Posted on 07/13/2021 at 11:00 AM by Madhu Gadia
July 13, 2021.
Jolie Cooks with Madhu Column:
Uppama, Is this Really Cream of Wheat?
On reading the name of this recipe, I thought, “Really, Madhu? Cream of Wheat as a snack or lunch?” and felt a twinge of resistance. To me, Cream of Wheat is the unappreciated hot cereal my mom sometimes made for breakfast during Wisconsin winters when I was a kid: a white, tasteless carrier for heaping doses of butter and sugar.
Rediscovering Cream of Wheat
Then I reconsidered: “Whoa. This is the Cooking with Madhu project! Maybe Indian cooks have discovered something about this cereal that I haven’t. I don’t even know what Cream of Wheat is!” A little research revealed that it’s an American brand of semolina, milled durum wheat that’s a good source of fiber, phosphorous, and other nutrients. At very close range, this finely ground wheat is a light, variegated caramel hue and not the bare white of my memory. OK. I was ready to give this recipe for uppama a chance.
Today's Breakfast: Uppama
I opened my spice box and inhaled slowly, my new ritual before cooking an Indian dish. I gathered and measured every ingredient, another first for me. With everything at my fingertips, I began the recipe.
Roasting grain was a new technique for me, so to avoid burning it, I watched closely while stirring the Cream of Wheat in a hot cast-iron skillet for 7 minutes. As the wheat slowly turned a darker shade of caramel, an aroma like bread baking in the oven rose from the pan. The next step was also new: adding the roasted Cream of Wheat gradually by hand to the simmering water, peas, carrots, and onions. Holding and releasing an ingredient with one hand while stirring it in with the other felt elemental. I was one with the wheat! I popped on a lid, and the uppama was ready in 10 more minutes.
The star qualities of uppama for me are its rich, nutty flavor and its texture enhanced by 2 tablespoons of chana dal. Ted “could see this becoming a comfort food” and also noted the “interesting crunch.” My next-door neighbor, now in my cadre of taste-testers, said, “It was really good. I liked it.”
This morning, since Madhu notes that uppama is “served most commonly for breakfast,” I heated up a bowl in the microwave and found again that the flavors in her recipes deepen overnight. While eating this uncommonly tasty breakfast, I realized my attitude toward Cream of Wheat has changed. It’s better without the sugar and butter. Then I remembered what someone once told me: “Be careful or you might learn something.”
Uppama appears to have a similar “surprisingly good” response from most first-time tasters, including me. A few years ago, I was staying at my friend Jane’s house, and in the morning, I made Uppama for breakfast. It was an instant hit with her. She loves Cream of Wheat and was delighted by the savory, creamy goodness of uppama.
Traditionally, Uppama is a South Indian dish. I did not grow up eating it. But I made it for my kids all the time as I had learned it from a college friend, Nandakumar, from South India, at the University of Illinois. It became a staple in our house. My grandson, Viraj, loves uppama too - no vegetables, please.
Today, it is a popular dish throughout India. Uppama is low in fat and calories, thus is often touted as a healthier breakfast option. It’s filling and nourishing. (Regional Indian cuisines is whole another topic.)
FYI - you can now buy roasted Sooji (Cream of Wheat is Sooji in Hindi) in an Indian grocery store. It’s perfectly roasted for uppama and definitely saves time.
Recipe: Uppama (Cream of Wheat Snack), New Indian Home Cooking, page 71.
Disclaimer: "Jolie Cooks with Madhu" is an independent column. The views expressed are Jolie Zimmers's personal cooking experiences and do not represent any product or company. They are not paid or reimbursed by any third party for their viewpoints.