If you know what this is, I don't need to say anymore. If you don't, just know that you must make this amazing dish for yourself. It's purely addictive. Ask my BFF from high school, Grace. She lives in Israel and makes this dish often for her family since I taught it to her over 2 decades ago.
In its most traditional sense, Upma is a common breakfast dish made in many South Indian homes. It's traditionally made from rava, a wheat derivative, or cream of wheat. Cream of wheat is meal made from wheat. I found this funky explanation and history here on cream of wheat. It is traditionally savory, because remember in Indian households as in many parts of Asia, we lean towards savory foods for breakfast.
Recently, because I've been leaning away from eating too much wheat/i.e. gluten I wanted to see if I could come up with a GF alternative. I did, and it not only worked, it passed the 9-year-old taste test.
I started with Cream of Rice made from brown rice. Easy enough to find online or at a specialty grocer. I purchase mine at my local Whole Foods Market. I do love Bob's Red Mill - especially for those of you who medically need to eat GF because they say they keep their wheat-based production separate from their other grains and products.
From here, it was business as usual. I just had to keep in mind that the rice version uses 1 cup more water than the wheat farina. Something that threw me for a loop the first time around, but was easily fixed. Here's my pretty straight-forward mise-en-place:
Pictured from the bottom left: toasted cashews, onion, frozen peas, lemon juice, carrots, mustard seeds, green thai chiles, curry leaves, and toasted brown rice in the middle. I always work with quality, heavy duty pans. This 6-quart saute pan by All-Clad is phenomenal and totally worth your investment.
Gluten Free Upma with Toasted Cashews and Curry Leaves
1/4 cup raw cashews
1 cup creamy rice cereal
1 tablespoon oil (I use coconut)
1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
6-8 curry leaves
1 small yellow or red onion, diced
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
1/2 cup peas, fresh or frozen
1-2 Thai, serrano, or cayenne chiles, stems removed, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups boiling water
juice of 1 medium lemon
1. In a small saute pan, heat the cashews over medium-high heat until lightly brown. Set aside to cool.
2. In a heavy 6-quart saute pan, dry roast the rice cereal over medium-high heat until golden brown, about 4 1/2 minutes, mixing to prevent burning. This step is essential - don't skip it. If you don't toast the farina - rice or wheat - your end product will taste soggy. Transfer the rice to a plate and wipe the pan clean.
3. Add the oil and mustard seeds. Heat until they sizzle, about 30 seconds.
4. Add the curry leaves, onion, carrot, peas, and chiles. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions start to brown. Don't worry if you don't have curry leaves, just leave them out. See my note below. I love cooking with the curry leaf stems. Remove them before eating, but know you can eat the curry leaf.
5. Add the toasted rice farina, cashews, and salt. Mix well.
6. Add the boiling water to the mixture. Do it carefully, as it will splash at first. Use a lid if you need to. Mix well.
7. Once the water is in, reduce the heat to low and cook the mixture without the lid until all the liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice and mix well.
8. Turn the heat off, cover the pan completely, and let everything sit for at least 15 minutes so that it fully absorbs all the moisture. Serve immediately with vegan butter, a mashed banana, or spicy achaar (Indian pickle).
Notes: Curry Leaves are typically only found in Indian grocery stores. If you can't find them, add chopped cilantro at the end with the lemon juice. The original recipe can be found in my second cookbook, Vegan Indian Cooking on page 77.
Enjoy! xoxo Anupy