Upma is versatile. You can make this South Indian dish in different ways. It fits different occasions too.
Primarily, it is breakfast food. It is also a good evening snack. In government schools in many parts of India, where they provide food to children, the lunch is often Upma.
In Kerala, it is called Uppumau, which can be translated as flour with salt (Uppu - salt, mavu -flour).
Coarse semolina- 1 cup
Onion- 1/2 of medium sized chopped
Mustard seeds- ½ tea spoon
Cumin seeds- ¼ tea spoon
Green Chilli cut into small- ¼ spoon
Grated ginger- ¼ spoon
Dhal- ½ spoon
Urad dhal- ½ spoon
Curry leaves – 6 to 8
Frozen green peas or frozen veg – ¼ cup
Cooking oil- 2 – 3 spoons
Salt – As required
Note: Most of these items are optional. You can make a simpler version just with semolina, onion, mustard seeds and salt. I do it sometime and still taste great.
You can substitute green chillies with dry red ones.
Pour cooking oil into the pot. Keep on medium heat. When it heats, add mustard seeds. As the heat increase, they will start to sputter. Add cumin seeds, dhal and continue cooking on medium heat so that dhal doesn’t get burnt. Add chiilies, ginger and urad dhal. After a couple of minutes add curry leaves followed by chopped onions. While the onions are getting cooked, add greenpeas / frozen veg. Heat till onions are slender. No need to caramelise onions, they just need to be cooked.
Meanwhile boil 2 cups of water in a kettle. Once the onion is cooked, add water to the pot. Add salt to taste. Once water starts bubbling, slowly add semolina while stirring. If you add all at once, they will form lumps. Keep stirring since all the water will be quickly absorbed by the semolina.
Continue stirring till semolina is no longer gooey and is sufficiently dry.
Switch off the heat, and serve hot with curry or side dish of your choice.
Instead of adding hot water to the pot, add semolina to the pot when onion is cooked. Keep stirring to evenly cook the semolina. When the semolina gets crispy and its colour starts to change, add one cup of hot water slowly while stirring. The water will be absorbed readily, so it is important to give a good stir to avoid lumps being formed. Once the water is absorbed, you can switch off the heat.
I like this version because it tastes better and has the right level of dryness.
NB : If you live in the west, semolina and other ingredients are available in Indian shops and some supermarkets. Always use coarse semolina since soft semolina does not end up as good upma.