Nine Hills Wine Dinner at The Park followed by some vegetarian wine pairing experiments at home

Note: I was a guest of Nine Hills for the dinner at The Park. Not an anonymous review.

The recipes that follow are experimental

The mystery of wine pairing

I went to Navi Mumbai on Friday night. For a wine dinner organised by Nine Hills at The Park.

No. Finely Chopped hasn’t been hacked.

Yes, I am still the guy whose fav at a wine tasting is a good single malt! A spoilt Bandra snob. Even if a pretender. Flinches at the thought of travel. And I don’t like going to these food events.

It all started when I got a DM (direct message) on twitter from @theonlyolive inviting me to a wine and food sit down dinner. Coincidentally this came in just a day after someone was chatting to me about wine pairings and that too vegetarian pairings. The usual ‘red meat with red and white meat with white’ wouldn’t do.

This aroused my curiosity and I wanted to hit the kitchen lab. I searched on the net and got some ideas on veg wine pairing at these sites: Eat Drink Better and Salon.com. Ideas begun to crystallise as I looked at the list of ingredients. Going to the wine event and meeting the wine makers seemed like a good way of reaffirming things.

Heady Friday Nights & some wine lessons

I set off on the drive to New Bombay from Bandra on Friday evening. Both Sushil, our chubby driver, and I, were out of our depths.  We were frazzled by the long drive. And the never ending Palm Beach Road. Two very long phone calls giving me detailed directions had me even more confused. We finally stopped at a car parked at a kerb. There was a youngish couple coochie cooing inside. I peered in and asked for directions. They gave me the shortest, most precise and effective directions. Seemed like they didn’t want me around. They were very polite I must say.

I finally reached The Park and the grand banquet dinner. I met Adrian who had sent me a tweet. A Goan who loves his food and wine and has made a living out of it. Great company like all Goans. He introduced me to the French wine maker Jean-Manuel Jacquinot and Satwinder Pal Singh who is the Indian wine maker of Pernod Ricard. Nine Hills is their wine brand.

I bounced off the dishes I had in mind off them.

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Got my wine pairing ideas vetted and got some more ideas. Learnt from Jean that corks just don’t make sense while bottling wines at Indian temperatures. They oxidise and boil. So a twist screw makes works better. This is a blessing when guests bring wines to houses which don’t have cork screws. And remember that ‘white chilled and red at room temperature’ rule? Jean said that it doesn’t make hold here. Any place above 15 deg C and you need to serve your red chilled too. Or at least in a chilled glass. And don’t keep an open bottle of wine for more than 2 days in the fridge. Unused wine makes a good meat marinate according to Adrian.

I reached mid way through the dinner but Adrian called for an appetiser for me.

I chose the buffalo mozzarella  and fresh pesto with herbed tomatoes (pomodori semi socca). The combination looked so fresh that it washed away the miles I had travelled with the first bite. This was paired with a Shiraz Rose which was slightly sweet and nice and light. Now I know that the proper way to describe a wine is to talk of the ‘mulberries plucked from a count’s farm, the personality of an distinguished oak, the hint of ninety nine virgins crushing Colombian cocoa while looking at Michelangelo paint in the buff’ … all I can say is that the Rose was just what you needed at the end of a day and helped you unwind. Had a nice cooling effect.

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I chose the potato gnocchi with spinach and gorgonzola cream for my mains. The gorgonzola cream was sharp, tantalising and whipped your palate into a frenzy. Cheese addicts like me would be a slave to it. The gnocchi didn’t do much to me except when paired with the cream. The cream was the sort of stuff that I knew I would dream of over many nights.

The menu said that this should be paired with the Nine Hills Reserve Shiraz or the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Satwinder suddenly told me to go with the Nine Hills Sauvignon Blanc instead. This was inspired. For the gnocchi in cream was a very solid and heavy dish which the light airiness of the white Sauvignon Blanc cut well and gave a nice contrast to. The man definitely knew a trick or two.

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The non vegetarian mains was a herb crusted salmon. I took a bite from Adrian. We were all enamoured by the way the flavours of the dish had seeped into the fish. Chef Balwinder of The Park was on a roll.

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Dessert was tiramisu. Never my favourite. The one at The Park had a strong overtone of coffee. I just took a couple of bites. This was paired with Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. This was quite a heavy red and had an interesting ‘smoked’ flavour to it. Possibly not a term wine experts would use but Satwinder did say that was a possible taste sensation.

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I tried the Nine Hill Reserve Shiraz. This worked better for me as it seemed lighter and chirpier. Moreover, except in salmon, smoked flavours are yet to work for me.  I dug into more of the cheese platter for my desserts. The feta with the crusty crackers were an epic combination in particular.

The trip was fully worth it. Got to meet some nice folks. And came back home for my planned experiments.

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The morning after: Notes from the lab

I didn’t want anything Indian. So looked up the ingredients from the net articles and then worked on three dishes. These are ‘inspired’ by food I have tasted during my travels across countries. The ‘recipes’ are mine. And no, not ‘authentic’. Turned out to be good to taste. And rather easy to make.

But then, the latter is basic to any cooking that I do.

So here you go;

1. Cafe Migro: Mushroom & cream cheese pate with parsley & olives – 25 min

This was inspired by the salmon canapés that we used to have at the food counters of Migro at Switzerland. I went to Godrej Nature’s Basket. Bought quiche shells for the base. About Rs 99 (2 USD) for 12.

This would work as a good party starter.

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1. Boil 250 g of chopped button mushrooms – 10 min (you can boil this from before too if you want to make the pate fresh when guests arrive)

2. Add mushrooms to a blender with 50 g cream cheese. Whip

3. Place pate in a bowl. Chop 2 olives into bits and 3,4 sprigs of parsley. Add this to the pate and gently stir it. Add a bit of salt if you need it but the cream cheese and olives would give the necessary sharpness. I bought olives stuffed with peri peri chilli which added a bit of heat.

4. Assembling the canapé: Spoon in the pate on to the canapé shell

This can be paired with Pinot Noir. Salon.com says that the earthy mushrooms and the fruit of the Pinot make for a ‘divine contrast’. After the Nine Hills dinner I would feel that the Shiraz would go well with mushrooms. Jean suggested that too.

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2.  Piknik Cadesi:  Aubergine & hung curd salad– 30 min cooking & 30 min cooling/ setting

I have made a version of this for guests before on my birthday. It’s inspired by the use of curd in some of the Turkish dishes that we had at the delis of Istanbul. The delis were called ‘Piknik’ or at least had Piknik written on them. Cadesi is after ‘Istiklal Cadesi’. The street we spent many lovely evenings at Istanbul.

Aubergine is used quite a bit in the Mediterranean and Arabic world. Many a few of the local dishes and desserts have layers that come together in a dish.

This dish is all about the layers

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Prep

· Hung curd: Sieve 100 g curd overnight so that the water drains out

· Slice aubergines - 10 slices - smear with salt and pepper. Finely chop half a medium sized onion and 1 tomato – 5 minutes

Cook

· Flash fry aubergine slices – dip into a half inch deep layer of hot oil and take out –and place on a baking tray. (A colleague grilled aubergines in the oven when she followed this recipe at home. )

- Saute onion and tomato and layer on to this. – 10 min

· Add half a teaspoon full of Mediterranean spices – sumac, zatarpita, lemon powder to hung curd & gently mix. Layer hung curd on to tomato and onion bed once the latter cools

· Put this in the fridge and let it set for half an hour

· Take it out and garnish with toasted pine nuts, fresh coriander and mint leaves

· Serve this with crusty French bread.

· Given the tart and spices pair this with dry to semi dry whites such as Riesling, Chenin Blanc. The Sauvignon Blanc Reserve that I tried the previous night would go well with freshness of hung curd

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3. Nok Nok Wok : Thai Stir fry vegetables on a pad Thai bed. Topped with a green curry reduction 30 min

This is a completely different dish. Asian. It is a take on one of my favourite Thai curries. Green. I learnt to make fresh Thai curry at the cooking school at Chiang Mai.

This one is without fish sauce. I went for layers again. A bed of steamed rice. Topped with freshly stir fried vegetables and tofu. Unfortunately the extra firm tofu here is not as tough as the tofu we used for Pad Thai at Chiang Mai. I topped this with a reduction of Thai Curry. The idea was to add a Thai favour to the dish. Curry could be served on the side for those who don’t like their rice dry.

The dish is named after one of earnest tour guides at Bangkok. The Grand Palace I think.

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· Boil 1/2 a cup of rice. Place the rice on a serving plate. Mix 1 tablespoon each of chilli oil, honey, crushed peanuts & half teaspoon each of salt and crushed red chilli. Layer this onto the rice.

· Thai green curry reduction: Put 4 garlic cloves, 4 green chillies, 1 inch of galangal, 4 basil leaves, 1 inch piece of turmeric, 1 inch piece of lemon grass & 1 teaspoon each of coriander seeds, sugar, salt to a food processor and grind. Add this to 100 ml of coconut milk in a bowl and microwave for 3 minutes. You want this to thicken unlike Thai curries which are actually quite thin in consistency

· Stir fry – Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a wok. Add chopped extra firm tofu to it. Once this cooks and the colour becomes dark add ½ a finely chopped red bell pepper & 1/2 a finely chopped yellow bell pepper, 50 g baby corn strips, 1 finely chopped carrot and stir for 2 min. Add some basil leaves & 10 small round Thai brinjals and switch off the hob. Season with a sprinkling of salt and vinegar

· Plating: layer on the stir fried vegetables on the rice bed. Drizzle on (don’t douse) the green curry reduction on to this.

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Asian inspired dishes can be paired with Sauvignon Blanc. This would be light and fresh and be a contrast to the heat of the chillies and spices. Alternately have it with a Shiraz as Jean suggests so that the spiciness of both complement each other.

So there you have. Wines. Vegetarian food. Things you normally won’t see on Finely Chopped. And I can see the readership drop.

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