Starters/ Mains

Corn Polenta Upma

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Upma is a South Indian breakfast dish that is popular all over India. There is a specific ingredient called curry leaves, which is generally used in southern Indian cooking and gives upma its unique flavor. I remember mum making this recipe for us on weekends.

While upma is usually made with semolina, I once made it using corn polenta for my friend Jimena at her place in London. Instead of water, I added a special ingredient – freshly squeezed coconut milk – which gave it a beautifully soft, vibrant taste and smooth texture. Instead of the usual little black mustard seeds, I used caraway seeds and crunchy toasted desiccated coconut, which brought out the best soft minty aroma and flavor.  Jimena and her friends were impressed with this simple corn polenta! It was a smashing success.

Polenta is a dish that originated in Italy, usually made with ground corn or maize. Before corn or maize was introduced to America in the 16th century, it was a peasant dish that was made from any ground grain, beans, or legumes and typically served as a porridge or placed on a wooden board to cool and harden before it is cut into portions with a string.

As corn was introduced into the world of trade, corn polenta started gaining popularity in parts of Europe, North and South America, and Africa (Ugali, Koki, or Meali Bread). From there, variations of the recipe continued as the dish crossed different cultures. This recipe offers a distinct perspective on the dish.  It is topped with chopped coriander leaves that gives it freshness and roasted grated coconut, which adds a nutty, sweet taste. This dish has tangy, musky flavors from the curry leaves and caraway seeds. It can be served as breakfast or as a starter.


starter South Indian
By SS Shiva Serves: 2-3
Prep Time: 15 mins Cooking Time: 15 mins Total Time: 30 mins


  • 1 tbsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tbsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tbsp heap spoon coconut butter or 4 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp fresh curry leaves (optional)
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp ginger powder
  • 1 small piece of dried red chili (optional)
  • 2 tbsp chopped thin slices of cabbages
  • 1 cup of medium or fine cornmeal.
  • 2 cups of coconut milk
  • 1 tsp Himalayan pink salt (to taste)
  • For the topping:
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup of fresh coriander leaves
  • 1/2 cup grated coconut fine
  • few dashes of pepper (optional)
  • few dashes of grated nutmeg



In a coffee grinder or spice grinder, add caraway seeds, black mustard seeds, and coriander seeds, and grind to a coarse powder. Set aside.


Add the coconut oil into a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Then add the coarsely ground spices and sauté for 30 seconds.


Add the dried red chili, curry leaves, turmeric powder, and ginger powder. Sauté for another 30 seconds, then add the cabbage and sauté for another 30 seconds.


Add the coarse cornmeal to the spices in the saucepan and stir continuously, making sure that all the ingredients are well incorporated.


Once all the ingredients are mixed well, add one cup of warm water and salt and continue stirring.


At this point, it will start getting firm and clumping up slightly. Add the coconut milk and continue stirring, making sure to remove the clumps as much as possible. The cornmeal will get firmer but will still have a pliable consistency. If it gets a bit too dry, add warm water or coconut milk a little at a time until the mixture is easier to mix.


Pour the mixture into a serving tray and spread it out evenly. Let it cool to room temperature to allow the mixture to settle and firm up. Then cut into equal portions for serving.


While the polenta is cooling, make the topping for the polenta. In a medium-sized frying pan, heat some coconut oil over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and sauté for 1 minute.


Then add the freshly chopped coriander leaves. Season with Himalayan pink salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Set aside.


In a separate saucepan, lightly toss the grated coconut over high heat until slightly brown and add sautéed coriander leaves. Mix well.


Remove from the heat and use this as a topping for the polenta.


You can also add a bit of coconut cream on top as an extra topping.


You can serve this dish for breakfast or as a starter for lunch.

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