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Improv Upma

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Upma, an Indian dish often served for breakfast, can be a delicious and cozy canvas for whatever you might need to use up: veggies, spices, even lentils and nutritional yeast. This is not a traditional recipe; we’re calling it Improv Upma.


  • Semolina, aka Cream of Wheat. Follow the box instructions based on how much you want to make.
  • Spices. Scan your spice cabinet for whatever you need to use up!
    • For a more traditional flavor profile, make sure to start with:
      • Cumin seeds (At least two teaspoons per dry cup of Cream of Wheat)

      • Mustard seeds (at least one teaspoon per cup of Cream of Wheat)

    • And also consider adding:
      • Turmeric

      • Ginger (fresh or powdered)

      • Garlic (fresh or powdered)

    • While it’s decidedly not Indian, I often sprinkle this Marrakesh Market Blend on mine.
  • Oil. To coat the bottom of the pan.
  • Water. Follow the instructions on the back of the Cream of Wheat box based on how much semolina you use.
  • Onion. At least one. I often use two or three.
  • Peas. I often use a bag of frozen peas.
  • Jalapeño pepper. If you like spicy. Chili powder also works.
  • Veggies. Just about anything goes! I often add spinach on its last leafy legs. Or portions of whatever we need to use up. Red pepper is great. So are squash, sweet potato, broccoli, cauliflower or carrots. Or turnips, or parsnips… we could go on.
  • Anything else you need to use up. Improv Upma is a pantry rockstar. You can toss in lentils (just be sure to cook long enough to soften them; you can also grind them in a food processor ahead of time for faster cooking). Nutritional yeast could be great. Flaxseed too.
  • Fresh herbs. Cilantro is a wonderful garnish. Parsley would also be lovely. Chopped green onions too.
  • Salt to taste. This is a great time to break out that salty, flavorful dust at the bottom of your nut canisters and chip bags. 
  • Raisins or other dried fruit. I usually don’t like my upma with raisins on it, but my husband does. It’s just another way this dish is incredibly versatile. And if you have some forgotten dried fruit at the back of your cabinet, go for it!
  • Nuts. Great for topping! Especially if you have some you need to use up. (Noticing a pattern here ;-)? )


  1. Head oil over medium heat. I use a non-stick soup pot, but a skillet would work too.
  2. Toast the cumin and mustard seeds until they become fragrant.
  3. Add the onion, jalapeño pepper and a bit of salt. Sauté until the onion becomes translucent (I sometimes slow cook my onions ahead of time and add them right after I toast the semolina).
  4. Add the semolina, dry roasting it for a bit. (You can also skip dry roasting the semolina and add it after the water, if you find that easier. You might miss out on a little toasty flavor, but it will still taste great!)
  5. Add water, peas, other seasonings and salt. You may need to adjust the water amount based on other ingredients. Just keep an eye on the pot and use your best judgment.
  6. Add any other vegetables you’re planning to use (time when you add them based on how much they might need to cook. Spinach, for example, can be added pretty late; carrots should be added early on and if you want them to be truly soft, you may want to roast or steam in advance).
  7. Add anything else, using common sense based on what the additional ingredient is. Dried lentils should either be cooked separately, or added with enough time for the lentils to cook. You can also grind them in a food processor and then add them. Flaxseed or nutritional yeast, on the other hand, can just be sprinkled in whenever.
  8. Cook until all the water is absorbed (the box of Cream of Wheat you use might have some additional intel on how long this will take).
  9. Top with herbs or green onions, or dried fruit or nuts if using.
  10. I like to serve my upma with an over easy egg, but it makes a fine meal on its own too!