Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Upma (South Indian Breakfast Dish)


This is a very special dish for me because it takes me back to my childhood. My mother would make Upma every now and then and I was always first in line to get seconds because it's one of my absolute favorite dishes.  

It's such a simple dish and for those of you that are not sure what it is, it's like a very fine grain cous-cous pilaf.  Upma is actually made with semolina (called rava or sooji in India).  This dish can be eaten all by itself or with any meat or vegetable curry. I like it both ways and always make a big pan of it so I have it for a breakfast for a week (if it lasts that long).  

My mother and I had a cooking day recently and she helped me make this because I wanted her recipe to be posted. I consider her version of Upma the best out there and everyone that has eaten her version agrees.

2 cups dry semolina or sooji (available in Indian stores)
1 medium onion sliced or chopped
2-3 green chilies sliced
handful of curry leaves
1 cinnamon stick
1tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
red chili flakes to taste
dried whole chilies (broken) to taste
salt to taste
1 Tbs of canola oil
3-4 cups boiling water (boil water in a kettle and have ready)


The first step is to take the dry semolina/sooji and roast it in a pan.  Set the heat at medium-high and gently stir it until the light cream colored grains turns more tan.  This will take several minutes.  Be careful not to burn the grains.   This is an important and necessary step for a light fluffy dish.  Not doing this step will cause the grains to stick together.  Once the sooji is roasted set aside.  Boil your water at this time and have it ready as well.
Note: there are packages of pre-roasted sooji, but we recommend roasting it yourself because it gives the best result.

In a large pan heat canola oil and add onions, green chilies, curry leaves, cinnamon stick, salt and red chili pieces. Fry for 3-4 minutes until onions become soft.  Then add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds and red chile pieces. Fry for another 2-3 minutes.

Next add the roasted sooji to the frying pan and mix with all the fried ingredients. Salt as needed (since this is a grain you may need more salt than you think).  Slowly add the boiling water and mix with the upma. Add 2 cups first and then the final cup. The grains will "steam" and become lighter. Taste the grains, if the grains are not soft and fluffy add a little more water.  Stir with a wooden spoon well.  My mother actually recommends taking the wooden spoon and stirring with the thinner handle part in circles around the pan to make sure the grains separate well and become fluffy. Once the grains are almost to the right texture, turn off the stove and cover with a lid for 10 minutes to steam a little more. Stir, taste for seasoning and serve.  Enjoy.
Note:  I recommend you use a pan you can stir aggressively with a wooden spoon.  A stainless steel based pan is best since a non-stick could get scratched.

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