I have enjoyed trying new wines and pairing them with my favorite foods, at restaurants and at home, for many years. It is a popular activity for professional chefs and oenophiles as well as the casual wine enthusiast to analyze the flavors and textures of wines to find the best dishes to compliment them. My husband and I have visited many wineries, talked with their wine makers, belonged to wine clubs (which has delightfully caused a wine glut in our home) and attended wine tastings to learn as much about wine as possible. Since there are so many options available, I am thankful my wonderful husband has an encyclopedic brain and can remember the different brands, varietals, vintages, prices and characteristics and then recall any tidbit at a moments notice.

 

A few of the bottles of Scotch whisky that we enjoy drinking with Indian food.

A few of the bottles of Scotch whisky that we enjoy drinking with Indian food.

Over the past few years I have tried to expand this to scotch whisky but have been intimidated by the enormous depth and breadth of options. The good thing for me is that my encyclopedic husband has excellent taste in scotch and can identify the attributes that make one a better match to a specific dish.

 

Whisky varies wildly in flavor based on the region in which it was produced, the distillery, the distilling process, the wood in which it is matured, its age and many more factor. No two whiskies are alike – every one has its own unique personality.

 

I found a matrix arranges many popular Scotch whiskies on a two-dimensional grid. One axis explores the flavor of whiskies, from light to rich, while the other addresses level of complexity, from delicate to smoky. It is a great way to find whiskies that may have similar or complimentary characteristics to one that you already enjoy. Check out the flavor map at: http://www.malts.com/index.php/en_us/Choosing-Whisky/A-World-of-Flavour/The-Single-Malt-Whisky-Flavour-Map.

 

Before you start pairing whiskies with food, I recommend tasting several different ones from different regions on the grid to learn how different ones taste and discover your preferences. Pour a little bit into a special whisky tasting glass. Do not add ice. If you must add water, don’t add more than a teaspoon, as it will change the flavor.

 

  • Twirl it around then get really close to the whisky and take a deep sniff. Think about the scents you smell (this is called the nose).
  • Then take a bit of whisky in your mouth. Don’t swallow yet! Let it roll around in your mouth. Feel the liquid on your tongue. Take note of what you taste (this is called the palate).
  • Finally, swallow. After a moment, make a list of the flavors that linger in your mouth (this is called the finish). Based on my experience, this cannot be done at one sitting, for obvious reasons.

 

It has taken me months, more like a few years, to be able to describe my tasting experiences. Taking notes after each taste is a great way to remember your impressions for future comparison.

 

The next step is to analyze the foods you eat to detect the flavors they contain. Again, taking notes is a great idea.

 

The best part of the process begins when you get to put the first two steps together. There are several different approaches to pairing whisky with food. You can pair based on similar flavors. If you detect a flavor in a whisky, look for a food that contains that flavor. For example, my Pondicherry Pouillabaisse recipe has a bit of a lemony, citrus flavor. It pairs well with the Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban that also has a hint of citrus in its flavor notes. Another method is to look for opposites. If you have a mild whisky, try pairing it with a rich or spicy dish. I like to pair my Piri Piri Chicken Curry recipe with Balvenie Caribbean Cask (14 Year) because the sweet, creamy flavor of vanilla work well with the vegetables, tang and spice of the curry.

 

Matching whisky with food is a fun activity that may spark much animated or heated discussion as to which scotch is best and why it is so. Fortunately everyone will be correct in their opinions because each person’s palate detects whisky’s attributes differently and prefers different flavors. The fun part is the discussion of what can be detected by the nose, from rolling a bit around the tongue at the start, middle and end of a sip and the finish.

 

In my next post I will give you my thoughts about pairing Scotch with South Indian food. Yes, they do go well together.

As we sit down for our Thanksgiving dinners around the country, I wanted to share with you my knowledge and experience of how Indian meals are served. You will find it is very similar to the way it is done in the U.S. with a bit more tradition. Enjoy your family and this day of thanks! Years ago the traditional Indian meal involved time honored ritual as well as a wide array of delicious food. Today much of the elegance has been put aside or reserved for special occasions due to the Westernization of many Indian households and busy working families.

 

When dining at someone’s home, the first thing you do is wash your hands since much of the food you will be served is eaten by hand. Usually you simply excuse yourself and head to the bathroom. Homes in India often have a bathroom style sink in the dining room where you can easily wash your hands. Don’t forget to wash your hands again right after eating.

 

For a traditional South Indian meal, the table would be set with pieces of banana leaves that had been cut from the tree just before the meal. Alternatively, South Indian thali meals are served in round stainless steel plates containing small bowls for each menu item. (I will tell you more about South Indian dining in a future post.) Most Indian families eat on Western-style pottery or China plates.

 

The hostess will serve the food to each guest starting with the rice that is placed at center of the leaf or plate. Next the dal (lentils) is placed by the rice. Vegetable dishes are placed around the plate. If the meal is non-vegetarian (includes any type of meat), these items are served last and are placed at the edge of the leaf or plate. Yogurt is served last. Breads are placed to the left and chutneys or pickles are placed along one of the edges. Water is the standard drink at Indian meals although wine and beer are served in restaurants and in some households.

 

Before you start eating, just look at your plate. Each of the dishes was selected for a specific reason: its flavor, spices, color, texture, etc. The appearance of the entire array of food must be a feast for the eyes and nose as well as the tongue. Not every dish in Indian cooking is a curry. The menu is comprised of curries (items with gravies) as well dishes with no gravy for variety. The cook has gone to a lot of work to present a culinary bonanza. Take a second to admire the display in front of you before digging in.

 

Food it eaten in the same order in which it was served. This is due to historical beliefs about nutrition and the best way to eat food: carbohydrates, protein, vegetables then fat. Taking a small piece of bread and scooping rice and just one other item onto it is the traditional way to eat Indian food. Taking just one item with the bread and rice allows the flavor of that dish to be tasted in its pure form without any mixing of flavors from other dishes. People often eat with the fingers of their right hand rather than using silverware. Of course, forks and spoons as well as napkins are commonly used today.

 

As you taste all of the offered delights, make a point of letting the hostess know how you appreciate all of the items, letting her know they are delicious and identifying your favorites. She spent a considerable amount of time in planning and preparing the feast. Positive feedback goes a long way in potentially getting a second invitation.

 

After you have sampled every dish that has been offered (and eaten) seconds and thirds, you should wait at the table until everyone has finished eating. Then the grand finale is served.

 

Indian desserts are usually very small. Either some fruit or an intensely sweet and rich item will be served. Western desserts are common. Based on my experience, most Indians have a sweet tooth and are happy to eat anything sweet.

 

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During my first visit to India over 25 years ago, my husband and I feasted on many delicious meals in some of the five star restaurants in Mumbai and Chennai. Unfortunately the wine lists offered only a small set of locally grown Indian wines. Since I enjoy a good glass of wine at dinner, I was disappointed with the options. Most of the wines were sweet and tasted as though the grapes had been harvested earlier in the week. I knew that people in India didn’t drink wine or any alcohol in those days but India has a long, rich history with growing grapes for wine.

 

Grapes have been grown in India for over 5000 years ago during the Bronze Age when Persian traders brought them to the region. Wine has been made from these grapes for about 3000 years. Over time various groups for either religious reasons, as directed by some of the ancient texts, or for pleasure consumed wine. During recent history wine production and consumption flourished during British and Portuguese rule but public opinion eventually changed and alcohol was banned during most of the 20th century.
 

By the 1980s, attitudes started to shift and wine production started once again as India started to participate in the global marketplace and the incomes of the Indian people started to rise.  The early wines were syrupy and not very good. They could barely be compared to the cheapest California or French wines. Today, the story has changed.

 

During my trip to south India, wine lists at the best restaurants included some very good wines (offered at reasonable prices). The wine that was most often listed is produced by Sula Vineyards, located near Mumbai. Started in the 1990s, the owner started the winery and brought a winemaker from California to create Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc wines with their first release in 2000. The Chenin Blanc was available on almost all of the wine lists (including Sanjeev Kapoor’s Khazana in Dubai). The Sauvignon Blanc was listed but was only available at one of the restaurants at which we dined. I look forward to my next trip so I can taste more of Sula’s offerings.
 

Sula Wine from India

Sula Wine from India

 

Other wines that were occasionally listed on menus include:

 

Four Seasons Wines – produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Rosé at reasonable prices from grapes grown in Maharashtra, India since 2006.

 

Nine Hills Wine – Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc produced by Seagram India, the Indian arm of Pernod Ricard since 2006.

 

Big Banyan Wines – produces seven distinct varietals of whites, rosés, reds and dessert wines in India.

Zampa Vineyards from the Valle de vin offers Chenin Blanc, Shiraz, sparkling rose wine and sparkling red wine of cabernet sauvignon sincd 2006.

 

In researching the wines I listed above, I noticed one thing they have in common – they started production in 2006. I strongly suspect this is due to changing values, interests and incomes of the young, upwardly mobile Indians who have been educated in the west or work with people in the west. As they started drinking fine wines, they wanted access to them at home or to be able to share them with family and friends. With increased demand for wine, it was only natural that resourceful Indian entrepreneurs would buy into foreign wineries and growing grapes to create moderately priced local wine.

 

Wine in India seems to be a growing trend and will be an exciting journey to follow.

 

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I have travelled to London often over the last 30 years and have, on most occasions, dined at Indian restaurants because they served comfort food that I knew would please everyone in my family. During my most recent trip, I had the opportunity to dine at two outstanding restaurants specializing in contemporary Indian cuisine that don’t serve Indian food like Amma makes. With a fresh, exciting and fun approach, these restaurants have catapulted Indian cuisine to the top of the chart.

 

Quilon

Entrance to Quilon Restaurant in London.

Entrance to Quilon Restaurant in London.

 

My husband, son and I enjoyed a fantastic late lunch at Quilon during our most recent trip to London. Making selections from the set menu, we were able to enjoy several dishes plus desert as well as tasting each other’s selections. The contemporary atmosphere is fresh and new and the service is outstanding. Our waiter knew the menu in detail from top to bottom and was happy to share his recommendations with us. A delicious array of pickles, lemon, tamarind, and garlic were served with pappads. For starters we order the Cauliflower Chile Fry, The Coconut Cream Chicken and Pepper Shrimps; all were delicious.  A small cup of Tomato Rasam was served in a wine glass between courses. The Chicken Roast, Quilon Fish Curry and Manglorean Chicken were perfectly spiced and well prepared. The cuisine in this restaurant takes southwestern Indian food to a new level with its unique blend of spices, updated menu and attractive presentation. I can’t wait to try this restaurant again.

 

Delicious Indian cuisine from Quilon's menu in London.

Delicious Indian cuisine from Quilon’s menu in London.

 

 

Cinnamon Club

Entrance to The Cinnamon Club Restaurant in London.

Entrance to The Cinnamon Club Restaurant in London.

 

Without a doubt, this is the most amazing restaurant in London. With the chef’s fusion approach to cuisine, this food offers a celebration to the palate. If you want the same old Indian food, do not eat here. It is contemporary, fresh and exciting with presentation being as important as taste. The restaurant, located in an old library, is attractive and comfortable. The service is refined and polished and our waiter possessed a thorough knowledge of the menu and the chef’s vision of the food. I enjoyed this fantastic meal very much.

Delicious Indian entree from the menu at Cinnamon Club in London.

Delicious Indian entree from the menu at Cinnamon Club in London.

 

After our meal I met the Manager and Head Chef, Hari Nagaraj, who welcomed me to his restaurant. We briefly discussed the vision of Vivek Singh, Executive Chef and CEO, had when creating this heavenly restaurant. I was so excited by what they are already doing with Indian fusion cuisine that I knew I was on the right track.

 

If you have the opportunity to visit London, make it a point to visit both of these outstanding restaurants.

 

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I have spent the past year trying to loose the weight I gained when I was pregnant with my two kids who are now 23 and 19. It has been a challenge but I have been successful. Everyone in my family lost weight as well. I love to cook rich and tasty Indian food but it was not helping my weight. I had to take action. Here are the guidelines I now follow when cooking at home:

 

Smart picks:

      • practice portion control (I can have a taste of everything)
      • select recipes with curries made from vegetable like onions and tomatoes
      • serve several vegetarian dishes
      • serve only one meat dish or consider skipping meat occasionally
      • cook more dishes with fish and reduce the meat
      • use healthy oils like olive oil very sparingly
      • reduce the salt
      • eliminate or reduce cream
      • use low fat yogurt rather than cream
      • substitute tofu for paneer
      • use brown rice and whole grains
      • microwave pappads

 

Items I avoid:

      • deep fried samosas and bhajia
      • cream based dishes
      • dishes with paneer
      • rice dishes since they usually have oil or ghee in the preparation
      • oily, fried breads
      • meat (beef, lamb and pork)
      • fried pappads
      • alcohol and soda

 

  

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Nothing could be farther from the truth. Before unification, there were several princely states and regions with various languages and customs that were consolidated into states to form an independent country. These countries had had different influences over the centuries due to foreign visitors and traders, including: the Portuguese came to Goa; the French created the French East India Company along the east coast near Pondacherry, the Dutch set up a similar organization and influenced construction in Kochi and the Mughals left their vast impacts on many buildings in North India (Red Fort, Taj Mahal, etc.). These cultures brought different spices, ingredients and techniques to each state.

 

These states also had access to different ingredients due to their unique climates and locations. Kerala, situated on the coast with ready access to coconut, incorporates a lot of seafood and coconut in its cuisine.  North India uses more dairy products like cream and paneer (cheese) in the curries and enjoys foods cooked in the tandoori oven. In the South, one finds more rice-based dishes like dosa, idlis, appams that are served with protein rich sambar. 

 

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The Indian recipes I have prepared, other than the grilled ones, are largely cooked in a pot. As spices and ingredients are added their flavors blend to give Indian cuisine its distinctive flavor. Since any liquids that are added during the cooking process are not poured out, the nutrients remain in the food unlike the vegetables that are boiled in water that is drained off along with any nutrients.

 

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I couldn’t disagree more. I drink wine with most of my Indian meals.  Fortunately my husband knows wine and always selects a perfect pairing at each meal. We look for dry white wines like viogner, sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc, or light red wine like a pinot noir. Pass on the heavy cabernet sauvignons and red zinfandels.  

 

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Too much salt makes all food taste salty.

Too much salt makes all food taste salty.

Indian food is not supposed to be salty. If it is salty the cook either intended to make it salty because people tend to use salt as a flavor enhancer or was too heavy handed with the shaker. Since everyone likes a different amount of salt in their food it should be adjusted to your personal tastes when you cook. Indian food does not need to be salty.

 

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This misconception always makes me chuckle. Curry is a word that was invented by the British to describe a dish that is made with a blend of several spices. The product called curry powder was invented there.

 

In India, curry is the gravy in a dish (that was made with spices). Each recipe calls for a different blend of spices and ingredients to make the curry so there is not such thing as curry powder. (There are some common spice blends like garam masala and chat masala but they aren’t called curry.) Curry powder is not sold in India because Indian cooks want to use a fresh blend of the required spices for each dish.

 

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