THATI’s tomato fried rice

My mother-in-law was an amazing woman. She was about 5 foot something and not very formidable looking. As a new bride and hearing stories of mother-in-laws, she did not fail. My first memory of her was making pal payasam or rice pudding. My job was to stir the pot continuously so that it did not burn. It was for a function and so it was a huge vessel. She asked me to stir and would come and check every few minutes. 25 years later, I still remember the feeling, the fear that the rice would burn at the bottom. Paal payasam was my favourite desert, but a few years later, I became intolerant to milk and I cannot eat it anymore.

My mother-in-law (her grandchildren called her thati and we, Amma) was a wonderful cook, cooking traditional foods. She did not believe in shortcuts and had to do it right. My husband often talks about the number of people/friends she has cooked for and my husband’s friends still remember her food. My husband and I lived abroad for many many years and visited India once a year. She lived with her other son and daughter in law. My sister in law became her sous chef. She was told how to cut vegetables, grind the masalas and always under thati’s watchful eye. She seldom raised her voice but got her job done with just a look, she could put Gordon Ramsay to shame. My sister-in-law is now an awesome cook. Years later, she came to stay with me but I had to leave early for work, so my helper Pushpa became her sous chef. When she could no longer cook, Pushpa cooked for her and they enjoyed a fond relationship.

Though thati usually cooked traditional food which did not include onion and garlic, there was a time she visited a naturopathy clinic. I remember meeting her just after her stay there. She was told that garlic was good for health and she started eating a lot of garlic and loved it. Around that time she started making this tomato rice, which she ate at the clinic. Her grand daughters loved this dish and she would often make it for them. This was almost 20 years ago.

When the pandemic started and we were all homebound, I was trying to collect recipes from the family. My nieces remembered the tomato rice their ‘thati’ made for them.This is her recipe with a few small changes. My mother in law passed away earlier this year. If she was alive, she would be sitting on the couch knowing exactly what I was doing in the kitchen and what ingredients went into the rice with just the fragrance wafting into the living room. I hope she approves. Amma, Rest in Peace!

This recipe is specially for her grand daughters Sandya, Sri and Danya!


  • 4 tomatoes, pureed (around 2 cups)
  • 1 can unsweetened coconut milk (about 1/2 cup)- my m-i-l would use fresh coconut for the coconut milk- but I finds cans just as good
  • 1/2 cup water
  • about 10 cloves garlic, chopped (1/4 cup) – remember she loved garlic
  • 1 inch ginger, chopped finely (optional)
  • 1 large onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 green chillies (chopped)-optional
  • 2 tbsp oil (or 1 tbsp oil and 1 tbsp ghee) – ghee makes everything tasty
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 pods of cardamom
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • salt to taste
  • 2 cups basmati rice (she used jeera rice)
  • coriander leaves and roasted cashew nuts to garnish


  • Wash and soak basmati rice in water for a few minutes. Drain and keep aside
  • In a pressure cooker or instant pot, heat oil/ghee
  • Add cumin seeds, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and bay leaf
  • Add onions, garlic, green chilli and ginger and saute for a few minutes
  • Add rice and saute till translucent. Add turmeric and chilli powder
  • Add pureed tomato, coconut milk, water, and salt
  • Pressure cook for 1 whistle or for 2 minutes in the instant pot.
  • Fluff the rice and garnish with coriander leaves
  • You can also add some roasted cashew nuts on top
  • Serve with some stir fried vegetables, papad or raita.

After I wrote this post, Sandya also made this dish and sent me pictures- these are her pictures. I am sure her daughter loved it as much as she did as a kid and the tradition continues…


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Looks delicious thanks for sharing


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