This tomato and onion salad recipe combines simple ingredients with big flavours in to a delicious side salad. The addition of earthy cumin, fresh cilantro and zesty lemon makes this a refreshing side dish accompaniment for any curry, dahl or summer grill meal. With the chilli pepper, you can make this tomato onion sambal as spicy or as mild as you wish.

long shot of onion and tomato salad or tomato relish South Africa

This recipe is not just for a traditional salad as we know it, but is rather a tomato and onion sambal, or a tomato and onion relish which is traditionally served with Indian, Malaysian and Indonesian dishes. I normally use it as a refreshing side dish for any spicy curry or serve it with papadums or nachos. Many countries have their own version of a salad with tomato and onion, each with their own small recipe variations. I learned to eat this recipe in South Africa, where it is often served as an accompaniment for South African bobotie, with vegetarian lentil bobotie or at any South African braai.

Tomato and onion salad with chilli, spring onion, cumin, coriander and lemon

onion and tomato salad ingredients

ingredients for making South African tomato and onion relish
  • Tomatoes: You can use any type of fresh tomatoes you like. In this recipe I used Roma tomatoes, or plum tomatoes as they are also called, because of the rich and flavourful taste. They are also quite firm, so the tomato doesn’t get soggy after a while. But use any tomatoes you have at home for this salad.
  • Onion: I use just a little bit of onion, since the taste can be quite strong. Or use a sweet onion or shallot instead if you prefer.
  • Spring onion: Add spring onion for the beautiful green colour and the lovely sweet and tender taste.
  • Chilli pepper: This onion and tomato salad is meant to be nice and fresh to balance a curry with bold flavours. I just add a little bit of chilli, the hot seeds removed, to add a bit of tanginess. But feel free to make this relish more or less spicy, depending on if you serve this alongside a spicy or sweet dish.
  • Lemon: The lemon makes this salad nice and fresh. I use both the lemon zest as well as the fresh lemon juice.
  • Sugar: Sugar is added to balance out all the flavours and brings harmony to the zesty lemon and the aromatic taste of the spices. You can either leave the sugar out or add more if you like this salad to be more sweet. I just add half a teaspoon max.
  • Spices: You could opt to just add salt and pepper to taste. I usually go for a more of an exotic taste by adding ground cumin and ground coriander to the spice mix. Both spices go really well with any curry, dahl or other Indian, Malaysian or Indonesian dish. If you use this tomato relish as a side dish for nachos or grilled meat you can leave those spices out and just add some fresh cilantro and/or parsley.
top view with tomato and onion sambal for bobotie with chilli, lemon, cumin and coriander

How to make tomato relish

Note: All the exact quantities of the ingredients can be found in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.

This fragrant onion and tomato salad is really easy and quick to make. You just need to chop the ingredients and throw them all together to create a delicious side dish. You can have it on the table in under 10 minutes.

chopped tomato onion spring onion and chillis for a salad

I usually remove the seeds from the tomatoes to make this salad. By not removing the seeds, the tomato relish might become too liquid due to the additional tomato juices. I like to use tomatoes that are firm, like Roma or plum tomatoes. Feel free to use any tomatoes you have at home or that you love to eat.

So first of all, remove the seeds and finely dice the tomato.

Finely dice the onion and cut the spring onion in to fine rings. Use both the green and the white part of the spring onion. Regarding the chilli pepper, it depends how hot you’d like the salad to be. If you plan to serve it alongside an already spicy curry, I’d keep the tomato and onion salad refreshing and mild, to balance the spiciness of the curry. If you like it hot, use a hot chilli with the seeds included.

Combine the onion, tomato, spring onion and chilli in a mixing bowl. Add the lemon zest and juice as well as the sugar and all the spices. Toss everything well. Serve with some chopped fresh cilantro or parsley. Bon appétit!

top view salad with tomato and onion with chilli, spring onion, cumin and coriander

How to serve tomato onion salad

This tomato onion salad or tomato sambal is a side dish that is generally served alongside a curry, dahl, some South African dishes like bobotie with yellow rice, or with almost any stew. It can also be served with nachos or as a side salad for any barbecue with grilled meat, grilled chicken or fish.

Tomato and onion salad

This tomato and onion salad recipe combines simple ingredients with big flavours into a delicious side salad. The addition of earthy cumin, fresh cilantro and zesty lemon makes this a refreshing side dish to accompany any curry, dahl or summer grill meal.
Prep Time10 minutes
Total Time10 minutes
Course: Sauces & Dips
Cuisine: South African
Servings: 4
Author: Sabine


  • 3 ripe tomatoes seeded and finely diced
  • ½ onion finely diced
  • 1 chilli pepper seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 spring onion cut in rings
  • ½ zest and juice of half a lemon
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • salt and pepper to taste

Garnish (optional)

  • fresh cilantro chopped
  • fresh parsley chopped


  • Remove the seeds and cut the tomato in to very fine pieces. Finely dice the onion and cut the spring onion in to fine rings. Remove the seeds and finely cut the chilli pepper. (Don't remove the seeds if you like it hot.)
  • In a mixing bowl, combine the tomatoes, onion, spring onion and chilli pepper. Add lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, ground cumin, ground coriander. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss well.
  • Serve with some freshly chopped cilantro leaves or fresh parsley.

Did you make this recipe? I’d love to hear how it turned out! Leave a comment with rating below and share a picture with the hashtag #thetastychilli and tag me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

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Easy and fresh tomato and onion salad with ingredients and final dish
Tomato and onion side dish recipe with lemon, chilli, cumin and coriander
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