Sometimes you need a kick up the bum when it comes to cooking. Your repertoire gets a bit dull, your imagination doesn’t seem to extend past the things you have made the week before. Well, I certainly got a kick up the kitchen bum this month; I spent three weeks eating the glorious, magical, indescribably good food in South India.
Real Indian food is far from the cheap parody of what we have been eating in the UK for all of my life. It’s varied, nuanced and full of fascinating ingredients, many of which we’ve never even heard of. It’s also incredibly cheap; a regular lunch “meal” consists of a number of different, small curries, salads and chutneys, served with breads, rice and a sweet, which is eaten before the savouries, and barely ever runs more than 150 Rupees, which is more or less £1.50. I came back from my trip feeling fantastic and eager to remake these recipes at home. Here’s one of the first I tried my hand at.
Upma is usually made from cream of wheat or “cracked wheat” (which you can actually find in your local Indian grocery store), but I find that bulgur wheat is a fantastic alternative as it’s cheap, widely available and holds its shape well in this dish. The spices aren’t too much but do lend this recipe all of its flavour, and asafoetida is an absolute essential, as it often is in South Indian dishes.
This is a breakfast dish made in the home of my Indian friend, and I loved it. There’s something about eating semi-spicy food in the morning that just seems to give your metabolism a jump start. It’s fantastic as a breakfast for after a morning workout, as it’s got a food dose of protein and is low in calories (if that’s your thing). You can even make this the night before and reheat it in the morning, or even make a large batch on a weekend to see you through the week. You’ll be wide awake and full of slow-release energy after this, I promise.
1 cup bulgur wheat
3 cups water
2 tbsps vegetable oil
1 shallot, diced
1 green chilli, chopped
1-inch piece ginger, finely diced
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon urad dal (if you can get it)
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1 small red chilli, chopped
three fresh curry leaves (if you can get them)
a pinch of asafoetida
a pinch of salt
In a pan, bring the bulgur wheat and water to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cover. Cook for around 20 minutes, until the wheat is tender and all the water is gone, then drain
In a pan, heat the oil, then add in the shallot, ginger and green chilli and heat for several minutes
In a pestle and mortar, crush the mustard seeds, urad dal, coriander seeds and garam masala, then add in the red chilli, asafoetida and curry leaves.
Add the mixture to the pan and cook for 2 minutes
Add in the drained wheat and mix well, stirring to coat
Cook for two or three minutes, and serve with a squeeze of fresh lime
This is traditionally served with lime pickle, milk curds or coconut chutney. I serve mine with natural vegan yogurt and whatever Indian pickle we have in the fridge; it’s important to get one soothing condiment and one spicy one!
If your stomach and spice don’t go too well together, you can leave one or both of the chillies out of this recipe; with any Indian recipes, you can tailor their level of heat to your tolerance. For me, this is perfect, and the heat is just enough to warm my insides on a very chilly Edinburgh morning.