Wine Pairing With Indian Food + Recipes

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shantihhh's picture
Pairing Wine with Indian Recipes
Everyday Yellow Dal. Styled by Kacie Ratner and Alex Malamud. Photo by John Lee, special to the Chronicle
Wine pairing with Indian and other spicy cuisines can be a challenge for some, but wine is great with spicy food in particular Indian dishes if you pair properly.
There is a great Indian Red wine now being produced in India. Wine growing regions include Bangalore, Himachal and greater Pune/Nasik area. I am not so fond of the sparkling wine nor the white wines which I find too sweet for my taste, but perhaps with Indian cuisines it is good to many. My palate was honed on French wines as a student in Europe and now living in California I am partial to these styles.
We often pair Indian recipes with Old Vine Zinfandels especially when served with lamb or goat/mutton, but a spicy dry Reisling is amazing with Samosas.
Ruta Kahate and Lachu Moorjani ( along time friend) are mentioned in the following article on wine pairing. In the future I will video a piece or two with each of hem-both fabulous culinaires and authors. I love the recipes of both.
Ruta recently wrote a book of simplified recipes still big on flavours-5 Spices, 50 Dishes: Simple Indian Recipes Using Five Common Spices. Ruta is a young mother, cooking teacher and now author also in Berkeley!
Lachu Moorjani wrote a fabulous book, Ajanta named after his restaurant of the same name. I love this book with recipes of regional feasts. Although Lachu is from Sind now Pakistan his finese with all regions of India cuisine is astounding! He grew up in Rajastan (one of my favs), then lived in Mumbai, and came to the US to study engineering. We began eating his lovely foods prepared in a tiny kitchen at his first restaurant-New Delhi Junction and have followed him to his much larger upscale restaurant-Ajanta both in Berkeley.
When dining at Ajunta, Lachu's restaurant it is never a problem to pair our Indian meal from his Lachu Moorjani offers a wine list of nearly 50 wines on the wine list. So if anyone challenges you that Indian food is too intense to pair with wine-they are WRONG!

Jon Bonné, Olivia Wu, Chronicle Staff Writers

Top row (from left): Pinot Blanc, Indian Bay Leaves, Turmeric.
Middle row (from left): Mace and Nutmeg, Cabernet Franc Rose.
Bottom row (from left): Green Cardamom, Lagrein.
Styled by Styled by Kacie Ratner and Alex Malamud. Chronicle photo by Craig Lee

If you ask about which wine to pair with Indian food, expect a one-word answer. Usually Gewurztraminer. Perhaps Riesling. Maybe Syrah.

An entire culture's cuisine to be paired with a single varietal? Ridiculous.

Among Asian cuisines, Indian food probably has the greatest notoriety for being hard to match with wine. Its complex layering of spices and chile heat makes for a tricky challenge.

Let's begin with the obvious: Beer makes for an excellent pairing with most Indian food. (Which beer, and which food, is grist for another day.) If that's your preference, go with it. Whiskey, as enjoyed in India with hors d'oeuvres, is fine, too.

For the wine lover, though, finding an ideal match is more complicated.

It will not be found with Gewurztraminer. That varietal's spicy profile can work every now and then, but it usually collides with the nuances of Indian food. Almost every Indian recipe begins with a blend of spices, so our challenge was to find out which spices warm up to which wines.

Cardamom Nankaties. Styled by Kacie Ratner and Alex Malamud. Photo by John Lee, special to the Chronicle

We called on Ruta Kahate, an Indian culinary teacher and author based in the East Bay, for guidance. The three of us met to consider her list of the 10 most crucial spices in Indian cuisine -- mustard seeds, cardamom, turmeric, cumin, black pepper, mace/nutmeg, ginger, bay leaves, cloves and cinnamon. Cayenne we put in a class of its own, making 11. Then we devised a list of about 80 wines -- as obvious as Syrah and as esoteric as Muller-Thurgau.

Kahate pointed out that almost all spices are used in combination, especially in what's known as "curry" -- which is a range of specific spice blends, or masalas. Northern Indian spice mixes can be cooked in a base such as yogurt or light cream, while Southern Indian masalas are sometimes cooked with coconut milk. Sauces also might contain acidic elements such as tomato or tamarind juice. And don't forget the great quantities of fresh ginger, garlic and onions that are essential to Indian fare.

Rather than seek out specific wines to match specific dishes, we decided to think in terms of flavor families -- mostly based on sauces. The dominant flavors in Indian recipes often come from the sauce and spice rather than the main meat or vegetable.

Black-Eyed Peas in a Spicy Goan Curry. Styled by Kacie Ratner and Alex Malamud. Photo by John Lee, special to the Chronicle

In the end, we distilled Indian cuisine down to five sauce/spice groups:

1. Simple Spice. Dishes that rely on just a few spices, at most three, as seasoning.

2. Light Sauce. Lighter dishes, many of them with dried peas, beans and legumes such as lentil and garbanzo beans.

3. Heavy Sauce. The dishes most often called "curries," including popular cream-based picks such as tikka masala.

4. Tandoori. Marinated meats that have been roasted in a clay oven.

5. Fresh and Green. Dishes with fresh greens or herbs as a primary ingredient, such as the spinach-based saag paneer.

to read the entire article and wine suggestions and some of Ruta's great recipes including -

Cardamom Nankaties

Black-Eyed Peas in a Spicy Goan Curry

Everyday Yellow Dal

Seafood in Green Curry

and from Lachu Moorjani who owns Ajanta a favourite restaurant of ours now on Solano-

Lamb in Creamy Curry Sauce

Plus recipes for Tandoori chicken, tandoori fish

click here:

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/06/08/WIGOOQ59H11.DTL

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9 Comments

CookingMyWay's picture
I watched a BBC show called Indian Food Made Easy last night that talked about Indian wines becoming popular... I'm looking forward to trying one as soon as I can find them around here...
shantihhh's picture
Wine drinking in India is greatly on the rise. I have my doubts we'll see much of Indian wine in the US, sort of like lentils from India no longer being available-consumption is so high within India. Rememeber the population of India's middle class i.e. is greater than the entire population of the US and Canada combined. Of course Indian beers are world class and a beverage of choice for many. I have not seen Indian imported wines here in the SF bay Area and considering we have the largest Indian population in the US I would expect those wines to find their way here first but maybe not for many years, but who knows. The Indian reds are quite nice IMHO. However Australian Shiraz is quite popular in Delhi and other large cities. I know :-)
shantihhh's picture
BTW here are two that if you can find them: Château Indage Ivy Chenin Blanc 2003 received commendations and the Grover La Reserve was rated as the Best New World Wine at the Decanter Awards at recent European competitions.
vikas.kumar's picture
Very good info n pics. We actually very rarely pair wine with our meals. As you've written, it's usually beer. Will start having wine more often now.
nisar253's picture
ALREADY WINE PAIRING WITH INDIAN FOOD IS BEING TRIED IN DIFFERENT 5 STAR HOTELS AND FEW YEARS BACK ONE OF THE COMPANIES WAS TRYING IT OUT WITH DUM PUKHT CUISINE . "If you want happiness for a lifetime,learn to love what you do"
Wapite's picture
Great information. I am stumped how to pair wine with Indian and Thai foods-thanks
Prezi's picture
Hi that's an interesting blog you have up there. As you said, wine pairing with different cuisines is indeed a skill that is quite challenging. I have a few Indian friends out here and this is always a cause of concern when they call upon a dinner party. Right as Vikas said, it's almost always beer, but it would be great to taste Indian spicy food with a glass of vintage sip!
swagata's picture
indian food is indeed a tough cookie....more such info wl be an added relief to most of us no dbt...
indian spices's picture
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