Vegetable Couscous (Upma)

A twist on couscous, this South Indian breakfast is a nutritious blend of cream of wheat with vegetables, herbs and spices.   

By Ashok Vasudevan

Serves 4  | Prep time: 10 minutes |  Cook time: 10 minutes

  • 1/2 Cup Cream of wheat (Semolina, Rava)
  • 1 Onion (finely chopped)
  • 1/4 Cup shelled green peas
  • 1/4 Cup mixed vegetables like carrots, green beans,etc.(Substitute with other non-mushy vegetables of your choice)
  • 1 Tbsp split Chickpeas (Chana Dal)
  • ½ Stalk (or twig) of Curry Leaf ( About 10--12 curry leaves), if available
  • 2 Whole Green chillies (medium-sized)
  • 1 Whole Red Chilli (for garnish)
  • 1 Tablespoon oil
  • 1 Teaspoon Ghee (clarified butter), if available
  • 1 Lime (small)
  • 1/4  Cup freshly chopped cilantro 
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 oz.Roasted unsalted cashew nuts (substitute with almonds, peanuts or pistacchio)
  • 1 Teaspoon salt


  • Chop vegetables into small cubes about ½ inch 
  • Finely chop onion, cilantro, ginger. Deseed and slice green chilies in half. 
  • Heat ½ teaspoon oil in a sauce pan. Roast the cream of wheat about 5 minutes on low heat or until it just turns a little golden (not brownish). Set aside.  
  • Separately boil 1½ cups of water in a kettle. Keep ready.
  • In a large dish, heat balance of oil. When the oil is hot, add mustard seeds. In a few seconds the mustard seeds will sputter. Add cumin, split chick peas (Chana dal) ginger, green chillies and onions and cook on high for about 3 minutes till onions become slightly translucent. Now add the vegetables and cook for about 10 minutes. Let the vegetables cook but still be al dente.  
  • Add the 3 cups of hot water and bring to boil. (If you have not boiled the water separately, you may add regular water and wait for a few minutes for the water to boil).
  • Add salt
  • Turn stove to slow cook or simmer. This is the pre-final step and perhaps the most delicate and important step in making Upma. Slowly add the roasted cream of wheat to the water, a little at a time, almost creating a slow "rain" of the cream of wheat, continuously whisking the mixture in the pan so it does not form lumps. (DO NOT JUST ADD THE CREAM OF WHEAT IN ONE GO. THIS WILL MAKE THE UPMA LUMPY)
  • In less than a minute the Upma will thicken rapidly and form a creamy porridge-like consistency. Switch off and remove from heat immediately. Always remember to remove from stove even if the Upma appears a little brothy. It will thicken with the latent heat even as you take it off the stove. Now  squeeze lime juice.
  • Garnish with chopped cilantro & roasted nuts. Add the clarified butter, if using. Stir together. 
  • Add stir fried red chilli for decoration as in picture! Your Upma is ready.


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