Masala Peanuts and the Sonoma Rosé


San Francisco is already starting to feel cooler than the last few weeks. It always makes me sad when summer is ending. Hailing from the city of Madras (aka Chennai) in South India, I need sun to exist!

I had to maximize on snacks that remind me of good old hot, summer days in Chennai (which is every day by the way!). And what better way to do that than with spicy, crunchy masala peanuts?

One of these days this week, I got back home from work and jumped in to my Masala peanuts mission right away. The recipe for this dish is not that hard at all, yet the results - so rewarding!

I dry roasted one cup of peanuts, made the batter with the spices, coated the peanuts with the batter and deep fried them. All done in 20 minutes! (The curry leaves fried separately and sprinkled on top is to die for!)


The WINE paired with Masala Kadalai

There is a particular wine I have been eyeing all summer and kept waiting for the right occasion to purchase it. And with this dish, it seemed like that moment had arrived. It is the 2013  Heintz Rosé of Pinot Noir. I have always known this as a very sought after wine from a single vineyard wine maker from the Sonoma county. In my mind, it was a no-brainer how well this chilled rosé would pair with the spice coated crunchy peanuts. Also, pairing a wine from an acclaimed winemaker so close to home with an Indian street food so close to my heart was just the right thing to do!

Tasting notes

I grabbed a handful of the masala peanuts and shoved it in my mouth. Then washed it down with the Rosé. The first impression was, how clean the wine felt on the nose and palette.

The bone dryness along with crispy acidity was just perfect to follow the chilli powder and cumin coating the peanuts. Then there were light floral aromas, definitely strawberries and raspberries dominated. 

Overall very very smooth and refreshing with the spicy, crunchy peanuts.


The verdict

For me, Marina beach in Chennai inevitably comes to mind when I say or even think about peanuts. They are sold everywhere - literally. However, the peanuts' recipe sold on the beaches of Chennai are even more simple than this. The vendors with steaming carts/baskets of peanuts would just sit down and hand you a paper cone filled with these goodies. Walking down the beach, staring at the several statues lined up while munching these peanuts used to be so blissful!

What would life be without these simple pleasures? And if I added a glass of Rosé to sip on along with these peanuts, how could life ever suck? 'Whistle podu' to simple pleasures! :)




You say Masala Popcorn...we say Torrontés!


I was walking down the farmers market close to home this past Saturday morning.

While chewing on some farm fresh cherries, I was strolling along under the bright sun, enjoying the sights and sounds of the market. Then I was suddenly transformed to my childhood days walking on the island grounds for exhibitions and fairs in Chennai. The reason was the aroma, sight and sound of freshly made popcorn!

I would wait all year for the exhibition day in Chennai for 2 reasons: the amazing rides and masala popcorn!

Masala popcorns are packed in plastic packets and are sold on the streets and also movie theaters of the Chennai city. But, something about these trade fairs and masala was magical how the entire exhibition ground would smell of popcorn and fried rice papadams

I did buy a huge serving of kettle corn from the farmer's market, but I just had to make the masala popcorn with all these nostalgic thoughts. And so I did just that.


The WINE paired with Masala Popcorn

With all the butter and salt in the 'Americanized' popcorn, I can see how a beer might just be perfect.

But, with the Indian masala popcorn, it is a whole other story! There is turmeric powder, very little chilli powder, garam masala (blend of several spices) and salt to taste. So every corn kernel that transforms in to pop corn is doused with all these spices. 

When I started thinking about wine pairing with all these spices in mind, I spotted a Torrontés (from Salta, Argentina) that caught my attention. The wine bottle showed 85% Torrontés and 15% Riesling. This definitely intrigued me. And the wine shop employee mentioned that this wine had a decent amount of body - which convinced me that this wine can handle gracefully, the spices in every bite of the masala popcorn.


Tasting notes

This was a very unique Torrontés because it had more body than the usual. The first taste notes I got on both my nose and palette were those of herbs, lemongrass and some citrus fruits. But the most amazing part for me was, even though the Riesling was only 15% of the total composition, there was a clear, bold pear and apple flavor profiles so typical of a Riesling.


The verdict

The pop corn looked and tasted just like I remembered. I even added some Chaat masala to the spice mix in the oil before throwing in the corn kernels. The pop corns and its spices were beautifully accentuated by the Torrontés and Riesling. It was a beautiful hot day to munch on spicy masala pop corns paired with a chilled Torrontés. Just as always, I could hear the kids screaming while enjoying the rides in the Chennai fair while I kept munching on the masala popcorn. Except now, I was also sipping on this beautiful wine from Argentina!

Life is good... and it gets even better with fond memories and good wine. Salud!


Masala vada, mousetrap and wine


This blog post  is written for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #9 (MWWC#9).  April's topic  - FEAR was chosen by  last month's winner The Drunken Cyclist. To learn more about this contest, or if you like to vote for my post please click here.



Fear is a very strange feeling. Personally, I am very intrigued by fear.

Come to think of it, just the right amount of fear can actually translate in to a good thing – It can cause complacency to be thrown out the window and it can give inertia a run for its money.

But, with a little too much fear, it can dominate everything else and can be quite detrimental.


The Story of Masala Vada

The first Indian street food that popped in to my head when I started thinking about fear is: Masala Vada, aka Masal Vadai – that’s how Chennai-ites (residents of the Chennai city in India) like to call it.

Masal Vadais are basically lentil fritters, sold in every teashop and road side stalls in every nook and corner of Tamil Nadu (South India). Many south Indians, from all walks of life would start their day with a Masal Vadai and spiced Indian Chai.

The ritual would go something like this: One bite of the Vada, then sip on some tea; take a another bite and another sip and so on.

There is something about the lentils (Bengal gram) mixed with green chillies, ginger, onions and curry leaves when fried together, tastes so delicious and the aroma… is to die for!

Trivia: For those who have never had the good fortune of biting in to one of these vadas, here’s something to help relate to its taste: This snack and its ingredients are very similar to another famous snack from the Greek cuisine. Yes! The Masal Vadai tastes and smells a lot like the Greek Falafel.

So what about this dish do I associate with fear?

Well, remember my above-mentioned ‘to-die-for’ aroma? That is not just from human standards, but for rats too!

Yes, Masala Vadas were famously used in mousetraps to attract the rats running around the garages in homes and other places in south India. The idea was to use the amazing aroma of the Vadas as bait and once the rats are in, BOOM! the trap door would close.

I remember so clearly, as a child I would wait and watch patiently (sometimes for hours) for these mousetraps with Masala Vadas to catch its prey. Can you imagine, how these rats were willing to risk their precious lives for these delicious Vadas? Well I get it, and anyone who has devoured these Vadas will too!

Such is the power of the taste and aroma of these Vadas.

All these thoughts were sufficient motivation for me to soak the lentils, grind and make my own Masal Vadais.


 What wine to pair with this fearful Indian street snack?

A rosé is a rosé is a rosé (think wine, not the flower)…

I have heard and read a lot about how difficult it is to pair Falafels with wine. But as far as these Masala Vadas go, I had a strong intuition for what wine would pair well with them. And, coincidentally (?) this choice of wine has a strong association with the kind of wines I fear the most too!

My wine of choice…a Rosé! The crisp acidity, the light and refreshing red fruits and the mild spices that come through a Rosé seemed like a perfect match for the Masala Vada. Wait, but what has fear got to with a Rosé?

Somehow, I always tread cautiously while choosing a Rosé. I cannot put a finger to why that is? It could be because of the psyche associated with a Rosé. At one point, the rosés were treated like a taboo wine, then they turned in to a trendy ‘summer wine’ (especially here in the USA). Now, I think it has finally been given credit for what it is…like Gertrude Stein proclaimed so wisely many eons ago: A rosé is a rosé is a rosé!

So, I went with my gut and bought home the Domaine de Fontsainte Rosé (2013) from the Corbieres appellation.


Tasting notes

 This rosé was amazing! It was mind boggling how many flavor profiles there were - all in one wine! There was sour cherries and strawberries, a vague hint of vanilla, a light kiss of cinnamon and even some mint! This wine is from the Boutenac commune under the Corbières appellation (in southern France); I made a mental note to self to remember this region while pairing wines for Falafel-like dishes in the future.


The verdict

The crispiness in the Vadas just hugged the crisp acidity of the wine. There was ginger, green chillies and onion pieces in every bite of the Masala Vada which paired so beautifully like music and lyrics, with all the different flavors of the rosé.

So, I was happily gobbling up the Masala Vadas with so many thoughts about fear racing through my mind. Thankfully, the rose had a huge calming effect. But, at the end I thought, you got to give it to those rats. In spite of the risk of death, they always followed their heart (and stomach!?) and walked on a thin line every time they spotted or smelled something akin a Masala Vada. The outcome could be treacherous, it could be a delicious meal or…. death! It could be a masala vada or a mousetrap. But, how would we know, unless fear was overcome and we dared to try?

 After all, is it not true that: "Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it"?


Wine pairing with Sundal


Sundal (pronounced like this) is a famous street food in Chennai (capital city of the southern most state (Tamil Nadu) in India.

There are 2 things that come to mind as soon as I think of Sundal. One, is the beaches of Chennai and second is this festival called Navratri (meaning ‘The 9 nights’) that falls around the same time as Halloween (October) every year.

  • About the Chennai beaches, when you sit in any beach in Chennai to just relax, enjoy the sea breeze and the sounds of the waves crashing… you will be pleasantly surprised by the constant interruption of vendors calling out the following: ‘Thengai (Coconut) Mangai (Mango) Pattani (Peas) Sundal’. And this sequence is repeated in the same order over and over again. When you do not want them to plead anymore, and mainly because you are secretly drooling with the sundal aroma, you ask them to give you either a ‘small’ or a ‘large’ cone filled with sundal. You can either use a spoon or your hands to eat a mouthful of the sundal. This delicious beach snack, sundal, is usually made either from green peas or chickpeas. The peas is first cooked, fried with mustard seeds, curry leaves and blended with mango, coconut and a splash of lemon. Absolutely delicious, nutritious and all of this with just (chick) peas.

Note: If you are interested to know more about all the different varieties of sundal there are, click here.

  • The second aspect that pops up in to my head every time I make, eat or think about sundal is this festival called Navratri or Dussehra ('Dus' in Hindi means 10) that is 10-days long around the month of October each year. All the kids (especially girl kids) get to dress up in costumes every day for those 10 days. In the evenings kids parade the neighborhood in these costumes (most costumes mimic Hindu Gods and Goddesses) and knock on neighbors’ homes. Every house will have a stand with odd number of rows (looks just a staircase) to arrange dolls and idols of all sorts (again mostly Gods and other notable Hindu mythology characters).

It is an amazing sight to watch all these kids dressed up in cute costumes dancing or singing in front of all these dolls in every neighbor’s home. I remember being such a kid, walking from one neighbor’s home to another eagerly waiting to finish my singing, so I can rightfully receive my sundal!

Yes, that was part of the tradition. Every home had one kind of sundal made – one for each day for the 10 days. And if you are lucky you may get to try 3-4 different kinds of delicious sundal on the same day!

I have always thought that Navratri and its rituals are so comparable to Halloween. The Indian kids are also dressed up like the kids in the US walking from one home to another in their neighborhood. Instead of trick or treating, it is either singing or dancing and instead of candies it is sundal!


The WINE pairing with Sundal

Sundal has this one ingredient that is the key. It is either chickpeas (white or brown), green peas or several other kind of lentils. So, the wine pairing that made most sense for me was something that did not have any harsh tannins or strong earthy qualities that may clash with the subtleties of the sundal ingredients. 

I had decided to make sundal with chickpeas as my key ingredient. There is one theory that has worked well for me so far with respect to food and wine pairing. And that is, wines made from grapes grown in a certain region/soil pairs well with food created with ingredients grown in the same soil.

This is why there are some Italian wines that are to die for when paired with a risottos or pizza made with ingredients (some or many) from the same soil. If I applied the same theory to sundal, how would a Greek wine pair with sundal given chickpea is also the main ingredient of hummus (a very important Greek delicacy)? So for this dish, I decided to check out the Greek wines' section in the local wine shop.

Xinomavro is definitely my first choice when it comes to Greek wines and especially to pair with a dish like Sundal. The reason being, Xinomavro has the right amount of red fruit flavors and a sharpness about  it as an after taste (indicates considerable alcohol level) that adds a remarkable balance to the wine - without the harsh tannins or a prominent earthy character.


Tasting notes

I have tasted Xinomavro just once before this. But, I vividly remember a clean wine with bright red fruit flavors. This wine from Naoussa was no exception. The first flavor profiles were juicy licorice and red raspberries. Next, there was a subtle sharpness to the wine (just like I remembered) that definitely left a mark (in a good way). Xinomavro is typically the lighter red wine from Greece (unlike the other famous red - Agiorgitiko) which makes it very easy to drink - with or without food.


The verdict

The red fruit flavors and the 'easy-to-drink' nature of this wine paired nicely with the subtleties of the chickpea sundal. The nuanced residual sugar that caresses you at the very end of every sip blended nicely with the semi-sweet mangoes in the sundal. The coconut gave a crunchiness in every bite of the sundal and that magically hit the spot with the 'sharp' aftertaste of the Xinomavro.

The conclusion? Well well well, the Greeks may know their wines, but we Chennaiites take our beach snack very seriously too. What can I say, this was my Big Fat Greek pairing which had a very nice ending!

Yamas and Vanakkam! :)