Upma is a delicious breakfast dish and snack from South India. Rava (also called Rawa, Sooji, Suji or Upma grain) is a semolina product that is cooked with spices and sometimes finely chopped vegetables for a stunningly delicious dish.
Ottolenghi, in his book Plenty More takes his version of Upma and allows it to set before pan frying wedges. It is a delicious way to use Upma and a great use of left-overs. Rather than use his recipe, I cook Upma in a more traditional South Indian way, using his method to pan fry it, then serve it with either seasoned yoghurt or ricotta.
Rava, like semolina, is a granulated wheat flour that have a grainy and coarse texture to it. There are two types available, a fine-grained version and a coarser-grained one that is better for making Upma. In general, sooji will have a finer grain than rava. If you use the fine grained one for Upma, you might have to reduce the water so that you don’t get a pasty texture.
I cook Upma until it is thick and holds shape. One variation is to add more water to get a looser consistency. If making the fried upma, cook until it is quite thick.
As an aside and just for your information if you are interested: There are many different types of rava, perhaps thousands of regional variations. Some of the variations are because different wheats are used. One of them called Bansi Rava and also known as samba wheat in many parts of India, is a very fine powdered flour unlike the more coarsely granulated Rava. It is made from a variety of wheat called samba godumai that has a long body and slightly sharp edges on both sides.
Another famous Rava is the Bombay Rava which has a very coarse texture that is a little bigger than regular Rava. It is made from whole wheat grains of a wheat called mottai godumai. There is another type, chamba rava, which is a by-product of wheat flour. Semolina, on the other hand, is always made from Duram wheat.
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200g coarse semolina, rava, sooji or upma, toasted if you can get it
1 small onion, chopped (90g)
0.25 tspn ground turmeric
1.5 Tblspn ghee
1.5 tspn black mustard seeds
1 tspn cumin seeds
1 tspn urad dal
1 tspn channa dal
2 Tblspn unsalted peanuts, roughly chopped
2 Tblspn cashews, halved
30g fresh root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 small green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
20 fresh curry leaves (about 3 stems)
fresh lemon or lime juice
If you don’t have toasted rava, dry roast semolina/rava/sooji in pan over low-medium heat until toasty but not browned (as flavour changes), about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Roasting the semolina is very important as it prevents the grains from clumping together when cooked in boiling water.
Heat the 1.5 Tblspn ghee in a kadhai or large frying pan on a medium heat. Add the black mustard seeds and as they splutter, add the cumin seeds, urad dal, and channa dal and cook until the dal turns golden. Add the cashews and peanuts and saute until golden.
Add the asafoetida, green chillies, ginger and curry leaves and saute as the curry leaves splatter.
Add the onions, mix well and saute until translucent. Add the turmeric and salt and mix well. Saute for another minute, stirring from time to time.
Pour over 400ml of water then add the semolina/rava/sooji while at the same time stirring well. The semolina can bubble and spurt as it absorbs the water. Reduce heat to low. Allow this mixture to cook for about 2 minutes or so, stirring constantly. The upma absorbs water very quickly and tends to dry out too, so turn off the heat when the mixture is still moist. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and stir through. Extra ghee (1 tspn) can be added as well if desired.
Garnish with coriander leaves, serve and enjoy. Or continue as below to make Pan Fried Upma.
recipe notes and alternatives
Upma also pairs very well with plain Desi or Greek thick yoghurt seasoned with a handful of chopped coriander leaves and salt to taste.
Half a cup of shelled fresh or frozen peas or finely chopped carrot or capsicum can be added to the Upma with the onions. Chopped tomatoes can be added after the onions and cooked until they break down.
The onions can be omitted.
Fried Upma with Seasoned Ricotta
cooked Upma, as above
60g ghee, for toasting the cooked upma, plus extra for greasing the tray
1 cup ricotta
1 green chilli, chopped
100g Indian lime pickle, optional
120g Greek yoghurt, optional
1 tspn black mustard seeds
1 – 2 Indian dried red chilli, pinched or broken in 2
1 tspn ghee
Lightly oil a 20 x 20cm tray.
When the upma is cooked, spread it out on the greased tray. Use a palette knife to flatten it down or use your palms and set aside for about 20 minutes to cool and set.
When it has cooled and set, heat the 60g ghee in a frying pan on a high heat. Use a knife to cut the upma into four squares and then cut each square in half on the diagonal. Add the triangles to the pan and fry for about 6 minutes, turning once, so that both sides turn golden and crispy.
You will need to do this in 2 batches so keep them warm in a low oven, while you fry the second batch, adding more ghee if you need to.
Mix 1 cup ricotta with sea salt, coriander leaves and chopped green chilli. Heat 1 tspn ghee in a tadka pan and pop some black mustard seeds. When the popping dies down, add dried red chillies and saute in the ghee. Tip the ghee and spices into the ricotta and mix well.
Put two triangles on each plate, leaning one up against the other. Place a spoonful of ricotta alongside, with some pickle and some yoghurt if you like. Garnish with more coriander leaves. Serve at once.
recipe notes and alternatives
Upma also pairs very well with Desi or Greek thick yoghurt seasoned with a handful of chopped coriander leaves and salt to taste.