Upma, My Favorite South Indian Breakfast

Upma is a popular breakfast in South India. It was my favorite as a child growing up there. Upma is a savory porridge type dish commonly using semolina as a base and often including vegetables. I’m sure there are as many variations of this dish as there are cooks preparing it. This is my version which closely resembles the way I fondly remember it.

reducing moisture

Upma is usually served with Rasam, Sambar or chutney of one kind or another. This morning I prepared a tomato relish as an accompaniment. I made it first to give the flavors a chance to meld while the Upma was cooking.

The tomato relish consisted of finely chopped tomatoes, onion including green tops, jalapeño, cilantro, cumin powder, coriander powder, dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi), ginger paste, a squeeze of lime juice, a little sugar and some salt. All ingredients “to taste.”

relish ingredientsrelish

For the Upma, I dry roast in a nonstick shallow pan: mustard seeds, white poppy seeds, whole coriander seeds, stick of cinnamon, bunch of curry leaves, raw cashews, two or three whole green cardamom and sometimes a whole clove or two.

I always try to remember how many cloves and cardamom I put in a dish because, while they add great flavor, Faye hates to bite into them, preferring to pick them out and move them to the side. I will set aside some of the stronger whole spices too, but I kind of like the burst of flavor if I accidentally bite into them.

dry roasting spices and cashews

When the pan has heated up I add a little oil, chopped onions and ginger paste. When the onions are translucent and the cashews are browning a bit it’s time to add semolina which has previously been briefly roasted in a dry pan. Semolina expands considerably so I use about a cup or less and it makes more than enough for the two of us.

adding semolinaencorporating semolina

When the semolina is well mixed with the other ingredients I mix in the raisins and vegetables. Here I am using peas and carrots from a can. Now is the time to add water. The amount of water will be approximately a third more than the amount of dry semolina used and possibly more. There should be a some standing water on top after the water is well mixed in. I usually end up adding more water later. Now is the time to add salt.

At this point I put a lid on the pan and let it simmer until the semolina is cooked. It will need to be stirred from time to time and water added as needed.

adding water

I like Upma to be well cooked but on the dry side, even a bit crumbly. So when the semolina is done to my liking I remove the lid and continue cooking, stirring occasionally. More salt can be added if needed. When moisture has been cooked off to the point where the Upma comes away from the pan when stirred it is done and ready to serve.

reducing moisture

This morning for breakfast we enjoyed Upma with tomato relish and homemade tamarind/date chutney.

served with tomato relish and tamarind chutney

Ingredients for Upma:

mustard seeds

white poppy seeds

whole coriander seeds

stick cinnamon

curry leaves

raw cashews

whole cardamom



vegetables (peas & carrots)



3 thoughts on “Upma, My Favorite South Indian Breakfast

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