Upma (South Indian Breakfast)


As I spent time exploring different regional Asian flavors and dishes, I was introduced to upma, a traditional breakfast from the South India state of Kerala. Not only is it amazingly easy to make, but it is very flavorful with a nice hint of heat from the chilies. Upma is a very popular breakfast in India and the ingredients do change by the region, but there are common ingredients – toasted semolina flour (generally), urad dal, chilies, curry leaves and black mustard seeds. After that, ingredients can vary, not just by region, but also by family! In the southern Indian state of Kerala, you could find upma made with fresh coconut flakes, while in other states, flattened rice or poha can be used instead of semolina flour and cashews and spicier chilies would be added.

I should mention that semolina flour is really easy to find – it is essentially just cream of wheat. Curry leaves are optional, but they do add a traditionally unique flavor. And, did I mention it was quick to make? From start to finish it takes less than 15 minutes, perfect if you wake up feeling hungry and want to quickly eat!

One of my favorite variations of upma is making it with scrambled eggs. Having said that, upma doesn’t have to be relegated to just being a breakfast dish. Upma has the consistency of polenta, and can also be a great side dish to a number of dinner dishes. I’ve made upma as a base for sautéed wild mushrooms, lemon butter chicken and turmeric salmon to name a few. By mixing up the ingredients, you can let your imagination be your guide. But for now, here’s a great breakfast recipe! Bon appétit!

Upma (Semolina Breakfast)
Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 cup semolina flour (cream of wheat)
  • 2 Tbsp ghee or coconut oil
  • 2 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp urad dal
  • 1 medium jalapeño chili, seeded and finely chopped (or 2 serrano chilies)
  • 1 small onion or 2 medium shallots,
  • 1 Tbsp ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and shredded
  • 4-6 curry leaves (optional)
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels
  • kosher salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 cups water

Directions

  1. In a skillet over medium-high heat toast the semolina flour for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
  2. Wipe skillet clean and return to medium heat. Add ghee or coconut oil and when heated, add mustard seeds and urad dal. When mustard seeds begin to crackle, add onions, chilies, ginger and curry leaves. Sauté for about two minutes or until onions are translucent. Add carrots, corn and sugar to the skillet, cook for another minute.
  3.  Add back the toasted semolina, stirring to mix well. Slowly add water while stirring, then turn heat to low and continue cooking another 1-2 minutes until all water is absorbed, but still moist.
  4. Can serve with scrambled eggs (my go-to breakfast), chutney and freshly grated coconut.
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