American

My Favorite Bread Upma

April  5, 2021
1 Rating
Photo by Mark Weinberg. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop stylist: Brooke Deonarine.
Author Notes

You may know upma as a South Indian breakfast staple, but I’m here to tell you that it’s much more than that. Upma is a state of mind. The refrain is simple: Carb of choice, toasted in ghee-bloomed spices, then cooked with assorted vegetables and curry leaves and topped with tomato ketchup. In South India, the carb of choice is typically toasted semolina, thickened into a creamy, savory porridge. But it can also be seviya (wheat vermicelli noodles), poha (flattened rice), pori (puffed rice), sago, spaghetti (if you’re in my family)...the list goes on. All this said, my favorite kind of upma—and, incidentally, the one that can be made the absolute quickest—is made with bread.

Bread upma is made in two contrasting ways. In the first version, pan-fried cubes are seasoned with juicy fresh tomatoes, onions, and spices, to create a result that’s crispy but nowhere close to dry; in the second version, the cubes of bread are soaked in buttermilk before being pan-fried with assorted vegetables and spices, resulting in a texture that can be best described as “pudding-like” and “pleasantly mushy,” but wouldn’t be giving it enough credit. This version captures the best of both, with crispy wok-toasted bread enveloped in a tangy yogurt sauce to moisten it just enough, all capped with crunchy vegetables and fried curry leaves. Add a fried egg for some more heft, squeeze on some tomato ketchup (or masala ketchup, if that’s your thing), find inner peace. —Brinda Ayer

  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Cook time 20 minutes
  • Serves 2
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons ghee or high-heat neutral oil, divided
  • 4 slices sourdough bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup raw cashews
  • 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon urad dal (split white gram lentils)
  • 1 pinch asafetida
  • 1 large shallot or small red onion, diced
  • 1 small green chile or half a large green chile, chopped finely
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 5 to 6 fresh curry leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 cup small cauliflower florets
  • 1/4 cup frozen peas
  • 1/4 cup plain full-fat yogurt, thinned with 1 to 2 teaspoons of water to make it pourable
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro, stems and leaves, for garnish
  • 2 fried eggs, for serving (optional)
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. In a large skillet or wok set over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon of the ghee or oil and heat until shimmering.
  2. Add the cubed bread and raw cashews to the pan and toast in oil until crunchy and golden brown, shaking the pan frequently and tossing the bread so it doesn’t burn. This will take 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the toasted bread and cashews and set aside (don’t worry if your bread doesn’t seem fully toasted; it will continue to crisp up as it cools).
  3. Lower the flame to medium and add the second tablespoon of cooking fat to the pan, heating until it’s shimmering. Add the mustard seeds, urad dal, and asafetida and shake the pan vigorously to coat everything in the fat. In 20 to 30 seconds, the seeds will burst and the dal will become a deeply golden-brown color. (Watch closely during this step so your spices don’t burn and get bitter!)
  4. At this stage, add the onions, chile, salt, turmeric, and curry leaves and stir to combine; raise the heat to medium-high and cook until the onions have softened and turned translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the cauliflower florets and stir, cooking for 3 to 5 minutes longer until they’ve softened and are completely coated with the spice and onion mixture.
  5. Add the reserved bread and cashews to the pan with the vegetables and stir everything together, ensuring the onion mixture and cauliflower florets are evenly dispersed with the bread; cook together for about a minute more. Add the peas and cook for another minute. Carefully drizzle the yogurt over the upma and stir to combine so the bread and vegetables are completely coated; cook for 2 to 3 minutes more, stirring only occasionally, so the upma browns and crisps up some more, helped along with the lactose sugar in the yogurt.
  6. Once the upma has crisped up to your desired texture, divide among bowls and serve with chopped cilantro and a fried egg, if you like (I like).

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Brinda is the Director of Content at Food52, where she oversees all site content across Food52 and Home52. She likes chewy Neapolitan pizza, stinky cheese of all sorts, and tahini-flavored anything. Brinda lives in Brooklyn with 18 plants and at least one foster pup (sometimes more). Find her at @brindayesterday on Twitter and Instagram.

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