Upma for Suzanne
It’s become this thing – Suzanne comes for the party, and next morning she yells in her inimitable way – where’s the upma??!! My mother used to make upma relatively often (except that when we were younger or at least when I was younger, in Bholokpur, we called it ukma – and interestingly, so did Leelachinnamma (my mother's sister who settled in the UK) always. We started saying upma only once we heard it said 'outside', with friends or at hotels).
Initially my way of making it was not great. Until Nityanand came to stay one day – this was in Bishops Waltham – and was horrified that I was going to put turmeric in it. And said, Let me do it. And showed me how. Well now, I reckon I can do it in my sleep!
1 cup coarse semonlina (the coarser the better).
1 medium onion (chopped in long tapered pieces, not semi circles)
1 inch piece of root ginger (finely chopped or grated)
Small handful of curry leaves - fresh or frozen (don't bother with the
dried stuff), about 10 or 15 perhaps
1 fresh (or frozen) chilli, finely chopped
Small handful of coriander leaves chopped.
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon split peas (chana dal)
1 teaspoon white lentils (urad dal)
Handful of cashew nut pieces (optional)
One teaspoon of salt
2 1/2 to 3 cups of boiling water (adjust at will depending on how soggy or dry you want it)
2 tablespoons of sunflower oil
Put large heavy pan on fire till you are sure it is dry; put the oil in. When the oil is hot (but not smoking) put in the cumin seeds (you can test the hot-ness by putting in one seed and seeing if it sizzles immediately). Then the mustard seeds. They should both crackle and pop. After a few seconds put in the split peas and white lentils. After half a minute, put in the curry leaves. They sizzle. If you are putting in cashew nuts, do it now and roast for a couple of minutes till light golden. Then put in the ginger and the chilli in a 'hole' in the centre, making sure they really catch the heat and fry for a bit. Wait maybe a minute or half minute. Then put in the onions, toss the whole thing round for a couple of minutes at most on high heat, till the onions are fully coated with the oil and spices. Then some of the coriander leaves. Now put in the dry semolina. Again toss it round for a minute till well coated and heated. Then put in boiling water in one go, with heat still high, so that the semolina doesn’t go lumpy. It will make all sorts of heat noises and splutter. Then put in the salt and turn the fire right down and stir it all thoroughly. Then put on a lid and leave it on low heat for maybe twenty minutes.
And its done. When you remove the lid, put in a knob of butter or ghee on top and a few more of the coriander leaves as a garnish before serving. Some people like the crispy golden crust at the bottom. Some people like it soggy and soft, others dry. I often put a few drops of lemon juice on the top while serving.