Likely because upma is one of those dishes so ubiquitous in so many Indian homes, you don’t really think of it as something special. But its popularity flows naturally from the fact that it is delicious, healthy and easy to throw together. A win-win all around.
I always thought of upma as the savory cousin of sheera or halwa, the sweet dish that’s also very popular in Indian kitchens. But it is healthier, of course, because there’s no sugar, for one, and you can add all kinds of veggies into it.
There’s a little bit of measuring and technique involved in making a basic upma, and you do have to be careful to follow instructions closely if you want an upma that’s light and fluffy with each round grain separate instead of gummed-up together, lumpy, or unappetizingly dry. That said, this is also an easy recipe once you’ve got the technique down, as well as a very versatile one when it comes to the other ingredients you can throw in. My favorite additions are onions, spring onions, green or red bell peppers (capsicums), carrots (grated), and even cabbage. You can also throw in spinach, green peas, broccoli…in other words any veggie that could be eaten al dente because you don’t have time to cook the veggies too long.
1 cup rava (sooji, cream of wheat, farina)
2 cups water
2 green chillies, minced
1 tsp grated ginger
1 sprig curry leaves
1 small onion, cut into a small dice
1 red bell pepper, cut into a small dice
4 spring onions (scallions), green and white parts cut into 1-cm pieces
1 tbsp canola or other vegetable oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
A pinch of asafetida (hing)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 cup chopped coriander leaves
2 tbsp grated coconut (optional)
1 tsp vegetable oil, like canola
Salt to taste
Slices of lemon to spritz on the upma
On a dry skillet, roast the rava, stirring constantly, until it turns just a couple of shades darker and smells fragrant. Always roast on medium to medium-low heat because you don’t want to burn it, and don’t leave the rava unattended on the stove. Once it’s roasted, remove to a plate and set aside.
Heat the oil in the same skillet. Add the mustard and asafetida and wait for the mustard seeds to sputter.
Immediately add the curry leaves, green chillies, onions and spring onions. Saute until the onions are soft but not brown. Add the ginger and stir in.
Add the red bell peppers and turmeric and saute until the peppers are softened, about 2-3 minutes.
Now add the water and bring it to a boil. Add salt.
Turn the heat to low and have a ladle ready or a sturdy fork ready.
Slowly, pour the roasted rava into the skillet and immediately start mixing it in with the water. Work fast because you don’t want dry lumps in your upma. You want to get everything mixed in fast so that every grain of the rava absorbs the water.
Turn off the heat and mix in the coriander leaves and coconut, if using. Serve in bowls with slices of lemon that you can spritz over the upma, and, if you desire, some coconut chutney.