempering. It helps the beautiful flavours of the tempering to infuse into the Tomato Pappu.

10. Some families add a dash of sambar powder or coriander + cumin powder while cooking the Tomato Pappu. However, I learnt how to make this dish without these spice powders and we prefer it that way.

11. In some families, the onion, garlic, green chillies and tomatoes are pressure cooked along with the toor dal. However, that completely changes the taste of the Tomato Pappu and I do not prefer making it that way.

12. The onion and garlic are optional, but I love them in Tomato Pappu. I, in fact, love this with loads of garlic added in. I would definitely not recommend leaving them out.

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

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