For Mary Harris: Ashvin Chudgar’s Tomato Soup Recipe

Just for Mary Harris: this recipe, never before written down, is one of my father’s “third culture” recipes. It is easy to do, cheap and warming, and nice for children and grown-ups alike.

For Mary Harris: Ashvin Chudgar’s Tomato Soup Recipe
My dad and me in 1981.

My father Ashvin Jayantilal Chudgar immigrated from Ahmedabad, in northwest India, to the United States to go to graduate school. It was 1961, and he was just 22. As an Indian boy, he had never cooked for himself before, or been formally taught how to cook — but he had watched his mother and other people cooking. In the alien environment of Raleigh, North Carolina — then Sacramento, then Reading PA, where I was born — he tried to reproduce what he remembered from ingredients he could find at American grocery stores. I grew up eating the “third-culture” dishes he improvised that way.

This is one of my favorites: easy to do, very inexpensive and very comforting, and nice for children and grown-ups alike.


Gather these things

  • 🥘 a cooking pot that can comfortably hold 2 soup-cans’ worth of soup
  • 🥄 a spoon or spatula
  • 🥫 1 can of condensed Campbell’s tomato soup, or any more-or-less neutrally flavored vegetable soup, like pea
  • 🧈 about 1 tbsp. ghee or neutral oil (my dad used Wesson)
  • 🌶️ some whole spices (not ground), including any of these:
    • ½ tsp. cumin seednecessary
    • ½ tsp. mustard seednecessary
    • 1 small cinnamon stickimportant
    • 2-3 whole clovesgood to have
    • a few curry leaves, dry or fresh optional (my dad didn’t have these, but they’re good if you have them)
  • 🫚 Some ground spices, including any of these:
    • ½ tsp. ground turmericimportant
    • ½ tsp. garlic powderimportant
    • ½ tsp. ground gingerimportant
    • ½ tsp. garam masala optional
    • dash of cinnamon if you don’t have whole
    • dash of cloves if you don’t have whole
    • dash of asafetida optional (my grandmother sent my dad this potent spice in care packages — if you have some, use it, but don’t go out and buy it if you don’t)
    • cayenne to taste optional
    • sugar to taste optional

Have all these things right by the stove ahead of time. The cooking goes super-fast.

Tip: making this tomato soup is a great thing to do while you are making grilled cheese sandwiches, which take a while. They are a very good lunch or supper together.

Now cook

  1. Heat up the ghee or oil in the cooking pot over medium-high heat.
  2. Once it’s nice and hot, dump in the cumin seed and mustard seed and swish them around. In a few seconds, the mustard seeds will start to pop and crackle.
  3. When they do, add the rest of the whole spices and the turmeric the hot oil (cloves, cinnamon stick, curry leaves), and swish them around a couple times while the mustard seeds keep popping. The turmeric will turn a deeper orange shade and smell toasty in just a few seconds.
  4. Be careful: this will definitely splash! Now pour the condensed soup right on top of the hot oil and spices. Swish it around with your spoon or spatula so the oil mixes in with the soup nicely. Turn the heat down to medium-low.
  5. Now add the ground spices right on top and mix them in.
  6. Fill the soup can with water from the tap, then add that on top of the condensed soup. Stir briskly till the soup is nicely combined.
  7. Heat until it’s as hot as you like it. Add sugar and cayenne to taste.


Done! You can give people the soup you’ve made with grilled cheese sandwiches, goldfish crackers, or (my particular favorite from when I was small) hot mango pickle and white Wonderbread.

The recipe is very forgiving, so feel free to experiment. The technique of cooking the spices in the oil first is something you can riff on endlessly, and add to everything.