Marina Beach

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! :)




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! :)




Wine, Bhajji and... Luck?!


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I have written this blog post for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #8 (MWWC#8). I am very happy and honored to write my first post in this series.

A group of oenophiles and bloggers have started this contest and this month is part 8 of the series. The tradition has been that, each month a topic is selected by the previous month's winner, voted and winners announced. This month’s topic  - LUCK was chosen by  last month's winner The Sweet Sommelier. To learn more about this contest, or if you like to vote for my post please click here.

What does LUCK have to do with anything?

In my mother tongue (aka Tamil) to be 'lucky' or just luck is referred to as ‘Adhirshtam’ (written and pronounced in Tamil like this).

Trivia alert: Tamil is the language spoken in the southern most state of Tamil Nadu in India (Tamil Nadu means the land of the Tamil speaking people) .

This word Adhirshtam literally translates as ‘something that shows up in one’s life at its own whim’.

That is exactly my thought about luck.

Being raised in a conservative middle class home in Chennai (capital city of Tamil Nadu), the words luck, fate and destiny were used synonymously. In the Indian culture, a lot of meaning is attributed to things that are destined to happen and how one’s luck or fate has a HUGE role to play in that.

Somehow this theory never added up to be anything meaningful for me.

If every action and event in our lives are destined to happen a certain way, why should anyone ever bother to wake up from bed every morning?

I am a staunch believer that we make our own destinies. While I do not disregard everyday miracles, coincidences and to some degree being at the right place at the right time, none of this matter in the absence of hard work, perseverance and discipline.

The story of Bhajji

For those who are new, my blogs are about pairing wine with Indian (street) food.

For this blog post, I have picked one of the most famous, affordable, tasty Indian street foods called Bhajji. Bhajji is commonly sold in many streets and beaches of Chennai. It is unbelievable how many (both young and old) street food vendors sell this fried delicacy on the beaches of Chennai.

Marina beach is the most crowded beach in Chennai and is the 2nd longest in the world. This 2 minute video captures my Chennai and Marina beach remarkably well. 

I have nostalgic memories of eating hot Bhajjis combined with the caressing touch of the gentle sea breeze in Marina beach. Those were the days!

One thing that always stood out for me is, how for every 10 feet on the beach someone is selling this Bhajji. It almost seems like, there are more people selling Bhajjis than consuming them. 

One of the reasons I chose this delicacy for this post is because, when I thought about luck,  the optimistic, hopeful, sweaty faces of the street food vendors of Chennai beaches immediately flashed in my mind’s eye.

Here is why:

I have always marveled the tenacity and hard work of each of these street food vendors. They wake up everyday to make the same Bhajjis that so many of their competitors make and yet come to the Marina with so much hope of making a profit. And then repeat the same cycle the next day. If these people depended on ‘luck’ to take them through the day, they would have to go back home with stale Bhajjis and an empty stomach.

Mulling over all these thoughts I get my ingredients ready to fry the Bhajjis. First, I mix the Bhajji batter. Then, I chop up some onions and potatoes thinly to use as fillings for the Bhajji. Lastly, I dip them in the Bhajji batter and fry them. The aroma of the Bhajjis fills the entire house and also brings back so many childhood memories like it was just yesterday...

The wine pairing with Bhajji

About the wine pairing... when I thought about what wine to pair with the Bhajji, I immediately thought of sparkling wines.

While I have no doubt that a sparkling wine and Bhajji would be delicious, I was wondering why I did not blink an eye when I chose sparkling wine for this dish?

I think the reason is, the thought of Marina beach reminds me of how my father would always take us there for any celebration or milestone in our lives.

He would never admit this, but one of the reasons for going to the beach in Chennai was because it was one of the cheapest ways to celebrate. Yet, there was an aspect of grandeur to it. There was something so special and personal to sit as a family forming a circle on the sandy beach – and calling out to the various vendors when they pass us by to get our taste of the street foods of Chennai. I feel this exact same way while opening a bubbly - it turns every day in to a Friday, every occasion extra special and every sip a reminder of the holidays and festivities.

CONFESSION: One of the very first forms of wine I have consumed and fallen in love with is sparkling wine. There is an aspect of toasting and celebrating that makes a sparkling wine so special for me and I associate it with a lot of joy and happiness. And among the sparkling wines, Gloria Ferrer is one of the early ones I have tasted. While I have had the good fortune of tasting many other brilliant Champagnes and sparkling wines over the years, Gloria Ferrer is still very nostalgic for me. This nostalgia aspect of the wine also seemed like the perfect reason to pair with the Bhajji.

So, I purchased a Blanc de Noirs (meaning wine made with Red grapes only - Pinot Noir in this case) Gloria Ferrer.



I took a nice big bite of the crunchy Bhajji and washed that down with the Gloria. There was a spicy kick to the Bhajji (due to the spices in the batter) which worked nicely with the stone fruit flavors of the bubbly. The fact that Bhajjis are a fried delicacy was an advantage because, the acidity of the wine cut through the oily Bhajjis beautifully.

While the onions and potatoes were fantastic as fillings, this remarkably effervescent sparkling wine would have paired nicely even with hot serrano pepper Bhajjis. I duly noted this for next time.



Just like I imagined, the Bhajjis and sparkling wine were made for each other. While nibbling the Bhajjis and sipping my wine, an article I had read sometime back came to mind...

The article claimed that there were a group of sailors traveling from the occident (west) to the orient (east) and they 'accidentally' observed that some wines they consumed were more 'fizzy' than the others. This effervescence made these wines refreshing and so easy to drink during their long, arduous journey. This phenomenon was later associated with a second fermentation that happened inside the bottle of certain wines due to some residual yeast and sugar.

 Some may call this chance, luck or sheer coincidence. I agree that all of this may be true, but there is no denying the eons of effort put together by so many Champagne houses to perfect the production process of sparkling wine - after the first 'chanced upon' observation.

The various steps involved to make a bottle of sparkling wine never ceases to amaze me:

  • The very many methods of 2nd fermentation: Traditional, Charmat (Tank, Cuve close), Partial, Transfer fermentation methods and etc. to name a few.
  • The methodical process of riddling and disgorging.
  • Perfecting the final touch with the art of dosage.
  • Bottling the wine ever so carefully to retain the effervescence for consumption even after years.

While one sailor may have gotten ‘lucky’ to observe a second fermentation purely by chance, it has taken countless hours of dedication, discipline and passion to produce this beautiful creation called a sparkling wine.

Finally, I cannot think of a better way to wrap up than with the beautiful words of our President which sums it all up so succinctly:

"I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.

---Thomas Jefferson