A Tribute to My Ajji

This blog post is dedicated to my dear Indu Ajji, my maternal grandmother, who is no longer with us, but whom I miss so much and think of all the time. My Ajji was, and always will be, the biggest inspiration for me! I’m sharing one of “signature concoctions”, the Maharashtrian Sanja (Turmeric Spiced Savory Semolina Porridge).

The fondest memories I have of Ajji are filled with the delicious food she grew on her farm and lovingly prepared for us in her farmhouse kitchen located in the quaint village of Ashvi, in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, where she lived for most of her life after her marriage. The food Ajji prepared was simple, humble, and hands down the best I’ve ever had. Bharli Vangi & Bhakri, Thalipeeth, Amti, Sanja… just a few of my favorite dishes that Ajji used to make – yum!

Maharashtrian Sanja (Turmeric Spiced Savory Semolina Porridge)

I still have about half a jar of the Kala Masala that she had made herself, especially for me. I have treasured it for over 10 years now and use it sparingly, only for very, very special recipes or occasions. I don’t even let my mom use ajji’s masala every time she visits me and takes over my kitchen during her stay…it’s like a pot of masala gold. I mean, Ajji made it herself…so it’s the most important thing in my kitchen!

Ajji’s Legacy: Maharashtrian Sanja

My Ajji may not be around anymore, but she will live on in my heart forever. I will continue to make all the traditional recipes she passed down to me and relive the wonderful memories of the delicious food she grew on her farm and lovingly cooked for us. Here, I’m sharing her humble Sanja (सांजा) recipe, a savory roasted semolina porridge and a traditional breakfast favorite from the state of Maharashtra, India. I have vivid memories of Ajji whipping up this signature concoction of hers for breakfast in the morning when we would visit or even when she would visit us. She would also prepare it on the day we were heading back and would pack it for us for our drive back to the city.

Maharashtrian Sanja (Turmeric Spiced Savory Semolina Porridge)

Sanja: A Maharashtrian Twist on the Classic Upma

Maharashtrian Sanja can be considered a spiced version of the popular Upma, another classic Indian savory semolina breakfast porridge originating from the southern part of the country. Sanja, much like Upma, features roasted semolina i.e. rava/sooji combined with a few basic spices and aromatics like onions, ginger, and green chilies along with peanuts (those are a must!) and is cooked in a turmeric-spiced buttermilk-infused broth. The Upma recipe includes the same aromatics and spices along with peanuts and additional vegetables like tomatoes, peas, carrots, cauliflower, etc., but it lacks turmeric. The turmeric is the distinguishing spice that gives Sanja its beautiful golden-yellow color. Another characteristic of Sanja is its mellow sour flavor that is derived from the use of buttermilk in the cooking liquid.

Maharashtrian Sanja (Turmeric Spiced Savory Semolina Porridge)
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Maharashtrian Sanja (Turmeric Spiced Savory Semolina Porridge)


  • Author: Vasanti

Description

Roasted semolina combined with aromatics and peanuts, cooked together in a turmeric-spiced buttermilk-infused broth.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 cup of roasted coarse rava/sooji (see Notes)
  • 4 tbsp neutral oil like canola, safflower, grapeseed, etc. divided
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp hing/ asafetida (optional)
  • 23 fresh green Thai chilies, chopped in 1/4 inch long pieces
  • 1 inch ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 small or 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 45 curry leaves (optional)
  • 1/4 cup raw peanuts (see Variations)
  • 1/4 cup peas, frozen thawed and/or diced carrots and/or diced tomatoes (optional)
  • 2 cups of water, boiling hot
  • 1 cup of buttermilk
  • 810 sprigs of cilantro/coriander, finely chopped, for garnishing
  • fresh or frozen thawed grated coconut, for garnishing

Instructions

  • Heat oil in a kadhai or deep sauté pan over medium heat and when it starts shimmering, add cumin, mustard seeds and asafoetida.
  • When the seeds sizzle and asafoetida starts frothing up, add the onion, ginger and chiles.
  • Season with salt and sauté till the onions turn soft and translucent, for 2-3 mins.
  • Add the turmeric and peanuts and continue sautéing for another minute or two.
  • Add the roasted coarse rava/sooji.
  • Season with salt. Remember, the onions have been seasoned with salt earlier.
  • Combine well and continue sautéing for another minute.
  • Pour in the hot, boiling water and stir to combine.
  • Stir in the buttermilk.
  • Combine well and let the mixture start bubbling.
  • Cook covered on low heat for 5 minutes.
  • Turn the heat off after 5 minutes, when all the moisture has been absorbed and the rava/sooji has plumped up.
  • Cover and let it sit off the heat for another 5 minutes.
  • Serve warm, garnished with cilantro and fresh grated coconut.
  • Alternatively, you can spoon the porridge into a small bowl (used as a mold) and press it down tightly before inverting it onto a plate, shaping it in the form of the bowl.

Keywords: Family Recipes

Step-by-Step Details

Step: 1

Heat oil in a kadhai or deep sauté pan over medium heat and when it starts shimmering, add cumin, mustard seeds and asafoetida.

Step: 2

When the seeds sizzle and asafoetida starts frothing up, add the onion, ginger and chiles.

Step: 3

Season with salt and sauté till the onions turn soft and translucent, for 2-3 mins. Add the turmeric and peanuts and continue sautéing for another minute or two.

Step: 4

Add the roasted coarse rava/sooji. Season with salt. Remember, the onions have been seasoned with salt earlier.

Step: 5

Combine well and continue sautéing for another minute.

Step: 6

Pour in the hot, boiling water and stir to combine.

Step: 7

Stir in the buttermilk. Combine well and let the mixture start bubbling.

Step: 8

Cook covered on low heat for 5 minutes.

Step: 9

Turn the heat off after 5 mins, when all the moisture has been absorbed and the rava/sooji has plumped up. Cover and let it sit off the heat for another 5 minutes.

Step: 10

Serve warm, garnished with cilantro and fresh grated coconut.

Step: 11

Alternatively, you can spoon the porridge into a small bowl (used as a mold) and press it down tightly before inverting it onto a plate, shaping it in the form of the bowl.

Recipe FAQ’s and Notes

Where to find roasted coarse rava/sooji?

Roasted coarse rava/sooji for Upma is readily available in the Indian grocery stores or on Amazon.

If you can’t find it or have the unroasted kind, you can roast it before beginning the recipe for Sanja in the same pan in 2 tbsp oil over medium heat, stirring frequently till it turns light brown. Set aside until you’re ready to use it in the recipe.

Recipe Variations

Stir in vegetables like peas, diced carrots, small cauliflower florets, etc. for added vitamins, fiber and to enhance flavor and texture.

Make it vegan by substituting buttermilk with water. Drizzle lime or lemon juice after turning the heat off and letting the porridge sit before it’s ready to serve to mimic the mellow, sour flavor of the buttermilk.

Happy cooking
Vasanti

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Hi I’m Vasanti
…and I ❤️cooking ‘n clicking!!
I share a modern take on Indian cuisine made using nontraditional techniques and ingredients, while staying true to its authenticity. You’ll also find classic recipes from my beloved Maharashtrian culture and heritage.



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