Chettinad Thakkali Soup| South Indian Tomato Soup

Chettinad Thakkali Soup is a tomato soup made in the South Indian style, a light but flavourful concoction that is just the right thing for cold, rainy weather. This soup recipe hails from Chettinad in South Indian and, like many recipes from the region go, is flavoured using spices like coriander seeds, pepper and fennel. This South Indian Tomato Soup is mostly had with rice in Chettinad, as I recently learnt, but it is beautiful to sip on on its own too.

While I was researching Chettinad cuisine for the Shhh Cooking Secretly Challenge recently, I remembered this tomato soup recipe that Chef Damodaran had once shared on one of his TV shows. I recreated it at home, and it was so well loved by everyone that I went on to make it a few more times since then. The incessant rains and chilly weather in Bangalore provided just the right setting for it. 🙂 Let me share with you all how to make this delicious Chettinad Thakkali Soup.

Chettinad Thakkali Soup or South Indian Tomato Soup

Head to this post of mine for a detailed write-up about Chettinad cuisine and the recipe for Vengaya Kose, a lovely onion and potato gravy for dosas and idlis. This Kondakadalai Kara Kozhambu is another recipe from Chettinad, for chickpeas cooked in a tamarind gravy, to be had with rice.

What goes into Chettinad Thakkali Soup

This Chettinad Thakkali Soup might look similar to Tomato Rasam, but it tastes quite different. For starters, there is no tamarind used here, and the spices used are quite different from those typically used in rasam. Like I was saying earlier, this soup is flavoured in the South Indian style, with spices like black pepper, fennel, coriander seeds, cumin and cinnamon. It has a unique flavour profile of its own, and is vastly different from the regular tomato soup we usually get in restaurants.

Tomatoes are the main ingredient in this soup, of course. Onion, green chillies and garlic are added in to make it all the more tasteful. Sometimes, it is even tempered with curry leaves, though I do not prefer doing so.

This Chettinad Thakkali Soup is thickened using cooked toor dal – there is no corn flour or other thickening agent involved, which makes this a very wholesome drink. A dollop of ghee also goes into it, adding a very unique, lovely fragrance to the soup.

How to make Chettinad Thakkali Soup

Here is how to go about it.

Ingredients (serves 4):

1. 2 tablespoons toor dal

2. 4 medium-sized tomatoes

3. 1 green chilli

4. 1 small onion

5. 2 teaspoons ghee

6. 3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds

7. Salt as needed

8. 1 tablespoon finely chopped coriander

To roast and grind:

1. 2 teaspoons coriander seeds

2. 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

3. 3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds

4. A 1/2-inch piece of cinnamon

5. 5-6 cloves of garlic


Top left and right: Steps 1 and 2, Centre left and right: Step 3, Bottom left and right: Steps 4 and 5

1. Wash the toor dal well and drain out the water.

2. Take the washed and drained toor dal in a vessel. Add enough fresh water to cover the lentils completely. Place the vessel in a pressure cooker. Pressure cook on high flame for 7-8 whistles or till the toor dal is soft and mushy. Let the pressure release naturally.

3. Next, we will prepare the spice mix that goes into the soup. First, peel the garlic cloves and keep them ready. Then, dry roast the cumin seeds, coriander seeds and cinnamon in a heavy-bottomed pan on medium flame, for about a minute. Add in the garlic cloves at this stage. Continue to dry roast the ingredients for 2 minutes or so, or till they become aromatic. Ensure that the ingredients do not burn. Transfer the roasted ingredients to a plate and allow them to cool down completely.

4. In the meantime, peel the onion and chop roughly. Chop up the green chilli into pieces. Chop the tomatoes finely. Keep ready.

5. When the roasted ingredients have entirely cooled down, transfer them to a small mixer jar. Grind to a coarse powder, without adding any water. Keep aside.

Top left: Step 6, Top right: Step 7, Below top right and bottom right: Step 8, Bottom left: Step 9

6. When the pressure from the cooker has completely gone down, get the cooked toor dal out. Mash well. Keep aside.

7. Now, take the oil in the same heavy-bottomed pan we used earlier. Add in the chopped onions. Saute on medium flame till they are cooked.

8. Add the chopped tomatoes and green chilli to the pan, along with a little salt. Saute on medium flame till the raw smell of the tomatoes is gone and they have turned soft and mushy. Switch off gas and allow this mixture to cool down fully.

9. When completely cool, transfer the tomato mixture to a mixer jar. Grind everything together to a smooth paste.

Top left, centre and right: Steps 10, 11 and 12, Bottom left, centre and right: Steps 13, 14 and 15

10. Now, we will start preparing the soup. Heat the ghee in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add in the fennel seeds, and allow them to stay in for a few seconds without burning.

11. Add the ground tomato mixture to the pan, as well as the cooked and mashed toor dal. Add about 1-1/2 cups of water or as needed to adjust the consistency of the soup. Mix well.

12. Taste and adjust salt to taste. Cook the mixture on medium flame for about 2 minutes.

13. Add the coarsely ground spice powder we prepared earlier. Mix well.

14. Cook on medium flame till the soup comes to a boil, then reduce the flame a bit more. Allow to simmer for about 2 minutes, then switch off the gas.

15. Garnish with finely chopped coriander. Your South Indian Tomato Soup is ready. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve hot.

Is this Chettinad Thakkali Soup vegan and gluten-free?

This soup recipe is completely vegetarian and gluten-free.

It is not vegan because of the use of ghee, which is a milk-based product. If you want to make this soup vegan (plant-based), skip the ghee and use oil for the tempering instead. Personally, I prefer ghee in this soup, though – that is what is traditionally used, and it does add a lovely aroma to it.

Tips & Tricks

1. This is supposed to be a watery but flavourful soup. Adjust the quantity of water you use, depending upon the consistency of the soup you require.

2. Adjust the quantity of black pepper and green chillies as per personal taste preferences. If you want a milder-tasting soup, skip the green chilli altogether – using black pepper is a must, though.

3. Take care to ensure that the spices do not burn while roasting. This might alter the taste of the soup.

4. You can temper the soup at the end, just before serving – with ghee and fennel seeds – instead of at the beginning, as I have done here. The fennel and ghee will be more fragrant this way.

5. Make sure you use only a small piece of cinnamon. Using too much can overpower the soup.

6. A sprig of curry leaves can be used, along with the fennel seeds, to temper the soup. I have avoided this, since we don’t like whole curry leaves in our soup.

7. This soup does not use any tamarind – there’s only the sourness of the tomatoes. Use country aka ‘Nati’tomatoes, as opposed to the ‘farmed’ ones for a nice tangy flavour.

8. A splash of coconut milk can be added to the soup, when it is almost done. This adds a unique flavour and some sweetness to the soup. I usually do not do so.

9. If you feel the need, a dash of lemon juice can be added to the soup. So can a bit of jaggery. It’s all up to your personal taste preferences, though the traditional Chettinad version of the soup does not use these two ingredients.

10. Small onions, popularly called ‘sambar onions’ in South India, are traditionally used in the soup. However, if you do not have them, regular red onions can be used too.

11. Do not use more than the specified amount of toor dal, as that might make the soup too thick.

12. Moong dal can also be used in place of the toor dal I have used here. You may also use a tablespoon each of moong dal and toor dal.

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


2 thoughts on “Chettinad Thakkali Soup| South Indian Tomato Soup

  1. Indian Soups have become an important part in the list of Indian meal. Soups have a wide variety depending on the spices and vegetables used. Soups are generally added as the second course and are one of the main parts of South Indian menu. A number of ways are there to prepare soups. Sometimes the soups are taken with plain rice and in some parts of India these go simultaneously with various curries for side dish. The soups are considered as good appetizers.


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