India is full of contrast and mystery; it contains hundreds of customs, traditions and cuisines, the latter being more about slight regional variations in ubiquitous meals. Upma is a delicious south indian dish made from coarse, pan- roasted semolina and wonderful healing spices, and is eaten daily in the southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, most commonly for breakfast (yes!) along with hot masala chai. Over the years, this dish has travelled further north, and is now popular in many other regions of India, where it is seen as a perfect snack when guests visit for the afternoon, as it is quick, satisfying and delicious. My mother and her lifelong friends learned to make it as adults once they settled in England; none of them are from the far south, and so they didn’t necessarily grow up eating upma. South Indian food has a completely unique taste that differs greatly from, say Gujarati, or Punjabi food, and because variety is the spice of life, and Indians don’t like to miss out on enjoying tasty meals, this dish is a firm favourite now.
Make sure you buy coarse semolina to make this dish, as anything finer won’t give you the texture and bite. Also, do make sure you have all the ingredients listed, as the synergy of them all is what makes upma such a pleasure to eat.
To serve 2:
130g coarse semolina
Have 300-400ml just boiled water ready in a measuring jug, as you’ll need at least 260ml, but possibly more
A small onion, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
Half level tsp turmeric powder
Half tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
A good pinch asafoetida
6-8 fresh, or 10 dried curry leaves
A small green chilli with a slit made lengthways
1 tsp split de-husked black gram (known as white urad dal)
1 tsp bengal gram dal (known as chana dal)
1 tbsp organic cold pressed olive oil
A little lemon juice
A handful of fresh coriander leaves, chopped
4 tsp desiccated coconut
Salt to taste
Before you start, you need to dry roast the semolina. Put a small frying pan on a medium heat and add the semolina. Roast it, stirring continuously until you can detect its aroma. Set it aside; now heat the oil in a lidded cooking pan and when it is hot, add the mustard seeds. When they start to fizzle and pop, throw in the cumin seeds and after a minute, add both dals. Stir and allow the dals to become dark golden in colour before adding the asafoetida, chilli, and the curry leaves. Now add the onion and keep stirring until it is light golden in colour, before adding the turmeric, ground cumin and coriander. Mix everything well and add around a level teaspoon of sea salt. Now add the semolina to the mix, and stir everything together really well, ensuring the semolina is properly coated with the rest of the ingredients. Now add 260ml of the water from the jug and stir vigorously. Add a little more water if you need to, as you continue to stir; you are looking for a smooth mashed potato consistency. Turn the heat to its lowest setting, put a lid on, and allow the upma to cook for a minute, before switching off the cooker. Squeeze some lemon juice over the lot, adjust salt, and put it into your bowls. Sprinkle a little desiccated coconut over each serving, along with some of the chopped coriander.
Serve immediately; if you dare to have it for breakfast, serve it with some masala chai and transport yourself to southern India!