Lamb Shish Kababs in Douro

THE Story of Lamb Shish Kababs

I was raised a vegetarian - the entire time I lived with my parents in Chennai. I hail from an orthodox family and was brought up by very conservative parents, who were huge proponents of vegetarianism - so much so that, we did not even include egg in our diet. 

Also, alcohol was taboo and my brother & I were constantly reminded about how baneful indulging in any form of alcohol can be. 

So, the topic of this blog post is quite a contrast to my upbringing and background - well, what else can I say about me, pairing Lamb Shish Kababs with wine and writing about it?

That said, consuming meat & wine (in moderation - for the most part ;)) is my gradual evolution and conscious choice after landing in the United Stated more than a decade ago - and today wine pairings with delicious Indian food (both Vegetarian and Non-vegetarian) is one of my most cherished passions.

So all is well. But, the only time I feel a little regret is when I realize that, during my entire formative years in India I never tasted any non-vegetarian foods or dared to try some of the most delightful street food delicacies like Shish/Shami Kababs, Kheema, Fish Fry and on and on.

But, what I lack in exposure, I have tried to compensate with a lot of research and intense interviews (with every chance I got) of my non-vegetarian and fish eating Indian friends & acquaintances from North/East India. Based on my experience, the North Indians seemed most exposed and well versed with Kababs - maybe because Kababs were supposed to have originated from the Mughal Empire's cuisine - when they ruled India from Delhi as their capital.

And of course, I also never cease to jump at the first opportunity to try any such delicacies that I may have missed out in the past.

Top left: Lamb kabobs - before; Top right: :Lamb kabobs - after  Bottom center: Lamb kabobs cut up and ready to be devoured with the coriander tomato chutney

Top left: Lamb kabobs - before; Top right: :Lamb kabobs - after

Bottom center: Lamb kabobs cut up and ready to be devoured with the coriander tomato chutney

One such delicacy that I have fallen for in the very first bite is kababs - not only it is widely found in all the major cities like Delhi, Lucknow, Goa etc. - it is a mouth watering street food full of Indian spices' filled flavors.

So, it was about time I paired them with some amazing vino. So I dutifully approached Rashmi Rustagi and learned to make Lamb Shish Kababs.

Rashmi (who hails from Lucknow in North India) also told me that Shish Kabobs were usually served on the streets of Lucknow with a coriander tomato chutney. Having never been to Lucknow in India - I was listening wide-eyed like Bambi to Rashmi's stories about Lucknavi street foods!

When I tried my own Lamb Shish Kababs, I ensured to make the chutney too and the results (as seen above) were quite satisfactory - for the eyes, nose and taste buds alike!

 

The WINE paired with Shish Kabob

When I had made up my mind to try out an Indian street food made of lamb, the first few wines that came to mind were, Côtes du Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape or a fruit forward Malbec. So, imagine my surprise when I chanced upon a red wine from the Douro DOC! And Ithe wine associate in the store reflected my thoughts and affirmatively recommended this wine when I mentioned lamb kababs spiced with cumin, mint and coriander flavors.

I decided to go with my gut on this one and brought home this intriguing wine

douro_wine

Tasting notes

I have to admit that I have been biased and relishing a ton of Portuguese wines recently (maybe because of all the mind boggling, great Portuguese wines I got to taste in my recent trip to Lisbon). So it was no surprise when I fell in love with this wine at my very first sniff and sip!

On the nose, flavors of vanilla beans, white flowers (jasmine?), dark fruits (Blueberries, blackberries and cassis) jumped right out.

On the palette, this wine was unbelievably aromatic! And I got more red fruits (sour cherries and raspberries) than the black fruit flavors that were so evident on the nose.

The 14.5% alcohol was quite obvious when I gulped down my first sip - there was definitely heat and finally I was left with this predominant black pepper after taste - what a multi-dimensional wine!

 

The verdict

I followed instructions to the core with the time and temperatures to cook the Shish Kababs. As soon as the oven went off and signaled that the kababs were ready, I took them out, plated and cut them up for the well deserved devouring :)

kabob_wine.png

I chewed on the lamb kabab followed by a sip of the Douro wine. This wine is meant to be consumed with lamb! And the peppers in the wine complimented oh so beautifully with the cumin, mint and cardamom (used when grinding fresh Garam masala) spices infused in the Kabab.

For a moment I felt transformed to the Mughal era - where I imagined enjoying the warm, flavorful Kababs with everyone in the king's court and sipping on some Portugal vino (and while I am at it, why not add the Mughlai dance - Kathak for my some feast for my eyes too?! :))

Believe me when I say that, you too will feel like royalty if you wine and dine like this! 

Salam & Obrigada :)

 

 

+Kavitha

An Indian dance (Dabeli) to Italian (Sangiovese) tunes

THE Story of DABELI

I hail from the southern-most metropolitan city of Chennai in India. There is a joke among South Indians (especially from Chennai) that for Chennai-ites, everything to the north of Chennai is considered North India. Though this is a joke, I have to admit that there is an element of truth to this. At least when I was still growing up in Chennai (about 15 years ago) every aspect of the city - from the language spoken (Tamil and Tamil only!) to the people's clothes (more on the conservative side), it was almost like it was a country of its own!

And of course the food (more rice consumption compared to Rotis and Naans) was no exception either. Even when foods from other parts of India (like the Bhel Puri or Pav Bhaji etc.) were sold, it definitely had a 'South Indian' touch to the taste. 

While some of these aspects are true for many states in India, Chennai is more so than many - so much so that, at one point in its history (not so long ago), there were a lot of agitations preaching against its natives speaking the national language (Hindi) - which is so widely spoken and understood in the rest of India.

Given all this and also that we did not travel far and wide outside of Chennai and the state of Tamil Nadu, it is no exaggeration when I say that my knowledge of the various cuisines and foods from the other parts of India was quite minuscule.

Ironically, once I left India and landed in the U.S, I actually had the opportunity to meet several people from all parts of India. On one such encounters I had the good fortune of hearing about this delicious Indian street food snack called Dabeli aka Kutchi Dabeli (originated from the Kutch region of the western state of Gujarat). And I was surprised that I had never heard about this raved about Indian Street Food snack until then!

After hearing an ear-full about the grandeur and glory of this Dabeli, I sought out to Google to research even more and then last weekend, I felt like I had heard and read enough about this Dabeli.

So it was time for action and I started buying its ingredients. Then, first I made the Dabeli masala from scratch, but after that the recipe for more and more easy. And after about 30 minutes, the drool-inducing Dabeli was ready for this Chennai-ite's consumption!

dabeli

The WINE paired with Dabeli

But before I describe my first big bite, I have to stop and talk about my other favorite part of this adventure. My wine pairing of course! Dabeli can be quite a tricky to pair with any wine. Mostly because, the Dabeli filling consists of potaoes, the Dabeli masala and some other spices, the garnish comprises of masala roasted peanuts, chopped onions and sev (fried chickpea flour). How could I come up with one wine that will stand up to all these intriguing mix of flavors?

Well, fortune favors the brave. So I bravely walked the isles of Beltramos. Based on my gut feeling for the flavors of the Dabeli, I had narrowed down 3 wines: 1. A Tempranillo from Espana, 2. A Monastrell, also from Espana and 3. A Sangiovese from Italy.

After some thought and discussion with the wine associate, I finalized on the Toscano Rosso from the Maremma region of Italy. This wine is classified I.G.T (more on that on the Bonus! section below) and composed of 50% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Franc and 20% Alicante.

mercurio_wine

Tasting notes

To be honest, the very first sip of the wine was not stellar. But, I did not lose heart. While assembling the first Dabeli, I left the wine to open up so I can try it again after a few minutes.

Lo and behold! after letting the wine breathe the wine tasted a lot more discerning than the first sip. This time on the nose I got cherries and sour raspberries. And on the palette, I actually got a ton of Italian spices, like Rosemary and Oregano! This wine finally started singing to my taste buds and made me a happy camper :)

 

The verdict

The Dabeli was causing this flavor roller coaster in my mouth - right from the very first bite. The crunchy peanuts and sev kept coming back in every bite of this mouth watering snack. As per the recipe, I had also spread a spoonful of Amchur chutney on one side of the Pav (Burger buns) and the cilantro mint chutney on the other. And those chutneys never disappoint either.

They call this Dabeli a step brother/sister) to the other famous Mumbai street food - Vada Pav. But, after my first hand experience with this Gujarati treat, I had to disagree. No doubt, the Vada Pav has earned its own bragging rights, the Dabeli was no less in comparison. The cumin and coriander spices in the Dabeli masala infused in the potatoes just married in to the Italian spices I tasted in the wine.

dabeli_wine

How could grapes from Italy go hand in hand so harmoniously with the spices from India? Wine and food never cease to amaze me...makes it totally worth while to look forward to more such moments in life...over and over.

Aavjo!

 

Bonus!

I.G.T wines stand for Indicazione Goegrafica Tipica - these were a special wine category introduced to celebrate the wines that were pretty darn good but did not "make the cut" to Italy's highest classification of wines (D.O.C.G). To delve a little deeper in to its background - the D.O.C category was once the highest level of wines in Italy. But due to the corruption that prevailed with the wine entities, a lot of 'mediocre' wines achieved this status. At one point the Italian government intervened and created the new and improved status called D.O.C.G which 'guaranteed' a certain quality with the Italian wines and cheeses marked with this label. But as always, the law went the other extreme and caused a lot of good wines to not make it to this level due to the new and stringent rules. Hence was born the I.G.T status, to celebrate the high quality wines called 'Super Tuscans' that lie somewhere between D.O.C and D.O.C.G statuses.

+Kavitha

Indian Paradox Popups - The Journey (So far...)

The Story of Indian Paradox popups

Popups were always one of the key marketing strategies in the Indian Paradox (IP) business plan. I have been very excited and looking forward to doing these popups in fun wine bars and restaurants in the San Francisco, bay area.

But, just like everything else, planning for something 'on paper' versus the actual implementation is totally different.

The first popup opportunity for Indian Paradox presented itself sometime in the end of 2013 through my contact with Gwendolyn Wright - whom I met through the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center. That is how the first Indian Paradox popup came about happening at the Impact HUB in San Francisco. And I have written about that in one my earlier blogs.

While the popup at the HUB was immensely rewarding with a ton of useful real time feedback...the whole event was organized such that, I arrived prepared to serve about 30 HUB members with the Indian street food and wine pairings during their monthly Monday lunch get together. The Impact HUB does this every month to encourage local food and beverage enthusiasts.

This was a great venue to test out the food quality, spice level, plating and wine pairings. But, from a financial standpoint the food and wines were served to all the HUB members at no cost for them.

One of the key reasons to organize the IP popups was to validate the main products of the concept – namely, the street food menu and its wine pairings. But, also equally important was to evaluate if this concept can be monetized and will be profitable.

For this, Indian Paradox needed an actual space (preferably with good amount of walk in traffic) that included a health inspector approved kitchen and valid alcohol license.

These constraints definitely threw a wrench in implementing the popups.

It took 3 months of consistent networking and constant negotiations with several wine bars/restaurants owners, other popup organizers and so on. The popups are a great opening for several reasons, like, testing out any idea (including but not limited to food, booze, and retail businesses) without any actual long term investments.

Imagine this, if the only means to test out the IP idea was if I leased/rented an actual location, applied for an alcohol license and invested a couple of hundred grand in startup costs…that would be a pretty scary bet!

On the other hand, the caveat with hosting a popup is to find that arrangement which worked for both the popup organizers and owner of the space – such as, the space may only be available on slower nights of the week for outside businesses. Because, this way restaurants and bars are profitable more than usual even on slow days/nights and popups obtain a legal venue to test out.

So, finally in the month of June there was a breakthrough! After some preliminary research I found that the La Movida Wine Bar & Community Kitchen had a model in place to host guest chefs to ‘popup’ at their location. Bingo! I contacted them and after a couple of meetings an arrangement was agreed upon.

A midst that, wines were tasted and wine pairings finalized for the IP street food menu for popup number 1.

But the biggest beef in all this was, how the heck should I drive traffic in to the popup?

As the first step, I spread the word on FaceBook and Twitter and a couple of other groups that I am a member of. Obviously, friends and family responded first. I realized that it is going to be a slow and organic process to get the word out to the larger target audience.

The first IP popup was scheduled for August 3rd, 2014 – a Sunday.

popup1_ppl

As expected, the turnout was mostly friends and family, with some new customers. The first popup was great from food/wine concept testing perspective. It gave an idea for how food ingredients must be scaled, priced, labor costs and COGS (cost of goods sold) must be accounted for and so on.

popup1_food

 The second IP popup was scheduled at the same location 2 weeks from then on August 17th, 2014. There were a couple of repeat customers from the first popup (Yay!) and unexpectedly, there was a ton of walk in traffic that Sunday!

popup2

This worked out perfectly because, this time we actually got to test our idea with brand new customers! However, the open question still lingered on….while these new customers walked in unexpectedly, there was still marketing work to be done; in order to intentionally bring customers just for the Indian Paradox experience.

I have to admit, the first 2 weeks of August was a crraazzy load of work to prep all the ingredients, scale the menu for 40-50 people and figure out plating, assembly and serving food and wine single handedly. But, I would not exchange that adrenaline rush for anything!

Another organization that I had contacted in the last few months of my popup location hunt was 18 Reasons. And they got back to me and scheduled a community dinner to serve the IP street food menu with wine pairings at their location.

This was another deal that worked out very well for both sides. In fact it worked out more than well – it was spectacular because we sold out for this event!

popup3

Thanks to the 18 Reasons’ marketing and their amazing reach with the community they have built in the last 6 years since being open, IP food and wine sold like hot masala vadas :)

All in all, it was a great month of popups. Most importantly, Indian Paradox was profitable (YES!) in each of these popups which is a good sign. There will be more popups coming up for the rest of the year with new and improved menu items and wine pairings based on all the wonderful feedback received so far.

For future events checkout our FaceBook page at: www.facebook.com/indianparadox

Cheers!

 

 

+Kavitha

Aloo Tikki and a Tempranillo

THE Story of ALOO TIKKI

Aloo Tikki simply means Potato (Aloo) Cutlet (Cutlet). After writing almost 3 dozen blogs about Indian street food, it would be a huge injustice if I still did not write about the street foods from the capital of India - Delhi.

Absolutely every aspect of this dish is yummily, deliciously, mouth watering! Just like the Bhel Puri and Samosa, through its sheer, unmatchable flavors Aloo Tikki has also made a name and made it to nooks and corners in several cities besides the capital of India.

So much so that, the Mumbai-kers wanted their own version of Aloo Tikki and hence came up with the Ragda Pattice.

This encounter for me with the Aloo Tikki arose due to a chicken and egg situation. I had this beautiful Tempranillo lying and staring at me for a few days. Then last night I dreamed like the Tempranillo was calling out to me and saying "Please pair me with something, bold and beautiful - yet uncorrupt my own identity!".

The next morning, I woke up with a smile - I found the perfect partner for this Tempranillo - what else? Aloo Tikki!

I could not wait for the sun to set, so I can get to work making these delicious snacks. And the sun finally set and the Aloo Tikki aroma started to spread in my kitchen...

aloo_tikki.png

The WINE paired with Aloo Tikki

I absolutely love the Tempranillo! Anytime I've had a long day and do not want to get bogged down by all the layers that unfold in a wine, I open a Tempranillo. Anytime I want to sip on a wine that is multi-dimensional, yet not too intense, with the right balance of minerality, earthiness and fruit profiles - I seek out a Tempranillo. The reason could be attributed to the geography and climate of Rioja (a Spanish region, that is th main region for the Tempranillo grape) - not too cold like the other old world wine regions (Germany, France, northern Italy and etc.), yet cool enough to retain aciditiy - unlike the New world wine regions (USA, South Africa, Australia and etc.).

tempranillo

Tasting notes

I first dipped the Tikki in spicy tamarind sauce and gobbled up a mouthful. Then generously sipped on the Tempranillo. The Aloo Tikki was loaded with cumin, coriander with hints of lemon juice. And the Tempranillo was loaded with mocha, blackberries and vanilla bean flavors. 

tikki_wine.png

The verdict

The best part about this pairing was, how the Aloo Tikki left the Tempranillo flavors untarnished and how the Tempranillo warmly hugged the spices in the Tikki. 

I could eat and drink like this everyday! But when it comes to food and wine I like to follow the footsteps of our great President Mr.Franklin who so wisely put it: "Be temperate in wine, in eating, girls, and cloth, or the Gout will seize you and plague you both" 

After all, who wants to end up with Gout after such a wonderful experience?!

 

 

+Kavitha