Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Upma Pepperonata (Cornmeal/Polenta With Indian Spices and Sweet Peppers)

Upma Peperonata

Upma is a simple and hearty South Indian dish that can be made with coarse corn meal instead of the traditional cream of wheat - for a quick and delicious gluten-free treat! When you put Italian Polenta grains and lots of colorful peppers to make the Upma, it has to be called "Upma Pepperonata" of course! The procedure is the same as in preparing the traditional Upma. It is a versatile food great any time at all - as a meal or a nutritious snack. Upma is delicious served with cashews or other nuts and seeds to augment its protein content.

Polenta or corn meal is usually available in most markets; Chana Dal, Urad dal, asafoetida, curry leaves and mustard seeds, etc are readily available in Indian markets.

Serves 4


2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp Ghee (clarified butter)
1/4 tsp Brown Mustard seeds
1 Tbsp Chana dal
1 Tbsp Urad dal
1 pinch Asafetida (Hing)
1 Tbsp fresh Ginger, 2 or 3 coin sized slices
1 or 2 green Chilies (Serrano or Jalapeno)
1 small Onion, any kind
1 sprig of fresh Curry leaves
1 tsp Salt or to taste
1 Each, small Red, Green, Orange and Yellow Sweet Peppers (or use any combination)
31/2 cups Water
1 cup Polenta or coarse Corn Meal
2 Tbsp chopped Cilantro leaves
4 Tbsp toasted Cashew pieces or other nuts or seeds (Optional)


1. Prepare the veggies: remove the seeds and membranes from the green chilies and finely mince; finely chop the ginger, onion and curry leaves. Remove stems, seeds and membranes from the peppers; cut into thin strips.

2. Heat the oil and ghee in a large pot or a Kadai (Indian wok); ghee adds a wonderful aroma and taste; but if you prefer, you can omit it and use just oil.

3. Add mustard seeds, Chana dal and Urad dal when the oil is hot and cover with a lid to keep the mustard seeds from escaping while they pop; be careful to watch that they do not burn though. This will only take a few seconds; the dals should become just pinkish golden.

4. When the mustard seeds begin popping, lower the heat to prevent burning and add the asafetida quickly.

5. Stir in the ginger, green chili, onions, curry leaves and the salt; cook stirring constantly over medium heat until onions are translucent and softened.

6. Stir in the rest of the vegetables and stir-cook for about 3 or 4 minutes or until softened and lightly caramelized; add the water and bring to a boil.

7. Turn the heat down so the water is just simmering.

8. Add the polenta in a fine stream while stirring constantly. When all the grains are incorporated and well mixed without any lumps, cover and cook on low heat for about 20 minutes stirring occasionally to keep from sticking or burning.

9. Sprinkle with a little water if upma looks dry - add enough hot water to adjust the consistency - it can be served soft or fluffy.

10. Turn off heat and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

11. Stir in the cilantro leaves or sprinkle on top just before serving.

12. Serve hot garnished with the nuts/seeds. Upma is delicious just as it is or served with your favorite accompaniments of chutneys, pickles, curries, etc. Two curries we especially like are Mor Kootu and Ripe Mango Pulisseri. Enjoy!

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