By Bonnie S. Benwick
Here’s breakfast-for-dinner, South Indian style, with a riff on a traditional vegetable stir-fry called uppittu or upma. Its author tweaked the recipe for her gluten-free friends by using polenta instead of semolina (couscous) as a base. Stirring coconut into it results in a delightfully fluffy texture. Serve with plain yoghurt.
Spiced Spring Vegetables and Coconut Polenta (Serves 4)
1/2 cup unsweetened, grated, fresh, frozen or dried coconut
Hot water, plus 4 cups water, or more as needed
230g asparagus (about 10 stalks)
About 56g sugar snap peas (a good handful)
1cm piece fresh ginger root
1 small serrano pepper or Indian finger chilli pepper
4 or 5 red radishes
4 stems coriander
1 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
1 cup quick-cooking polenta (may substitute stone-ground cornmeal)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seed
1 teaspoon dhal
5 or 6 fresh curry leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 lemon, or more as needed
Roasted, unsalted cashews, for garnish (optional)
If you’re using frozen or dried coconut, place in a medium bowl and cover with hot water; let sit for a few minutes until defrosted or slightly rehydrated, then drain.
Discard the tough ends of the asparagus, then cut the rest into 1-inch pieces. String the snap peas and cut on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces. Peel the ginger, then grate it. Stem and seed the chilli pepper, then mince it.
Trim the radishes and cut into quarters from top to bottom. Trim the scallions, then chop the white and light-green parts. Tear or coarsely chop the coriander leaves.
Bring the 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the teaspoon of salt, then gradually stir in the polenta; reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring, until it is creamy and lump-free. Stir in the butter and coconut; the polenta should become lighter and fluffier. Partially cover and reduce the heat to its lowest setting.
Heat the oil in medium non-stick pan or wok over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add a single black mustard seed. If it pops and sizzles, add the rest; have a splatter cover nearby and use it, as needed. Once the popping/sizzling subsides, stir in the dhal, if using, then reduce the heat to medium-low.
Cook, stirring for a minute or two until the dhal’s colour deepens, then add the curry leaves, if using, and the ginger and chilli pepper. Cover quickly to avoid spatters; cook for about 10 seconds, then add the scallions and ground turmeric. Stir-fry for 1 minute, then add the asparagus, snap peas and radishes (to taste). Season lightly with salt. Increase the heat to high; stir-fry for 2 or 3 minutes; if the mixture seems dry, add a splash or two of water. Turn off the heat and add the coriander.
Divide the polenta among individual wide, shallow bowls or spread across a platter. Top with the spiced vegetable mixture. Squeeze some juice from the lemon half over the top. Coarsely chop or crush the cashews, if using, and sprinkle over the mix. Serve right away.
Adapted from “Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes From Bangalore to Brooklyn,” by Chitra Agrawal (Penguin/Random House, 2017). Click here to purchase