red wine

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! :)




Sangria pairing with India's most popular street food - The Bhel Puri


Bhel Puri (fondly referred to as Bhel) is the most nostalgic part of my childhood. It is the most popular of the Indian street foods and the beauty of it is, how commonly available they are on almost every street corner in all of India.

I come from the southern most metropolitan city of India called Chennai (used to be known as Madras) where Bhel puri is not as common as the north, east and western parts of India.

But, that did not stop me or anyone else I grew up with from fighting with our parents for our ‘pocket money’ (allowance) to devour it!

And the best part about Bhel was not just that it was a mouth-watering snack, but it was also an unforgettable Indian street food experience. So, I with so many others used to watch the 'bhaiyas’ (Indian street vendors) in awe while they swiftly assemble the various ingredients that constitute the Bhel - before we could blink an eye. And these bhaiyas were our own magicians waving their magic wand to make a paper cone in about a fraction of a second, and then start filling that with this crunchy, flavorful goodness that is savory, tangy and sweet all at once.

The Bhel could be sukha (i.e. dry in Hindi) or gila (i.e. wet) Bhel. For me personally, I like the dry version with the extra crunchiness in every bite. And my biggest complaint used to be how some places could not get this right - i.e. prevent the Bhel from becoming soggy.

But very soon, when I started experimenting with this in my own kitchen, I realized how hard it was to keeping the Bhel from getting soggy. There are definitely some tricks to master the authentic taste of the Bhel. If you searched for ‘Bhel recipes’ there are a gazillion recipes on the web to describe this. So I will not go in to those details for this blog.

For a quick glimpse of how my Bhel turned out, the pictures below should suffice.


THE WINE to pair with the BHEL

Without further delay, I will jump right in to the main subject of my blog: the wine pairing.

When I decided to make Bhel for a nice mid-Sunday snack, I was wondering about the different wines I can pair with this.

As far as white and rose wines go, there are many that will pair beautifully with this dish, some of them are:

  • Unoaked Californian Chardonnay,
  • Sparkling Malbec Rose,
  • Pinot Grigio with crisp acidity and a little bit of residual sugar like those in the Alto Adige region of Italy.

In the red wine category, a dry red un-oaked and dominated by fruit flavors will compliment the Bhel very well. Some of my choices would be:

But then I got thinking about what other wine would bring out the sweet and sour flavors of the chutneys, the tangy tomatoes and yet also stand up to this dish overall with the wine’s own character and its refreshing after taste.

Ta-da! Then it came to me - How about a Sangria?!

You got to love Sangria. I have a new found respect for Sangria especially after learning all about its roots, history and etymology.

And it turns out that Sangria was originally chilled wine with infused spices and fruits. Knowing this made me feel like there is a connection between all the spices used in Indian food and the authentic Spanish preparation of the Sangria.

So I am more convinced than ever and decide to buy all the ingredients for my classic Sangria recipe.

My classic Sangria recipe:

1 bottle of dry red + 1/4 cup Cognac + 1/4 cup Triple Sec (Orange Liqueur) + 1/2 bottle of dry or sparkling rose + 1 table spoon of sugar + juice of one lemon.

 Add diced apples, pears, peaches etc. at the very end.

I ensured to make the Sangria a day in advance and meticulously refrigerate it overnight.


So I was excited to wake up on Sunday for a treat like this.

I got working on the Bhel and when I was ready to serve, I set my Sangria glass filled with ice and poured the refrigerated Sangria.

I take a mouthful of the Bhel and enjoy every bit of the delicious goodness. Then I wash it down with the chilled Sangria.


Tasting notes

  • The apples, pears and lemon juice infused in the wine gave the Sangria a fresh ‘lemonade-like’ after taste which was great to wash down the spices in the chutney blended with the Bhel.
  • The Cognac did its part by imparting strong dried-raisin flavors which gave a nice kick at the end of each sip. 
  • The Pinot Noir Rose was worked perfectly to top off the Sangria as that gave a youthful, effervescent feel in the mouth, which balanced with the sourness of the tomatoes and raw mangoes.

The verdict:

All in all, the Sangria pairing with the Bhel Puri hit the spot real good!

With Sundays like these, what Monday blues??