Sunday, May 14, 2017

Simple Upma With Coconut (Quick Seasoned Cream of Wheat/Semolina Pilaf with Coconut)

Simple Upma With Coconut
Simple or Coconut Upma is a hearty South Indian dish one can cook up in a jiffy with cream of wheat or semolina. In the days of yore, when we didn't have access to telephones (not to mention cell phones, emails, fridge or freezer for that matter!) friends and family often dropped by to visit without prior notice and Upma was the was a mainstay at the de rigueur welcome tea! Most people of that era wouldn't dream of running to the nearest snack shop or samosa stand even if one were available for a few choice nibbles to offer with the tea as only homemade goodies would do! Cream of wheat or semolina as well as the other ingredients is/was a staple in pretty much every household and the quick-cooking upma was indeed a welcome fare for the host and visitor alike. Simple Upma is an everyday dish that can be dressed up with roasted cashews or peanuts for guests or special occasions!

Thatha loved upma that was quite soft to the point of being mushy, which we called kali-ma :). When on a visit we would often gleefully anticipate whether we'd get fluffy upma or Thatha's kali-ma! 

When we were growing up we did not eat onions and so Simple Upma was what we had. It is very quick to prepare - a go to dish prepared quickly for an emergency meal.

Upma can be prepared with the regular cream of wheat or fine broken wheat or bulgar using un-toasted or toasted grains. The cream of wheat can be toasted using a kadai/skillet or in the oven; cool well and store in an air-tight container until needed..

Typically, the green chiles are cut in circles and most diners usually pick them out and set aside like one would parsley. But too often, I have seen that people unfamiliar with Indian food do not know to pick off chiles or other whole spices and end up chewing on them; so I core and mince chiles and ginger finely so as not to cause an unpleasant suprise for anyone. If a spicy upma is preferred,  the chiles may be chopped without coring and/or adding more. Although this upma is good to go without any side dishes like pickles or chutneys, they may be offered if desired. For young children, a sprinkling of sugar or a little drizzle of maple syrup on top may be offered.

Sooji or Rava is semolina, Indian cream of wheat. Any type of finely cracked grain can be used including regular cream of wheat making adjustments in the amounts of water needed and cooking times. I love to add more wholegrain where I can and add a little bulgar (#1 grade which is finely cracked). This is a great dish for Vrat (restricted diet or fasting) days as it does not contain the usual onions or garlic which are not included on these occasions.

All the ingredients are usually available in Indian markets. 

Serves 4


2 Tbsp oil
½ tsp Brown Mustard seeds
1 Tbsp Chana dal
1 Tbsp Urad dal
1 pinch Asafetida (Hing powder) (optinoal)
1 or 2 green Chile, cored and finely minced
1 Tbsp fresh Ginger, finely minced or grated
1 sprig of fresh Curry leaves, finely sliced
1 tsp Salt or to taste
2 cups Water
3/4 cup Sooji (Rava or Cream of Wheat)
1/4 cup Bulgar 
2 Tbsp chopped Cilantro leaves
2 Tbsp toasted Cashew pieces (Optional)
½ cup finely grated Coconut (fresh/frozen) OR 1/4 cup Dried


Heat about 3 cups of  water and keep hot.

Heat the oil and ghee in a 2-3 quart pot or an Indian wok (Kadai).

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; lower the heat when the mustard begins to pop.

When the mustard seeds finish popping, add the asafoetida quickly if using along with the ginger, green chili, curry leaves and the salt; cook over medium heat until green chiles soften, about a minute or two.

Pour the cream or wheat/semolina and bulgar into the pan and cook stirring constantly over medium heat until they are coated with the oil, about 2-3 minutes. 

Reduce heat to low, and add 2 cups of the hot water carefully while stirring constantly - hot water may spatter at first when hitting the hot pan. Mix well, cover and cook on low heat for about 5 minutes stirring occasionally to keep from sticking or burning. Drizzle a little more of the water as needed for the consistency you'd like.

 Stir in the coconut and turn off heat and let sit for 5 minutes.

Sprinkle the cilantro leaves and serve hot garnished with the cashews/peanuts. This upma is typically offered on its own with a cup of tea, coffee, or lemonade; feel free to offer your favorite accompaniments.


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