You Should Try

Mark is out for the night, at a bachelor party for one of his good friends that involved golfing and something called a “pickle” pub crawl. I’m in bed at the late hour of 9:34 after consuming more Nutella than I care to describe. Wild and crazy times at our house, as usual.

I’m just about to settle in with the People magazine about the new royal baby, something I’ve been looking forward to all day, but suddenly remembered a recipe I’d been wanting to share for a while. Let me start at the beginning. See this lovely, slightly skeptical-looking lady below? That’s my grandma, who I call Mama (pronounced “Mumma”, not sure why it’s spelled the other way, but that’s how it’s been for 29 years so stop asking questions, non-existent reader).


I could write ten blog posts about her and how inspiring (and often maddening) she is, but I’ll save those words for later. Let’s just say that she’s pretty badass and probably the person who I am most alike in this world. We have a lot of similar quirks, like absolutely loving eating something spicy and drinking a hot cup of milky tea at the same time, a constant desire for hot water bottles, and the ability to fall asleep almost anywhere (her: standing upright, in the middle of a conversation; me: on the back of a motorcycle trip through Vietnam). We also differ in a lot of ways — she’s 88 and very stuck in her ways. There are things about her that drive me crazy (and vice versa), and oftentimes I think I speak way too fast for her to understand me so she just smiles and nods.

All that aside, she is, hands down, the best cook ever. I’ve been watching a lot of Masterchef recently, and besides thinking that Joe Bastianich is a total goober, I keep picturing Mama storming onto the set and blowing everyone else out of the effing water. Then I imagine the judges saying mean things and I get all indignant and mentally act out rants against them. Does anyone else do this? Sometimes when I’m showering, I also imagine being interviewed by Rolling Stone magazine, and I will, like, mouth responses to them. I think I may have said too much. (I also used to apply Bonne Bell chapstick and kiss a Taylor Hanson poster before bed).

ANYWAY. When I was little, we used to visit India roughly every other summer, and the foods I ate at her table are still my favourite things in the world. I could list these meals for hours, but the thing is, it could never mean the same thing to you as it does to me. How can I explain exactly why I love plain parathas and salted yogurt so much? It’s so boring and bland, yet I would pick it as my final meal. It just tastes like comfort to me. Mama also makes the most delicious Keralan-style fish curry, using a clay pot that’s held the same dish hundreds, if not thousands, of times. It is the only food that makes me immediately start salivating when I get a whiff of it, and the great tragedy is that I can no longer eat it, due to a fin fish allergy I developed as an adult. I can’t even eat the gravy. Thinking about it makes me want to cry a little.

But here is something I can eat: the South Indian breakfast dish known as uppuma (sometimes spelled upma). Bear with me when I describe this, because it sounds totally wacko, but believe me when I say that it is more than the sum of its parts. It basically consists of dry roasted semolina (I use Cream of Wheat from a box), fried together with mustard seeds, onions, green chillies, ginger, and black gram seeds (also known as urad dal; I have often made it without these), and curry leaves (again, I usually leave these out). After roasting everything until it’s nice and brown, you add some water and let it all cook together until it’s soft. At this point, you can eat it plain as a savoury dish, but I like to have it the same way I ate it as a child, and sprinkle it with a teensy bit of sugar, and then eat it with a banana. Yes, I realize this likely does not sound appetizing at all. Perhaps it won’t be to you. But I have this recipe, written in my grandmother’s words, and I’m feeling generous.

Ammini’s Uppuma (cut and pasted from an email; see notes above regarding omissions)

My Dearest Grand child Pia,
I am extremely sorry for not giving you the Uppuma recepe that you had asked for.  in my last letter, I am really very sorry about that, so I shall give it now.
Uppuma—    1/2 cup  semolina—-roasted  dry[  -no oil  ]   till not discoloured, set aside.
1 large onion -chopped fairly fine.
1/2inch piece ginger, 2 or3 green chillies-[according to potency and taste] chopped fine
curry leaves- few
mustard seeds – 1/4 tsp    black gram  seeds- 1/2  tsp
Oil-1tablspn or more- as you like it—— little ghee or butter may be added for extra taste!
Heatoil in fry pan or wok , pop mustardseeds, addblack grams    andfry till light brown, add the chopped onion, curry leaves, ginger, green chillies ,add enough salt and fry well on slow fire  till soft  and light brown add the  roastedsemolina fry together for alittle while more  then add1cup hot water, let it boil stir   and keep covered for about five minutes . Check  on waterandsalt , add more if necessary. Uppuma should be soft and moistwhen done.  You will know from the taste and appearence.  Little butteror ghee may be added to enhance the taste as per your wish . Finally garnish with a little chopped coriander leaves
You should try and let me know of the result.