Tag Archives: breakfast

Gluten Free Upma

south indian upma with rolled oats gluten free

Rolled oats upma – gluten free and so fulfilling

gluten free upma with rolled oats

Upma with zucchini, peas and carrots, perfect for a savory breakfast or lunch.

Back when I wrote the post on Upma – South Indian Soul Food, I didn’t have to worry about gluten. Upma is made from semolina, a durum wheat product. In the last few months, I’ve made upma with broken rice or gluten free cereal blends. They were good but not quite as satisfying. Today I made upma with gluten free rolled oats. It was still different from the original but highly satisfying and elicited a sigh of contentment from me. Upma is a dish in which the final consistency is important. It can’t be too mushy or too dry.

While you can use any oats, the rolled oats resists getting too soft and soggy, a problem with quick cooking oats.

You might have noticed that I’ve been using a lot of Bob’s Red Mill products. If you’re wondering, no I don’t have any affiliation. I like that they are certified gluten free and are readily available in the stores where I normally shop.

Since I was in a hurry and was out of big pots, I modified the Upma recipe. For simplicity, here’s the modified recipe.


  • 2 cups rolled oats, dry roasted for 3 minutes on medium low heat
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon urad dal (split skinless black lentils)
  • 5-10 fresh curry leaves
  • 2-3 green chilies (optional), chopped
  • ½ onion thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
  • 3/4 cup frozen peas and carrots mix
  • 1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 cups water
  • 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)


Heat the oil in a large skillet (should hold the oats 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 just 10 seconds.

Add onion and sauté till soft translucent.

Mix in the veggies and turmeric. Cook for 2 minutes.

Stir in the water and cover the skillet. The oats should be cooked after about 6 minutes. Stir halfway through.

Add salt and squeeze lime to taste. Mix in the grated coconut.

Serve hot with yogurt on the side.


Filed under India, Recipe

Going Beyond a Single Story: A Trip in My Backyard, Ethiopian Food and Marqqa

Vessels to store/pour beverages

Like Ethiopian food? I love it! The spongy injera bread at the end that has soaked up the flavors of the spicy is my favorite part. I learned recently though that there is much more to Ethiopian cuisine than injera and stews. The cuisine of the Oromian region of Ethiopia for example is quite different as I found out and actually has a lot in common with Indian food.

A couple of Saturdays ago, I went on a day trip to area code 98118, ten minutes away from downtown Seattle. The trip was organized by Crooked Trails and the Horn of Africa Services to create “a cross-cultural journey connecting Seattle residents with immigrants and refugees from Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Somalia to meet, share and learn.”

When I heard about this trip, I was reminded of Chimananda Adichie, a writer from Nigeria who gave a TED Talk about the cultural misunderstandings that arise from knowing only a single story about a person or culture. The single story that we hear about Africa is one of poverty, famine and aid. I wanted a broader and deeper look into the lives of East Africans with whom I already had in common the immigrant experience. The trip also promised cooking with host families as part of the itinerary! There was no way to resist that.

Cooking together in our Ethiopian/Oromo host's kitchen

I wanted to share a couple of things that I learned from my 98118 experience. After a big group session with all participants, we were divided into smaller groups and sent off with our hosts. My group of five people were hosted by an Ethiopian Oromo family. Almost anything that I’ve read about Ethiopia focuses solely on the Amharic culture. The Oromos are actually the largest tribe in Ethiopia and have their own distinct language and culture. Sadly, the Ethiopian government represses the Oromo politically and socially. The Oromo do not have the freedom to learn or speak their language.

Our lovely hosts showed us how to make marqqa or marka (cooked barley dough with a spicy ghee sauce), chapathis and chai.  The chapathis and chai are an influence from the Indians taken to East Africa as indentured labourers and it was so much fun for me to trade techniques on the easiest way to roll out the dough!  It also struck me how similar marqqa is to “ragi mudde”, a cooked dough dish made in some parts of the South Indian state of Karnataka where I’m from.  Ragi or finger millet, is a highly nutritious grain that is originally from Ethiopia and used extensively in South India. It was an unexpected reminder of how much more we have in common with people from other countries than we think.

While the musician in the group brought out the guitar and played us soft cooking music from his perch on the colorful, sectioned couch, others took turns making chapatis, washing dishes, and checking how the chai was coming along. I’d never met any of these people before and I felt so much at home.

I feel compelled to share this simple recipe for marqqa which is the perfect dish for gloomy fall weather. And as I write this, I’m making elaborate travel plans to Ethiopia in my mind. Sadly, I know they will not come to fruition any time soon.

Barley flour, sifted and ready to use to make Marqqa

The consistency of the cooked barley flour dough or Marqqa

Warm Marqqa with ghee and berbere spices


  • Roughly 2 cups barley flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons ghee
  • 1-2 teaspoons berbere spice blend

Bring 4 cups of water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Add the salt. Have a wooden spatula handy.

While the water heats up, measure out 2 cups of barley flour. When the water boils, remove about a cup and put aside to add back as needed later. Slowly add flour to the hot water while stirring the water with a wooden spatula. This helps avoid clumps of uncooked barley and makes for smoother dough. You may not need all of the flour. Add till there is no water left and it is hard to stir the cooked dough. If there is uncooked flour or if the dough is too hard, add some of the boiled water you had put aside earlier. Use the tapered edge of your spoon to cut through the dough as you move the spoon back and forth.  Remove from heat when the dough starts sticking to the pot.

Heat 4 tablespoons ghee (or butter) for 30 seconds in the microwave. Add 1-2 teaspoons of Berbere, an Ethiopian spice blend.

Transfer the cooked dough into a serving bowl. Pour the ghee sauce over it and mix it up. You could also serve the ghee sauce separately and let people mix it with the dough on their plates. We were served homemade yogurt with this dish.

I loved the utter simplicity of this dish. The barley dough ball tastes wholesome and the ghee sauce with the berbere is very flavorful. I went back for seconds and then thirds, not knowing of the rest of the food that we had yet to make and eat!

This experience not only gave me the chance to hang out with my neighbors in a different part of Seattle but also changed my single story of Ethiopia, its culture and its cuisine. I hope you’ll give this dish a try!

Making chai

Steaming cups of spicy chai - with cardamom, ginger and cloves

Ethiopian chapathis


Filed under Recipe

Upma – South Indian Soul Food

Upma or uppittu

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!


2 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)

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.

Savory semolina

Enjoy and feel good!



Filed under India, Recipe

Japan: Of friendship and food

Back in 2001, I was fortunate enough to celebrate New Years in Japan with my friend’s family at her grandmother’s house in a small village near Himeji Castle. The whole family had gathered – caring and curious aunts and uncles, friendly cousins, and adorable little nephews and nieces. The kitchen was a beehive of activity with grandmother running the show. Being guests, we weren’t allowed to help and we’d probably only have been in the way anyway. As the evening got colder and the clock inched closer to midnight, we overcame the initial shyness with the couple of words of Japanese we knew, our hosts’ smattering of English, and lots of good cheer. When we finally sat down to dinner, we needed five tables to accommodate everyone. My friend’s mother, grandmother and aunts had prepared an amazing spread. I’ll confess that with the many years that have since passed, I don’t exactly remember all the dishes we ate. I do remember my favorite was the wild boar nabe. After the feast, my friend’s father took us to the family shrine to ring the bell and bring in the new year. I will never forget how lucky I felt to have been a part of a Japanese family for that celebration. Every new year, I crave nabe and many of the other Japanese dishes that we had on that trip and I think of my friend and her family. Once I even made okonomiyaki and gomae (spinach salad with sesame seeds) as part of the new year’s eve dinner.

So you can imagine my pleasure when I received a surprise package from this dear friend a couple of months ago. She sent me a book of Bashō’s haiku, Harumi’s Japanese Cooking and the most encouraging note ever. It totally made my day. I’ve been meaning to use my new cookbook ever since. She also sent me The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches, a compilation of haiku by Matsuo Bashō, a Japanese poet born in 1644. He wrote this haiku upon meeting an old friend he hadn’t seen for twenty years. It is one of my favorite.

A lively cherry
In full bloom
Between the two lives
Now made one.

Tofu with Hot Spring Egg ‘Onsen Tamago’ (Onsen Tamago Nose Dofu)

Adapted from Harumi Kurihara’s Harumi’s Japanese Cooking


1 lb Silken Tofu
4 eggs
1/4 cup soy sauce (I use Kikkoman Less Sodium)
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon sake
a couple of drops of fish sauce (optional)
roughly 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger (or to your taste)
roughly 10 stalks of chives finely chopped (or to your taste, can also use spring onions)


Carefully remove the tofu from its packaging while trying to keep it intact. Let excess water drain and cut into 4 big pieces.

Soft boil the eggs so the white is just cooked and the yolk runny. The cookbook says to use eggs that are at room temperature, place them in a glass container and pour boiling water to cover them and allow to cook for 10 minutes. (I screwed up and forgot to bring my egg down to room temperature and it was still uncooked. Fortunately I had a second egg but I screwed up again and overcooked it. Yup I make many mistakes. Next time I plan to place the egg in boiling water on the stove for 4-5 minutes.)

Combine the soy sauce, mirin, sake and fish sauce in a mug and microwave for 45 seconds. (Book says to microwave for 2 minutes but my dressing ended up too thick)

Place a piece of tofu on each of four plates and scoop out about a wide tablespoon from the top of each piece.

Crack an egg and carefully empty the white and yolk into the hollow of each piece of tofu.

Arrange the previously scooped out tofu on the side. Place some grated ginger on top and garnish the dish with the chives.

Pour the dressing over the tofu before serving.

My verdict? The dish was simple, yet elegant, subtle yet smooth and flavorful.


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Filed under Japan