Wednesday, October 13, 2010

An Evening of Indian Cuisine and Wine at the East India Company

One thing that I'm not very good at is blogging about Indian food. I've always felt my knowledge for this style of cuisine was not strong enough to comment. Even though I may have enjoyed my meal, describing it and especially photographing it is a whole other challenge. Which is why, when I was told about this cooking class at the East India Company, I jumped on it. What better way to get the low-down on talking it up?!

I've eaten at this restaurant before on quite a few different occasions. But this particular evening was special. Restaurant manager Anish Mehra walked us through many of the spices used in Indian cooking, the pastes and other culinary staples. One by one we smelled and even tasted these treasured ingredients. Once the basics were covered, a cooking demonstration of a few Indian entrées followed along with a discussion on wine pairings. What made the evening even more special however, is that I attended with two of my favourite bloggers, Marysol from She Eats Bears, and Holly from Wine Out Loud. Between the three of us, we figured we had everything covered – the eating, the cooking, and the drinking – our passions.

Anish was occasionally joined by a soft spoken gentleman, Nitin Mehra, and the two together offered a ton of knowledge, skill and true passion for delicious Indian food. Their professionalism and comfort with everything they did made for a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere.

Here's a list of the ingredients we talked about
- Cumin (jeera) – popular for it's digestive properties
- Coriander (Dhania) – similar to Cumin
- Bishop's Weed (Ajwain) – like a powerful dose of thyme
- Turmeric (Haldi) – known for it's antiseptic qualities
- Cinnamon (dalchini) – contributes to both taste and aroma
- Cloves – one of the most widely used spices
- Cardamom (Lachi) – both black and green are used
- Mustard Seeds (rai or sarson) – popular in South Indian and Bengali cooking
- Saffron (kesar) – most expensive spice in the world
- Fenugreek (Methi) – used in both leaf and seed form
- Ginger (adarak) and Garlic (lasan) – almost always used together
- Yellow Onions
- Pepper (Kali Mirch) – known as the king of spices
- Chilies (mirch) – two key types are used, the green (Hari mirch), and red (lal mirch)
- Yogurt (dhai) – often called curd and used to give a creamy texture
- Garam Masala – which translates to spicy spice blend and helps to enhance the flavours of a particular dish

Simple rules to pairing wine with Indian food
- Avoid highly tannic wines which can make the meal taste astringent and overly spicy
- Choose a wine with strong acidity which will help cut through many of the richer kormas and cream-based entrées
- Choose a wine with a robust fruit flavour and strong character, be it citrus, lychee, mango, green apple, or passion fruit
- Know your loves and your dislikes and build from that

Our first dish we started with was called Aloo Tikki Chaat. It was like a mound of heaven. I love sauces, and when I watched and then partook in the steps, the layers contributing to the final dish were overwhelming. First the Aloo Tikki, an Indian potato patty stuffed with green peas and pan-fried to a golden brown. Next, pour hot chickpea curry (chana) over the top, followed by plain yogurt. Drizzle tamarind and mint chutney on next. And finally, top the whole thing with diced peppers, onions and sev. Crazy! This complex and absolutely delicious concoction was paired with a 2009 Cono Sur Viognier from Chile.

Our second dish was the Muttur Paneer, a homemade India cheese and pea dish. So yummy, probably one of my favourite things to eat (I have a thing for peas). The 2009 Coyote's Run Five Mile, a blend of Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Gewürztraminer from Niagara paired beautifully.

Next was the insanely tender Beef '65, a spiced beef strip loin cut into 1/4 inch thick strips, pre-fried and then battered before frying to a golden brown and then mixed in a heart-warming curried yogurt and tandoori masala sauce. 2009 Folie à Deux, Ménage à Trois, a blend of Cab, Merlot and Zinfandel from California was sipped with every bite.

And finally, a Masala Chai Brûlée ended the demo. Wow, what a rich, powerful way to make a crème brûlée. Sinful. We sipped a 2004 Taylor Fladgate late bottled vintage port with this – the perfect match.

But the fun didn't end there – oh no! We were then given full access to the buffet (yes I'm serious). Navratan (mixed vegetable korma), potato and pea samosa, palak paneer (spinach with homemade cheese), machi curry (Indian fish curry), nahari ghost (lamb curry), murg bahar (boneless butter chicken), and the list goes on. How I managed to savour another plate of food is beyond me, but I did it.

We had such a great time and left with our bellies very full. It's a fun and unique way to enjoy Indian and offers you a whole new appreciation for the cuisine. The staff is also fantastic and excellent at what they do. Even if you don't go for a class, you can always chat with your server before ordering or heading over to the buffet to get in on some of the details that make the food so distinct and delectable.

210 Somerset Street W. Ottawa

East India Company Pub & Eatery on Urbanspoon


Holly Bruns said...

Nice! Your photos are great. Thanks for the shout-out. I'm looking forward to getting stuffed together again some day.

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