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


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 :)


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 :)




The Hand Of God and Mumbai Burger (Vada Pav)


Vada pav is a street food fondly reminisced by anyone who hails from the city of Mumbai. I know this for a fact because, though I am from South India (Chennai), I am married in to a family settled in Mumbai. So I have heard about Vada Pav like it is part of the family :)

My first encounter with this savory delicacy was not in Mumbai, but Chicago! Yep, you heard it right. Believe it or not, my first bite of Vada Pav was in Chicago at Devon Avenue's Little India. I got to bite in to a 'Garama-garam' (Hindi for nice and hot) Vada Pav - and instantly I was transported to my happy place! 

A Vada Pav can be best described as a Mumbai burger. The key ingredients are part of its name:

  • The Vada (deep fried balls made of potatoes, onions, ginger, green chillies, salt and some cumin/coriander powder)
  • Spicy garlic chutney spread (This chutney is very key to this dish)
  • The Pav (bun or bread). There is one more secret ingredient, the world famous Vada Pav spicy garlic chutney that has to be generously spread on the buns before assembling the Vada on them.

Note: The word 'Pav' must have originated from the Portuguese word 'Pao' for bread. It is quite possible given how close in proximity Goa (once upon a time a Portuguese colony) is to Mumbai.

The best part of this dish is that all the ingredients required are usually available in my kitchen at all times. So as soon I set my mind to this, I instantly started making my garlic chutney first and then deep fried my Vadas. Finally I finished with toasting my burger buns (Pav).


The WINE paired with Vada Pav

The ingredients in the Vada Pav is no joke. The spices and vegetables used are quite earthy and wholesome. For instance, the garlic chutney includes generous portions of cumin and coriander powder - both very bold and earthy spices. The deep fried potato balls has tiny pieces of onions, ginger and green chillies. All of this can overwhelm and take over the experience unless paired with a wine that can portray a powerful, versatile personality.


Ta-da! Introducing the Hand of God wines - a red blend of Malbec, Syrah and Petite Verdot. 

CONFESSION: I have been meaning to pair this wine with one of my Indian street food fares for quite some time. I have had the good fortune of exchanging a few emails and talking on the phone with the founder of this brand - Jon Staenberg. Ever since getting in touch with Jon, I have been craving to sip on this amazing product made by the 'Malbec Master' Santiago Achaval.

But, the conundrum was, for a wine of this stature the food paired should posses several layers of complexity, yet poised with elegance. So when I decided to make Vada Pavs, it just clicked and I ran to the nearest wine shop that housed the Hand of God wines. 

Tasting notes

The wine looked luscious with a typical Malbec color (dark, bold purple with shades of maroon). I was blown away with the very first sip. There were intense blue berries, multi-dimensional spices and floral aroma. I thought I got some vague lavender flavors too! It was amazing how the bouquet of Malbec stayed in my palette long after I had sipped the wine. The Syrah and Petite Verdot perfectly balanced the Malbec flavors and provided the right amount of body.


The verdict

Excitedly I took my first huge bite of Vada Pav followed by the red blend. The very first thing I noticed was, this red blend unlike a Cabernet does not have an extremely long finish. The flavors do linger for a long time but in a very subtle, manner - not overbearing at all. This aspect married the flavors of cumin, ginger and other spices in the Vada Pav. I could not decide if the food made the wine better or vice versa. For a moment I felt intertwined in a true paradox - Mumbai street food paired with an elite Malbec blend. 

Cheers to paradoxes like these that I can definitely get used to, embrace and relish for a very long time!


Malbecs are referred to as 'Cot' and can be found more prevalently in South West France. Both Malbec and Petite Verdot are part of the 6 grapes that belong to the elite 'Bordeaux blend'. The other 4 grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Carménerè. Carménerè is called the lost grape of Bordeaux (but gained momentum and popularity in Chile) and is rarely part of the Bordeaux blend. So essentially, the blend mostly consists of 5 grapes only.

Malbec specifically was used to give Bordeaux wines its beautiful color and some balance. But, always came third in popularity and importance to the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes. That is, until Argentina happened! Argentina embraced Malbec like its own because of how well the grape performed on the high elevations of the famous Mendoza region in Argentina.

It is like they say, one land's pain is another land's pleasure!