When Chintan Pandya thinks of breakfast, he thinks of upma. But he’s not alone in that: A traditional Indian breakfast speciality, upma is a savory porridge that’s found across homes in the western and southern parts of India and increasingly all across the country, and not just as a morning food. But Pandya, a New York-based chef born in Mumbai, has a hard time separating upma from his morning memories of enjoying warming bowls of it prepared for him by his mother.
The go-to ingredient here is coarsely-ground wheat, which more often than not is semolina. (As the star of the show, the very first step is dry-roasting semolina in a pan.) From there, you’ll find traditional additions like ginger, red onion, chile, and urad lentils, which all provide layers of crunch and texture to the porridge. Then of course there’s herbs and spices, often including curry leaves, mustard seeds, and cilantro.
But the beauty of upma, Pandya says, is how much you can customize it — with more nuts, seeds, and wide variety of vegetables. Some cooks add cashews or peanuts, while some (like Pandya) add yogurt for extra creaminess; peas and carrots are a popular addition once the onion is cooked down, and for others upma is incomplete without a touch of sugar. Once it’s cooked, many are in agreement that upma should be finished with a squeeze of lime, but lemon has been known to be used in its place. All variations aside, the ultimate goal is a comforting porridge that’s delicious and nutritious.
Known for his dedication to simple homestyle cooking at his restaurant Adda, Pandya has changed very little about his mother’s upma since he started making it for his own daughter. His recipe, which you can find below, is an ideal place to start on your quest for perfecting your own bowl. After that, go crazy with colors and textures, spice and sweetness.
1 cup semolina
2 teaspoons ghee (this dish can be vegan if you swap ghee for oil)
1⁄2 teaspoon mustard seeds
5 to 6 curry leaves
1 teaspoon urad lentils
2 green chilis, chopped
1⁄2 teaspoon ginger, chopped
1⁄3 cup yogurt (optional)
1 red onion, chopped
1 cup tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon cilantro, chopped
Half a lime
Step 1: Heat a small pan and dry-roast the semolina. Set aside.
Step 2: Using a medium pot heat the ghee. Add mustard seeds. Once seeds begin to crackle, add in urad lentils and curry leaves. Then, add in green chili and ginger. Add chopped onion and cook until translucent. Once onions are cooked, add tomatoes.
Step 3: Add salt to taste and mix well, then add the roasted semolina and mix again. Sauté and add in hot water. Cook well over medium heat
Step 4: Once cooked, add the yogurt and mix well. Once desired consistency is achieved, add the cilantro and juice from half a lime. Enjoy immediately.