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aval upma

And now, something healthy! Which I do cook more often than it might seem from my blog posts. This particular dish is a favorite, a standby that I usually turn to on the days (or nights) when cooking doesn’t seem all that appealing, but take-out seems even less so. It is simple and quick to pull together, and always hits the spot. The lovely yellow color, the range of textures from the vegetables and the poha itself, and the light lemony tang just make me happy.

A word here to the poha uninitiated. Beaten, flattened rice is called poha in Hindi, aval in Tamil, and I’m sure is known by a variety of other names in different parts of India. It’s easy to find at Indian grocery stores, and should be a part of your grain arsenal for many reasons. Need a few? It’s surprisingly nutritious (healthier than rice, although it’s made from it…go figure), versatile, and amazingly quick to prepare (just soak and squeeze and you’re done). It also absorbs flavors easily, which makes it a great base for a lot of Indian food.

I grew up calling this dish aval upma, but was recently notified that it’s not really a South Indian dish, being native to Bombay if anywhere. So, aloo poha it is. Aloo (potatoes) are the main vegetable element here, but I tend to be flexible and add in a few others I fancy. Nobody has complained so far. So, get cooking, serve yourself a bowl, and top with plain yogurt and some spicy Indian pickle. And you will see why this is an anytime meal I love so much.

Aloo Poha (or Aval Upma if you please)

2 cups poha (I use the medium thickness variety, but it should work with them all)

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp brown mustard seeds

1 hot green chili, chopped (I like the thai bird chili, which is extra spicy)

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/8 tsp asafetida/hing (optional)

1 medium red onion, finely chopped

1 medium potato, peeled and finely diced

1 small carrot, grated

handful of peas (I use frozen)

juice from 1/2 lemon

salt to taste

2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Pick through and rinse the poha well before using, as it can often be mixed with dirt or grit. Soak the poha in cool water for about 10 minutes (may be more or less depending on the kind of poha you use). To test if your poha is ready to go, press a grain between thumb and index finger. It should be swollen, soft and crumble when you apply a little pressure. Squeeze the water out of the poha and set aside. Discard the soaking water.

Heat the oil in a large, deep pan over medium high heat. Add the mustard seeds. Once they begin to sizzle and pop, add the green chili, turmeric and asafetida (if using). Immediately add the chopped onion and fry until translucent. Add the chopped potato and fry well for 5-8 minutes, until the potato is tender cooked and the onions are turning brown. Add the grated carrots and peas and cook for another minute or two. Add salt to taste (be generous with the salt since it needs to flavor the poha as well). Add the squeezed, drained poha and squeeze lemon juice over the mixture. Stir well until all the ingredients are well incorporated. Taste for salt. Top with chopped cilantro and serve.