Tomato rice, or tomato biryani, is a special type of spiced rice traditionally cooked in South India. There are many variations of tomato rice; some versions feature mustard seeds and curry leaves, and others cook the rice with coconut milk.
This tomato rice recipe is inspired by the South Indian variety while utilizing spices more typical in restaurant-style biryanis, such as cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon. Long-grain basmati rice simmers in aromatic spices, ginger, garlic, onion, and tomato for a flavorful, warming one-pot rice dish.
Basmati Rice Is Best for Tomato Rice
Use long-grain basmati rice for fluffy, separated rice grains with this tomato rice. In addition to offering an optimal texture, basmati rice is also aromatic and fragrant, adding a pleasant aroma.
What would happen if you used short-grained rice, such as jasmine rice or sushi rice? The rice grains would clump and stick together—hardly the ideal texture for biryani.
Rinsing and soaking the rice is a must. These steps remove excess starches (producing a gummier result) and improve texture. Now that we’ve chosen the optimal rice variety, it's time to talk about technique.
Tips for Making Fluffy Rice
Without the proper technique, your tomato rice might be too soft, unevenly cooked, or scorch the bottom of the pan. These are some of the struggles I faced when I first learned to cook more complex rice dishes, such as biryanis and pulaos.
Luckily, I've figured out a relatively straightforward method for cooking the rice through trial-and-error and research. There are five key steps in cooking this tomato rice:
- Sauté the aromatics and tomato: Sautéing whole spices, onion, ginger, garlic, and tomato helps develop the base flavor for the rice. Here, I also cook down the tomato to reduce some of the liquid and deepen the flavor.
- Boil the rice until "craters" appear: Rice and water are added to the aromatics and brought to a boil. The rice continues to boil until craters or pea-sized bubbles appear on the rice's surface; the rice will also begin to stick to the bottom of the pan. These craters indicate that the rice has absorbed enough liquid to move on to the next step.
- Simmer the rice: Covering the pot and reducing the heat to low allows the rice to finish cooking at a gentle simmer.
- Let the rice sit: Turning the heat off for a few minutes distributes the moisture evenly throughout the rice.
- Fluff the rice: Fluff the rice to create fluffy separated grains.
These steps can be applied to various other spiced rice dishes, so you can adapt and modify the recipe to your liking.
Essential Spices in Tomato Rice
This tomato rice recipe uses a mix of whole and ground spices. Blooming whole spices in oil creates aromatic pops throughout the dish. Ground spices permeate the rice grains to add cozy, warming flavors.
- Whole spices: Cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon are classic spices used in biryani. I also add in fennel seeds, which pair well with tomato.
- Ground spices: Garam masala is earthy and fragrant and can be found in most major grocery stores and Indian specialty stores. For an extra fresh dose of flavor, you can make it at home.
Serve Tomato Rice as a Side or Main
You can serve tomato rice warm, or at room temperature on hotter days. While you can absolutely present the tomato rice as a main dish, I prefer to serve it as a side with raita. Pair the tomato rice with protein, such as spiced shrimp or chicken. Here are a few main dishes that would go well with the tomato rice:
- Jerk Chicken
- Grilled Chicken with Yogurt Garlic Marinade
- Grilled Shrimp with Konkani-Inspired Masala
- Grilled Whole Fish Stuffed with Herbs and Chilies
The Riches of Rice
1 cup long-grain basmati rice
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
8 black peppercorns
1 large red onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon grated garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons grated ginger
1 small jalapeno, slit in half lengthwise
2 tablespoons cashews, roughly chopped (optional)
1 (14-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Soak the rice:
Rinse the rice in a fine-mesh sieve, combing through the grains with your fingers, until water appears almost clear, about 1 minute. Pour enough cold water into the bowl to submerge the rice completely. Add the rice and soak rice for at least 30 minutes up to 4 hours. Drain the rice through a sieve and set aside until ready to cook.
Sauté the aromatics:
Set a medium 3-quart pot over medium heat. Add oil, and stir in cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel seeds, and black peppercorns. Once the spices begin to sizzle, stir in onion. Sauté the onions for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden-brown at the edges and soft and translucent in the middle.
Season with 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt. Stir frequently to prevent them from burning. Lower the heat to medium-low, then sauté the garlic, ginger, jalapeno halves, and cashews (if using) for 1 to 2 minutes, or until aromatic.
Cook the tomato:
Add the tomato, garam masala, and cumin. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes until the tomato liquid has reduced slightly and begins sticking to the pan.
Tomatoes can scorch very easily, so keep a close eye on the pan and stir it every now and then.
Boil the rice:
Add the water, drained rice, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, uncovered. Let the mixture boil until craters (pea-sized bubbles) form on the top, about 5 minutes. Stir the rice once (you may notice the bottom of the rice is sticking slightly to the pan; carefully stir to loosen any stuck grains).
Electric burners tend to retain heat much longer, which can scorch the rice. To prevent this, pre-heat a separate burner to low heat as the rice boils. Once the rice comes to a boil, turn the heat off, transfer the pot to the burner on low heat, and cook for 20 minutes. Turn the heat off, then let the rice sit for 10 minutes, covered.
Finish cooking the rice:
If using a gas stove, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and cook for 20 minutes. Turn the heat off, then let the rice sit for 10 minutes, covered.
Remove the lid and fluff the rice with a fork. With the fork, sift through and discard any whole spices.
Garnish rice with cilantro and serve.
Storage and reheating:
Leftover rice can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.
To reheat, transfer the rice to a microwave-safe container and cover with a damp paper towel. Microwave in 1-minute intervals, stirring in between until warmed through.
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|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 10g||13%|
|Saturated Fat 1g||5%|
|Total Carbohydrate 27g||10%|
|Dietary Fiber 4g||15%|
|Total Sugars 6g|
|Vitamin C 16mg||82%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|