Every time I go back to India, I look forward to the food. Every relative or friend you visit insists you partake in a meal with them. And every road side stall, fancy restaurant and five-star hotel beckons you with choices galore. One humble savory food that can be prepared on a budget, but feels like a hearty meal is Uppuma. While there are dozens of varieties of Uppuma, a visit to Saravana Bhavan (that ubiquitous South Indian chain) got me hooked to the kind made with roasted wheat vermicelli.
So what is this Uppuma you may ask? Simply put, it is defined in many places as a porridge. In my vocabulary, porridge is a gooey, mushy eat. Take a look at the picture above. Does this in any way resemble the porridge you know? Instead to me it is almost like a pilaf, the nutty taste of the fine vermicelli, blending with the vegetables and chillies, a perfect crunch imparted by the mustard seeds, dal and cashew nuts with the final touch of coconut bringing in the ultimate tropical feel. Have a plate with a steaming cup of coffee and you will be transported to a culinary heaven that you may not have experienced to date.
Without further adieu, here is my recipe for the Vermicelli Uppuma that is created frequently in my kitchen (since it takes only 20 minutes to prepare). If you want to totally delight guests at an event with an appetizer that will keep them hooked and guessing, simply put spoonfuls of the completed dish in little phyllo cups and serve!
Recipe for Vermicelli Uppuma – Serves 6
1 cup roasted wheat vermicelli (I use the Bambino brand available at Indian stores and on Amazon.com)
A handful of cashew nuts broken
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp urad dal
4 green chillies finely chopped
1 inch piece of ginger finely chopped
1 red onion finely chopped
1 red pepper finely diced
1 carrot finely grated
.5 cup of fresh or frozen green peas
1.5 tsp salt
2 tbsps vegetable oil
1 tbsp clarified butter or take an extra tbsp of oil
Freshly shredded coconut (3 tbsps)
2 cups water
Heat the oil and butter in a large non stick pan or wok. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds, urad dal, green chillies, ginger, cashew nuts and onions. Fry till the mustard seeds pop and the onions and cashew nuts turn brown. Add two cups of water, salt and the vegetables and bring the water to a boil. Now slowly add the vermicelli and stir continuously till the vermicelli is blended and thick and appears to have the consistency of dried porridge. Add freshly grated coconut, give it another swish and cover promptly and take off the stove.
Let dish rest for 15 minutes (covered) and fluff before serving. When done, it will be fluffy and each grain of vermicelli should be separate. Serve on plates for a meal or in phyllo cups as an appetizer. Don’t forget to bring out steaming hot cups of coffee.
If you’d rather get an instant Uppuma fix, head to one of the many Saravana Bhavan restaurants in the US and abroad. A complete listing can be found at