Chances are you’ve heard of Gary Chapman’s recognized Five Love Languages. Whether it was mentioned in a conversation with friends or you’ve taken the love languages quiz, you’ve probably discussed whether words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time or physical touch is your love language. However, I believe Chapman is wrong. I would argue that there is a sixth love language — my personal favorite — one that I believe my grandma, in her entirety, represents: love through cooking.
I’m biased of course, but my grandma, or Ma as I call her, is the most loving person I know. She shows her affection in many different ways, from small things like making my bed on the days I forgot to texting old photographs of us together unprompted. Regardless of how her day is going or how she is feeling, she makes it a priority to ensure that my brother, cousins and I are comfortable, happy and most importantly, full.
Ma loves to cook — not for herself, but for others. I can’t recall a day when she failed to speak to me about food at least once. “What do you want to eat?” or “can I make you something?” she would ask, followed by her listing an exhaustive menu of my favorite dishes. When I was back home, in conversations about how my school day went or if my team won the volleyball game, she would sneak in quick offers for food, trying to deceive me into answering yes. Even now, after I’ve moved thousands of miles away for college, she still offers to send me snacks and often texts me pictures of the meals she’s made for others.
Growing up, I wasn’t much of a picky eater. Honestly, I would eat anything presented to me. Of course, there were a few exceptions. I despised eating khichdi, a popular north Indian dish made of rice and lentils, loathed my dad’s favorite fruit, papaya and most of all, my 8-year-old self’s “sophisticated” palate hated eating the same food more than twice in a row. There is only one food that my grandma made that I could never get sick of: upma.
Now, thousands of miles from home and without a kitchen to cook from in the dorm, I find myself constantly craving my grandma’s upma: a savory, southern Indian wheat-based porridge also known as suji ka upma in Northern India. This hot and easy dish is often eaten during breakfast, but it also doubles as my personal favorite lunchtime snack. And in the same way that love is customizable and can be shown in many different ways, so is upma. The base of the dish is always the same, but whatever vegetables you add are up to you. In honor of my grandma’s unconditional love and the infinite ways she shows it, here is her recipe for one of my favorite dishes she cooks for me.
1 cup of Rava / Sooji / Semolina (Cream of Wheat)
1.5 tbsp Vegetable Oil
0.5 tsp Rai / Sarson (mustard seeds)
1 tsp Urad Dal (split black lentils)
4 Kadi Patta / Limdo (Curry Leaves)
2 Split Green Chilies (Jalapeños or Serrano Peppers)
0.25 cup finely chopped White Onions
0.25 cup Yogurt
3 Cups of Water
Half a lemon
Salt to taste
Cilantro for garnish (optional)
Whatever additional vegetables you would like to add (carrots, ginger, peas…)
- Heat and occasionally stir rava in a saucepan and dry roast on a medium flame for 4 to 5 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from heat and empty in a dish.
- Heat oil in the same saucepan and add rai. Wait for the seeds to crackle.
- Once the seeds start to crackle or splutter, add urad dal, kadi patta, and green chilies. Sauté on a medium flame for around 30 seconds.
- Add onions and sauté on medium heat for around 2-3 minutes or until onions are transparent. Feel free to add additional vegetables of your choice and sauté with onions.
- Add water and salt (to taste) and bring to a boil.
- Slightly lower heat and slowly, yet consistently, add the roasted rava while continuously stirring. Mix well so that no lumps form. If lumps form, press on them and incorporate them into the rest of the upma. If the upma is too thick or dry, add additional water.
- Once the water is absorbed, cover the pan with a lid and cook on a low flame for 3-4 minutes.
- Add yogurt and mix well.
- Add a small amount of lemon to taste and garnish with cilantro (optional).
- Serve hot. (I personally love to add some methi masala for spice, but it’s up to you.)
MiC Columnist Deven Parikh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.