My Auntie Taught Me the Secret to a Perfect Breakfast: Improvise

Aug 25, 2021 · 32 comments
Sushant (Palo Alto, ca)
I was told that Indian food is composed of just one (magic!) spice, Curry This dish clearly isn’t Indian because the recipe doesn’t have the just one magic spice You may need to recategorize this /sarcasm
Meghan (Galveston, TX)
My family is Konkani and my parents would lovingly surprise my sister and me with upma, dosas, idli usli, or other South Indian dishes for breakfast on the weekends. Now I'm trying to learn how to prepare these recipes on my own (without much success). Just the other day, I was lamenting the lack of easy-to-read South Indian recipes on the Internet. My wishes have been answered; thank you, Tejal, for sharing your lovely experience with your aunty and this recipe with us!
CarnW (Switzlerand)
This is why we love staying at full-service hotels in place like Singapore and Ho Chi Minh City. The breakfast buffets feature something for everybody -- Japanese, French, Chinese, Singaporean, American, etc. You can mix and match to your own whims. Feel like pain au chocolat and teriyaki salmon? Go for it! Dim sum and oatmeal? Have at it! My favorite Singapore hotels also serve fresh watermelon juice at breakfast, which I can't get in Europe or the U.S. Delicious and a great alternative to the more acidic citrus and tomato juices.
Grandcanalammy (NC)
Since 1990 I have lived in India 4-6 months a year...stopped in 2020 by Covid, but my heart is still there. I have had breakfasts of upma, poha, sabudhana, idlis, dosas, and endless omelets cooked by friends, village women, restaurant cooks, and others...in differing regions of India...including on the beach in Goa, in one of the inimitable beach huts and memorably , repeatedly served by a white jacketed and gloved waiter on the Army golf course in Pune, under an umbrella, at a round table on the edge of the golf course, with a pot of tea, buttered toast, and my very best friend of 25 years in India...a person with Golf Course Privileges due to a family member in the Army...the Raj lives on there. Breakfast in India is memorable because the heat of the day has not yet taken over, respite from the baking sun is not yet necessary. On the dry Deccan Plain, the air is still moist at breakfast time, the streets are still rather clean, the birds are making a racket, the street dogs are still sleepy, the rickshaws are full of children being taken to school, the vendors are just setting up their piles of guava and pomegranates on pushcarts. The street tea carts are doing a brisk business, the shops are not yet open, and I could go on and on. Yes...I miss it greatly.
02149 (Boston)
What a lovely remembrance.
RAS (London)
I’m from Kerala and my mother serves uppamave (as we call it) with chickpea curry or egg roast and I love to add a ripe banana. You get a bit of salty and sweet and the textures are so good together! I missed my moms food during the pandemic! Thanks for the great article.
SR (USA)
I love this ode to Upma, and especially to your dear Auntie! As a South Indian, American-raised woman in the States (my family is from Hyderabad), I never truly appreciated the versatility of Upma when my own mother made it for my sister and me as kids. We much preferred dosa, or idlis with heaping spoons of coconut chutney and of course, plenty of spicy, vegetable-laden sambar. But this summer, as my family has been spread out, it's just been my father and me at home. And it's been delightful to witness his almost daily variations of the dish each morning (substituting oats, adding milk for creaminess, leaving out the onions, varying the spices). Although, I don't know who's more pleased: he with his cooking, or I, in getting to enjoy it sans effort. Cheers to cooler-than-us family members who have the patience to educate us, even when we weren't paying much attention.
msk (Troy, NY)
Yes, now make upuma with steel cut oats, the regular kind, not the quick cooking kind. Iterate to get the texture (and shape) you want. Add vegetables or not. Add lemon juice at the end or not. Add peanuts or not. Improvise. Endless variety. Enjoy in good health.
Christopher McCarthy (Sherman Oaks, SoCal)
Nicely done ~ a good read.
dnkb (Baltimore)
Your aunt sounds awesome. Of COURSE she was the coolest. She enthusiastically shared her life with you.
Diane (NJ)
Rest In Peace, Floyd Cardoz.
san (texas)
My fairly traditional father only ever cooked two dishes, duck curry and upumavu. Both were delicious. In my family, we ate our upumavu accompanied by egg roast. For the egg roast recipe, we sauted a good amount of sliced onions, add ginger and garlic (holy Trinity of Indian cooking), curry leaves, masala, chilies. To this, add hard boiled eggs, make a few slashes and add to the jammy onion masala mixture and eat with upama.
Mainstream (DC)
@san garlic! No way! Not in South Indian cooking.
san (texas)
Well as a Malayali, we have very few food restrictions. We eat everything including beef. I am aware of some minority religious communities like Jains who eschew garlic but I believe the majority of south Indians utilize garlic.
02149 (Boston)
@Mainstream Wow! It's almost like there are more places in the world than South India!
Mark (Western US)
A delight to read. I am in love with your auntie.
Opalina (Virginia Beach, VA)
Thank you so much for the paragraph starting, "When I was a kid, there was no one cooler..." Not only was she a culinary artist but she served her community. What an inspiration and wonderful picture that painted for me. Thanks again for sharing that. I read that paragraph many times. She sounds like a unique part of the family that also served her community well. May I be so lucky to create as well as she did, repurpose where I can (I love making do with scraps), and have work where I make my community a better place. Just as she did. Thanks from the heart.
Asi (Paris)
indeed, what a lovely homage and vivid image of a special person
Madhu Babu (Chesterfield, MO)
In Kerala, South India, we have upma variations based on region. In central Kerala, where I'm from, the roasted semolina is slowly added to the water which is brought to a boil, in the pan in which seasoning & sauteing of spices, onion and ginger etc is done. The result is a creamy, satisfyingly gloppy, soothing, steaming mass of goodness! Served with a ripe plantain, steamed to smooth softness, makes a scrumptious breakfast! In southern parts, the semolina is added to the pan after seasoning & sauteing, then water is sprinkled on, little by little, till all the grains are well moistened and in small clumps. Grated coconut can be added. Or quite often, a dry coconut chutney comes alongside. It's tasty too. While my preference is the creamy version, upma is a delicious dish in every way.
Rocket (CA)
Growing up I hated Upma. It was ubiquitous in its various forms as comments below note and so simple to make that it felt as if it was the last refuge of an exasperated mother. But, when I left for college in Atlanta and had my fill of greasy southern food I would beg my mother make Upma on my visits home. Later, I learned to make it on my own. My roommates at school loved it for breakfast or more often for lunch. After my school won several close Basketball games on days when Upma was made. It became a superstitious habit to make Upma before every big game. I did not think much of Upma for some time until one day I walked into my work cafeteria in Silicon Valley for lunch and was greeted with Upma, Idli, and Vada served in sectioned steel plates. This was a lunch straight out of Bangalore, South Side! I sent my mom a picture of my lunch. Life had come a full circle. Upma, take a bow.
Yann (CT)
What an awesome comment this is.
N.G. Krishnan (Bangalore, India)
Every Indian is familiar with upma, the perfect breakfast recipe. But if you are bored of regular upma, which is made of dry-roasted semolina or coarse rice flour, give yourself a break with this healthy and easy-to-make ‘sanja’ recipe. As a breakfast or evening snack (made with semolina again), the Maharashtrian dish can be called a variation of upma that is not only rich in flavor, but is also full of nutrients. As sanja is prepared using the aromatic flavors of ginger, mustard seeds, curry leaves and tomato with a wide-variety of fresh vegetables and garnished with lime, coriander and coconut flakes, it makes for a wholesome and nutritious dish. If you want to make your mornings even more healthy, count on this recipe straight from chef Sanjeev Kapoor‘s kitchen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3t4rBB4kSY
Lorne Berkovitz (Vancouver, BC)
Memories of eating my mother-in-law's upma while waiting at the gate for an early morning flight. It's easy to eat and better than a lot of the breakfasts at the airport. Also her poha reminds me so much of my mother's Jewish style fried farfel with onions. Pure comfort food.
itsme (PA)
A family favorite! Ghee or clarified butter is what makes it Yum! The Rava or Sooji, as it is called in the Indian grocery stores has to be toasted on low heat until it turns a light brown. Set aside to cool and store the unused portion in an airtight container. This step helps get rid of the moisture and keeps the grains separate. You will also need a half teaspoon each of mustard seeds, split urid dal, split Chana dal, Hing (asafetida), and curry leaves, chopped ginger and green chilies. Keep a pot of hot water ready before you start. Heat two teaspoons of ghee and two teaspoons of oil in a saucepan on medium heat .using a splatter shield to protect yourself from the mustard seeds, add the mustard seeds, and the dals, when the dal turns golden brown, add the ginger, curry leaves and green chilies . Give it a stir and mix in one cup of the toasted and cooled semolina for a minute or two. Gently add two cups of the hot water, along with one half teaspoon salt, or more , give it a good mix, lower the heat and cover the saucepan, for a minute or so . Remove from the stove , add another two teaspoons ghee. Mix well and enjoy. Try sprinkling some sugar on top-it's yummier. Note: Thaw and rinse frozen mixed vegetables or carrots and peas, for a variation
Vinnie K (NJ)
Don't forget Uttapam mix - just add some yogurt and water to make a thin pancake mix. Add any chopped veg, for color and taste and/or methi. It is an easy and delicious breakfast.
Jackie Brewer (Champaign, IL)
I learned to make uppama when I was in college, from my first Indian cookbook and have always enjoyed it for breakfast and any time I was not feeling well. After years of following that recipe exactly I started to make variations, including using corn grits instead of the cream of wheat. I'm glad to learn that there are so many more variations to explore.
Donna Talmage (Canton GA)
I really enjoyed learning about another culture and how meals are done. I would have loved to meet her! She sounds like an amazing woman. Thank for sharing your experience with her.
Sonal (Chandra)
I like the versatility of Upma and freely substitute quinoa, oats, pearled couscous for vermicelli. Love adding curry leaves and roasted nuts to loads of veggies.
Rajashekhar Patre (Bangalore, India)
@Sonal Upama ia a very popular breakfast dish all over in South India.It is very healthy and nutritious. One can prepare it in a jiffy. Take one measure instant cream of wheat and use 2/12 measures of water for every measure of cream of wheat or what semolina. As water begins to boil, add a spoon of oil and then pour the measured cream of wheat into the pan and start stirring. In less that ten minutes you have healthy breakfast dish. You can add vegetables of your choice preferably peas, grated carrot, sliced beans and one or two sliced chillies if one wants a bit spicy.m Another variation of Upama common in the state of Maharashtra which is called as Poha. It is nothing but beaten rice. In a pan pour a bit oil, and add diced onions, and couple of sliced chilies and cook well. If one likes add sliced cooked potatoes or peas . Keep the mixture aside. Then take Poha or beaten rice and wash it in water and then drain the water. Then mix the wet poha into he onion mixture and warm it for a while. Afterwards garnish sprinkle it with coriander of celantro. Rajashekhar Patre, Bangalore, India Phone" +91 9243454031
Lorne Berkovitz (Vancouver, BC)
@Rajashekhar Patre I love poha. My husband's family is Tamil and his mom makes it. It reminds me so much of the Jewish style farfel with onions that my mom would make. Pure comfort food.
OldBoatMan (Rochester, MN)
So many things to cook and so little time. The accompanying recipe fascinates me. Homemade Rice-a-Roni that features tastier ingredients. Homemade is always more satisfying. I have two adult grandsons visiting and I'll try it out on them.
Steve (Pennsylvania)
Alternatively, you could go to an Indian grocery store and buy a package of Gits Upma mix. Much easier (just pour the mix into boiling water and stir) and very tasty. The instructions on the box state you can add a cut-up green chili if you like a spicier version, and I do that. But otherwise, right out of the box.
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