Thursday, September 9, 2010

Upma ( Indian Polenta )

Upma is a savoury dish made from semolina and could be easily be termed as Indian Polenta*. This is a very popular South Indian breakfast dish. You can also have it in the afternoons with a cup of hot chai.

There are people who like sweet dishes for breakfast and then there are those who like spicy and savoury dishes for breakfast. I belong to the latter group, though I will make an exception for a little Sheera . I cannot imagine waking up in the morning to doughnuts and assorted jam filled danish pastries. Don't get me wrong, I love these things, but not early in the morning and definitely not as breakfast. Whenever we travel and have to eat the continental breakfast served in our hotels, I know that day I am going to be hungry. I do have a big sweet tooth but I like my sweets only as desserts.

So if you are like me, you will love Upma. It is mildly spicy and savory, it is very nutritious too. I love it when the Upma is all fluffy and the cooked grains are not clinging to each other forming a tight mass of ball that when you take a bite you find yourself groping for a glass of water to help you swallow it down. The trick to achieving the right consistency is the ratio of water to semolina, as given in the recipe below. Also do not skip the roasting-the-semolina step, if you do omit this step the taste of the Upma will be a little off.

This is my mom's recipe. Adding tomatoes to Upma is not the traditional way to make it, but I had it this way once at one of my aunt's house, Rita Maushi makes delicious food and her Upma was really tasty. She is a great cook among many of her other talents. Try this recipe and you will have the most delicious Upma ever. Enjoy a bowl of warm Upma in the morning and suddenly life will seem so much better !

I found this interesting article on Wikipedia and I thought I will share it with you all ,
" Rava is often translated as Semolina in cook books and by various authors on the Internet. While this is not wrong, it is not entirely accurate either. Semolina is most commonly made from Durum wheat, which is thicker and yellow in color with a higher protein and gluten content than Rava. Rava on the other hand is specifically semolina made from soft wheat also known by the trade name of Cream of wheat or farina (food), which is a softer white cereal . " And I always thought of suji and rava as semolina.


Serves 4


1 tsp ghee / clarified butter
2 cups  fine semolina / sooji / rawa
1 potato, peeled and diced
1 inch ginger piece, finely minced or grated
1 onion, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1 cup mixed vegetables, ( I use the frozen mixed vegetables which have carrots, french beans, corn and peas in it )
2 green chilies, finely minced ( can substitute with 2 tsp of red chili powder )
1/4 cup cilantro / dhaniya patta, chopped finely
2-3 tbsp fresh coconut, grated ( optional )
1/8 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp sugar
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/8 tsp cumin seeds / jeera
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
1 sprig of curry leaves, washed and patted dry
3 tbsp cooking oil
4 cups water
salt, to taste

  1. In a large saucepan,  add the ghee and semolina and roast this on medium heat for about 3-5 minutes. Keep stirring so as not to let it brown, if the bottom is browning then lower the heat further. Once roasted, pour out the semolina in another bowl and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in the big saucepan and when hot ( not smoking ) add the mustard seeds ( it should start popping immediately ), cumin seeds, green chilies, curry leaves, ginger, chopped onions and potatoes, in this order. Saute this for 3 minutes.
  3. Then add the mixed vegetables, tomatoes, turmeric powder, sugar and the 4 cups of water, cover  and bring to a boil. Cook till the potatoes are fully done. Keep an eye on this, you do not want to evaporate your 4 cups of water, so as soon as the potatoes are done proceed to the next step. Another tip would be to cut your potatoes into small cubes so that they cook faster.
  4. Remove the cover and add the appropriate amount of salt to the boiling water and gently pour the roasted semolina, while constantly stirring the mixture ( this way no lumps are formed ). Once all the semolina is incorporated the mixture will thicken. Reduce the heat to low, cover and let the semolina cook and fluff up in the steam. This will take about 5 minutes. Remove cover and stir occasionally to ensure that the bottom is not getting burnt.
  5. After the 5 minutes add the lemon juice, stir it in, and sprinkle with the chopped cilantro and the grated coconut and serve with your favorite pickle and / or yogurt.

Polenta is made from cornmeal and not semolina. The similarity between Upma and Polenta is just the texture and cooking process.


  1. Hi Renuka

    This is my first visit to your site. Thank you for visiting my site, taking time to leave your lovely comment, and for including me in your bloglist.

    I enjoyed reading your post on Upma and appreciate all the information about semolina - it's cleared up a few things for me :) Your upma looks lovely - I know I would relish it as I love spicy semolina.

    I noticed that you've travelled and eaten through 3 continents? I would have loved to have known more about where you've been and the food related experiences you've gathered from these travels...

  2. Hi Denise,
    Thanks so much for dropping by. I have stayed in Ghana for the better part of my life and then India and the United States. I love to eat and try out new things and so every place we stayed and vacationed, I loved trying out the local cuisine.