The intoxicating smell of fresh curry leaves in hot oil wafted around corners and into the bedroom where I was trying to sleep off the flu but was instead tired and cranky. The aroma of freshly roasted semolina hung around the kitchen inviting me to peek in. I just had to get out of bed and go get the camera. It was right after Christmas. I was at my mom’s and she had been busy cooking.
My mom’s ‘upma’ (also known as uppittu in Kannada, my mother tongue) is one of those memory triggering foods. Others made their upma too soft and mushy. Her’s always had a much more interesting texture. The lentils in the dish get crunchy when fried in oil and add greatly to the texture. But for some reason, my brother didn’t like anything crunchy. So if mom added the lentils, he didn’t like it and if she didn’t add them, I complained! Poor mom. This time though, he said it was OK (I asked nicely) which was very nice of him. We fought over the silliest things when we were kids!
I dug in eagerly, savoring the flavors and appreciating the crunchiness of the lentils contrasted with the moistness of the semolina. I’m sure the upma helped me get over the flu. Upma though is great anytime whether you’re ill or not. It is truly South Indian soul food.
There are many upma recipes online but I wanted to share my mom’s recipe as a couple of things have been simplified. The ingredients can be found in an Indian or Asian grocery store. Many of them can also be found at Whole Foods.
My mom was happy to share her recipe for upma with you. Here it is. I hope you get to make it sometime soon!
Ingredients2 cups upma semolina (can use couscous instead, both are made from durum wheat but the couscous grains are larger and processed slightly differently) 3 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 teaspoon mustard seeds 1 teaspoon urad dal (split skinless black lentils) 1 teaspoon chana dal (split chickpeas) 5-10 fresh curry leaves 2-3 green chilies (optional and to your taste), chopped ½ onion thinly sliced (about 1 cup) 1 cup frozen peas and carrots mix (can also use edamame or grated carrots) 4 cups water (3 if using couscous) ¼ cup grated unsweetened coconut (if dessicated, rehydrate in 1/3 cup warm water for 10 minutes) 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice (or to taste) Recipe
Heat the water over medium heat high and bring to a boil. Add the peas and carrots. Let cook for 2-3 minutes. While waiting for the water to boil, proceed to the next step.
Heat the oil in a large skillet (should hold the semolina and the water) over medium heat. You know the oil is hot if you drop in a mustard seed and it sizzles.
Add the mustard seeds and wait 5 seconds or till they start crackling.
Add the curry leaves, urud dal and chilies and stir constantly to prevent from burning. Saute for 10 minutes.
Add onion and sauté till translucent plus another minute
Then add the semolina or couscous. Fold in with the oil and spices and roast for two minutes.
Pour in the boiling water with the cooked peas and carrots. Stir to break up any lumps that may form.
The semolina should be cooked in 2-3 minutes. The couscous may take a minute longer.
Add salt and squeeze lime to taste. Mix in the grated coconut.
Serve hot with yogurt onthe side. You can mix the upma with yogurt if it is too spicy.
Enjoy and feel good!