Winter Tomato Soup with Curry Leaf

A couple of weekends ago, we went to visit my parents for a few days. It was the beginning of what felt like the holiday season to us, because it was the first time we had a big extended family with the newest two additions in the family, my precious niece known affectionately as Pumpkin and her twin cutie, nicknamed Chunky. They are fraternal twins and just a few months old—but their presence brought livelihood and lovely chaos to a family setting that previously felt…smaller…and quieter…and perhaps even incomplete.

We bustled in, my husband and I and the girls on that Friday afternoon, with more luggage than my sister with the twins! Who would believe we should have more paraphernelia for a weekend than a couple with newborns?!?! I guess I’ve never been a minimalist, even when it comes down to food.

My mother however, is a minimalist, and she had just set the dinner table with an assortment of styrofoam products (yikes!) and a hodgepodge of warming wintery simple eats, like Gujarati khichi (not KHICHRI), doused with oil and a piquant chili pepper blend crimson as Christmas. She served muthhiya, with a marmalade-like condiment, called gol-kari, which people in the old days acutally used to make by hand! Now mom buys it in a jar at the Indian market. You gotta get your hands on some of that stuff: pieced unripe mango in a mesh of spices and sweet jaggery .  On the table was a saucepan full of Mom’s sought-after tomato soup, hers a boxed organic tomato version, adulterated  accentuated with her touch: curry leaf and a smidgen of spice.

Famished, I heaved my body down at the table after quickly removing my coat and shoes and cast a quick hello to everyone (the twins were asleep). I gorged with the muthiyaa first dipping into the gol-kari, then I had a steaming portion of khichi, followed by bowl after bowl of that tomato soup. It’s the kind of soup that is familiar all the way, but at the end, there is a twinge of “Hmmm, what is that I’m tasting? What is that flavor that elevates this soup to something special?” I couldn’t get enough of the soup that day.

The next week, back at my own home, I wanted more. So I made my own non-minimalist version in my non-minimalist kitchen with all the whole ingredients and no boxes. Sadly, and happily?, both versions taste the same. Box or no box, I beg you to try my recipe for tomato soup with curry leaves.


Winter Tomato Soup with Curry Leaf

Winter Tomato Soup with Curry Leaf


Winter Tomato Soup with Curry Leaf

Serves: Serves 4

My mother has been making this soup for years, to "Indianify" the standard tomato soup without much of a complex masala or a lot of extra steps. The curry leaf, mustard seed, and cumin seed combination (fried in a technique called tarka and added at the end) lend a definite “Indian” flavor to an otherwise very simple tomato soup. You can certainly leave the tarka out for a pure American-style tomato soup, especially when you want to stay true to one region. I don’t often cross over borders with my own personal cooking, but this soup is a great entry point to just a touch of spice!


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¾ cup diced onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatos, preferable Muir Glen Fire Roasted variety
  • 2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 packed tablespoons brown sugar
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • For tarka:
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ¼ teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin seed
  • about 10 fresh curry leaves


  1. Heat olive oil in a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, scoop in the onion, garlic, celery, and carrot.
  2. Saute for a few minutes, avoiding any browning of the vegetables.
  3. Stir in the spices: the bay leaf, black pepper, salt, basil, and thyme.
  4. Cook for a few minutes, then pour in the tomatos.
  5. Pour in the stock and sugar.
  6. Cook at a simmer for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, then remove from heat.
  7. When it’s cooled down a little, puree the soup in a blender, in batches as necessary.
  8. Pour the pureed soup back into pot and turn on heat to low.
  9. Stir in the heavy cream and keep on low.
  10. Meanwhile, keep ingredients ready and nearby for the tarka: using a small skillet, like an 8 inch skillet, begin to heat the vegetable oil until it’s shimmering hot but not smoking. Immediately add the mustard seeds. After a few seconds you will hear them pop, then immediately add the cumin seeds. Next quickly drop in the curry leaves, keeping a distance since they will splatter in the oil. Turn off heat immediately. The cumin seeds should only be lightly browned, not black.
  11. This tarka technique takes some practice so don’t be worried if you have to do it again!
  12. Pour the spiced oil into the soup. Stir well and remove from heat. Serve! And please do eat the curry leaves!

© Shefaly Ravula/ Shef’s Kitchen

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