Swirl Wine Bar & Market

Monday, September 26, 2011

Savory and Exotic Cuisine of Southern India

my niece Rika
A friend of mine remarked the other day that I must be too busy to cook lately since I've not been posting any recipes.  Ah not true I said, we've just been delving into my other favorite cuisine in the last few weeks, Indian.  I fell in love with Indian cooking when my niece Rika joined our family about 10 years ago. As much as I love Mediterranean style food, the exotic spices of India offer something refreshingly different. But, I'm not talking about your generic curries and tandoori dishes, because as things usually go for me, my love is with the cuisine of south.  The southern tip of India, in the province of Kerala as well as neighboring Goa and Tamil Nadu, is an interesting and unique culinary pocket shaped by climate, geography and religion.

The tropical coast of Kerala stretches along the Arabian Sea bringing an abundance of fish, shellfish, and coconuts while the fragrant curry leaves, mustard seeds and black pepper of the region distinctly flavor the cuisine.  Native cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric are also widely used and the combinations of spices, legumes and vegetables can be utterly intoxicating.  Vastly different from the more commonly known dishes from the north, the south offers a lighter, fresher alternative that is less oily and has no cream at all and unfortunately, a style of cuisine that most people know nothing about.

And Just as Lidia Bastianich's books are my go to reference for many of my Italian meals, Madhur Jaffery cookbooks are a must for anyone wanting to jump into Indian food.  In particular my favorite and most well worn is "Flavors of India" where she takes you on a journey through many regions of India, exploring the different cuisines and the influences that shape them.  The other book that I use is called "Curried Favors, Family Recipes from Southern India" by Maya Kaimal MacMillan.

The key to cooking these recipes is the spices.  We are fortunate to have access to a few markets that basically have everything needed to create an authentic south India meal.  The best for hard to find ingredients is the International Market in Metairie.  While a little funky and sometimes intimidating, it is THE source in area for spices, dhals (legumes), rice, curry leaves, tamarind, housewares and everything you would need to prepare any of the recipes in either book.

Aamti - Maharashtrian Lentils, one of our staples

To answer Mary's question, yes, both Kerry and I have been cooking a lot of Indian food lately, but it sometimes harder for me to write about because of the mysterious ingredients and cooking techniques that can be difficult to describe.  But I'm going to do my best, starting with a simple and delicious sambar, a spicy stew of legumes and vegetables that will knock your socks off if you take the time to get the right ingredients to make the spice mix.

Coconut and Green Chilli Prawns

Mulligatawny Soup
So if you are feeling adventurous, check out my recipe, Vegetable Sambar...another staple our house!

Vegetable Sambar

Vegetable Sambar

We absolutely love this dish and eat it at least twice a week right now.  Delicously healthy and exotically spiced, I could probably eat it every day and not get tired of it...Sambar is type of Indian stew made with vegetables, dahl (legumes) and sambar spice powder.  Making this recipe will require a trip to the International Market in Metairie or any store that specializes in Indian spices and products.  One of the must have ingredients for southern Indian food is fresh curry leaves.  Having no relation to the mixture of curry spice powder, these are small, fragrant, green leaves from the kari tree that are available in Indian food markets.  They usually come in a bag and can be stored in your refrigerator for about 2 weeks.  Some recipes say that you can substitute bay leaves but that totally changes the flavor of the dish so I would say if you can't find curry leaves, omit them entirely.  But as I said, most Indian markets have them.

Curry leaves
The first step in this recipe is the most time consuming because you have to make your own sambar powder.  But once you do this it can be store for a few weeks in a jar and used to make the sambar stew recipe at least 4 times.  But I should warn you that this is a spicy dish!  On a scale of 1-10 I would probably put it at a 7 in terms of spicy heat.  We love hot spicy foods, so I don't even think about the heat when I'm eating this, but I know we are propably not the norm...

Sambar Powder

This recipe is from Madhur Jaffrey, with my only addition being a piece of cinnamon stick.

Sambar Powder

    * 1 tsp. vegetable oil (I use coconut oil, available at whole foods)
    * 5 Tbs. coriander seeds
    * 1 tsp. whole mustard seeds
    * 1 tsp. moong dal
    * 1/2 tsp. chana dal
    * 1/2 Tbs. urad dal
    * 1-2" piece of cinnamon stick
    * 1 tsp. fenugreek seeds
    * 1 tsp. black peppercorns
    * 1/4 tsp. ground asafetida
    * 1 tsp. cumin seeds
    * 20 fresh curry leaves, if available
    * 12 hot dried red chilies

Heat the oil (yes, only 1 tsp.) in a large, heavy frying pan or wok over medium heat. Put in the coriander seeds, mustard seeds, split mung dal, split chana dal, urad dal, fenugreek seeds, peppercorns, asafetida, and cumin. Stir and roast for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the curry leaves. Stir and roast for a further 5 minutes. Add the dried chilies and continue stirring and roasting for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the chilies darken. Empty the spices into a bowl to cool, then, in small batches, grind as finely as possible in a coffee grinder. Store in a tightly closed jar, away from heat and sunlight. You can also buy sambar powder at an Indian grocery store, but it is not nearly as flavorful as this.

Vegetable Sambar

One of the things I love about this recipe is that you can change the fresh veggies to incorporate what you have in your refrigerator.  You can use any combination of carrots, green bean, zucchini, onion, fresh greens like spinach or kale, tomatoes, etc. 

An important steps in southern Indian cuisine is the "tarka" added at the end of the dish.  A tarka is a popping of seeds or spices in hot oil and then poured over the dish to add the final flavorful touch.

Serves 4

*3⁄4 cup toor dahl or channa dahl (yellow split lentils)
*3 tbsp. coconut oil
*1 fresh hot green chile, halved
*3 cups of fresh vegetables (I used the following: 2 sliced carrots, 1/2 vidalia onion sliced, handful of fresh green beans chopped into 1" pieces and a big handful of chard sliced into 1/2" wide ribbons, nos stem)
*1-1/2 tsp. tamarind concentrate mixed with 3 T. water
*2-1/2 tbsp. sambar powder
*1 tsp. salt
*1⁄2 tsp. ground turmeric
*1 large tomato diced
*1⁄2 tsp. brown mustard seeds
*15 fresh curry leaves (optional)
*3 tbsp. Fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

1. Combine dal and 2 1⁄2 cups water in a saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat until soft, about 1 hour. Remove from heat, mash with a fork, and set aside.

2. Heat 2 tbsp. of the oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add chile and fry, stirring, until it begins to whiten around the edges. Stir in veggies, reduce heat and cook until they are soft.

3. To the mashed dal, add tamarind paste, sambar powder, salt, turmeric, veggie mixture, tomatoes and 2 cups water. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

4. Heat remaining 1 tbsp. oil in a small frying pan over medium-high heat. Add mustard seeds and sauté until they pop. Stir in curry leaves, if using. Pour over sambar. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Maximo's and Marc de Grazia Selections Wine Dinner

Join us at Maximo's Italian Grill with Anne Zakin, president of Marc de Grazie Imports USA, for a dinner featuring an outstanding selection of wines from the portfolio paired with Chef Thomas Woods creative cuisine. 

We're taking you on a tour of Italy presenting wines from the Veneto, Campagnia, Sicily, Tuscany and Alto Adige with a mix of obscure and well known grape varieties while Chef Woods' regionally inspired menu provides the perfect pairings. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

6:30pm Cocktails (cash bar), 7:00pm Dinner

$95 per person, tax and tip included (prepayment is required with reservation)

Maximo's Italian Grill, 1117 Decatur Street


Tonight's Menu
Wild mushroom veloute with confit green apple 
and shredded ham hock
2009 Kofererhof Kerner, Alto Adige

Marinated grilled sardines with baby arugula, capers, heirloom 
tomato and shredded Reggiano
2010 Cantine Antonio Caggiano Greco di Tufo Devon, Campania
Veal Napoleon with roasted red bell pepper marinara 
and braised fennel
2008 Mazzi Valpolicella Classico Superiore Sanperetto, Veneto

House made crushed red pepper fettuccini served with duck confit, spinach, sun dried tomatoes and baby portobello, tossed in a mascarpone duck demi-glace
2007 Azienda Agricola Dei Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Toscano

Brown sugar pork belly accompanied by spicy whipped sweet potatoes 
topped with a black cherry compound butter
2009 Terre Nere Etna Rosso Guardiola, Sicilia

Braised farmers market peaches with toasted walnut and aged 
gorgonzola, accompanied by a vanilla gelato  
2007 Azienda Agricola Gini Recioto di Soave Col Foscarin, Veneto

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Who says 2002 was not a good year for Barolo?

We've been storing the 2002 Einaudi Barolo for a few years and decided to open it last night with a big, juicy steak.  Unbelievable!  We sold this wine for a ridiculous price when it was in stock so those of you who were lucky enough to get a few bottles, let me tell you that it is just singing right now! 2002 was a tough year - too much rain, not enough sun and a violent hail storm right before harvest meant that many skipped the vintage altogether or made very small amounts of wine.  But this wine is an excellent example of how really good producers can make a great wine even in a tough year!

Beautifully silky palate with rich dark cherries, earthy, baking spices and herbal notes with enough tannin to make the fat in the steak simply melt in your mouth.  We grill our steaks rare and serve them Tuscan style by pouring freshly fried sage, rosemary and olive oil over the sliced meat, and the combination was exquisite with this wine.  What a treat!  We don't have any more but if you can find it at a good price buy it!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Intriguing, Complex and Delicious Wines of Antonio Caggiano

My first introduction to the wines of Caggiano was in the fabulous "Ristorante Il Ritrovo" in the little hilltop town of Montepertuso overlooking Positano and the Bay of Salerno.  The restaurant was recommended by Chiara, the owner of our villa, as well as the Slow Food Guide to places to eat in Italy.  Chiara's brother Francesco oversees the wine program at the restaurant and during our recent visit, chose the wines for our dinner.  My only direction was for him to pick his personal local favorites to pair with our multi-course meal.  All of his selections were fantastic, but the wine that really stood our for me was the 2010 Caggiano Bechar Fiano di Avellino. All I could think of was how I was going to get this wine in the store so that I could enjoy it on a regular basis and of course share it with our customers!  I needed to find out more about this producer...

Well when we got home I was very excited to find out that the Caggiano wines were part of the Marco di Grazia portfolio, and that the other huge proponent of southern Italian wines in the city, Chef Josh Smith at a Mano, had also discovered the Caggiano wines on his recent trip to the region.  But Josh was one step ahead of me and had already contacted our friends at Uncorked about bringing in some of the wines.  So I was ecstatic to find out that the 2009 Caggiano Devon Greco di Tufo and the 2007 Caggiano Taurausi were already in the city!  And when I got to taste them last week while we were selecting wines for our upcoming dinner at Maximo's, I was totally blown away by the quality of these wines.  They are bringing in the Bechar Fiano for me next week, as well as more of the Devon Greco and the Taurasi is already in the shop.  These are "must try" wines and I'll probably do a little discount if you purchase all three once they come in.

There very few producers who capture my attention to this level, where each wine is so intriguing, complex and delicious that you can't wait to taste what is coming next.  The quality for the price in each of these three wines is outstanding, and they made me want to learn more about who Antonio Caggiano is and how he has come to make such great wine.

But just a little regional background first.  Caggiano is in Campagnia, my latest wine region obsession.  Located around the famous city of Napoli, to me this area is nothing short of paradise.  Incredible mountain vistas provide the backdrop for stunning coastal towns with the clearest aqua blue ocean waters I've ever seen, while Mount Vesuvio dominates the landscape and delivers the perfect soil for grape growing.  Land of bufalo mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes and a wine history that dates back to the ancient Greeks, it is a food and wine lovers dream come true.  Campagnia is known for its aromatic white wines like Falanghina, Fiano, Greco di Tufo, Coda de Volpe, but it the red wines made from Aglianco that really put the region on the map.

Architect, photographer, and grape grower, Antonio Caggiano's estate is located in the village of Irpina in Taurasi, the birthplace of the Aglianico vine.  At its best, Aglianico yields wonderfully complete, structured wines capable of extended cellaring.  The Taurasi region is often referred to as the Barolo of the South because its Aglianico wines are stunning and built for long aging. Like many of the other great areas for winemaking, Taurasi is comprised of high altitude vineyards of volcanic soil. Hot days and cool nights allow for slow, long, growing seasons providing grapes with the perfect ripeness balanced by bright and refreshing acidity.
Caggiano is famous for his reds, as Robert Parker says "Antonio Caggiano makes some of the most delicious and accessible Aglianicos in Campania, making his wines a great choice for readers who want to explore one of Italy’s most fascinating grapes." He makes three different Agliancos and the flagship Macchia dei Goti Taurasi, is currently available.  Stephen Tanzer says that "the Macchia dei Goti Taurasi has to be considered one of the benchmarks for this DOCG, and for the aglianico variety as well."  I tasted the 2007 vintage of this wine a few weeks ago over at Uncorked with a group of other wine nuts and we all fell head over heels for it.  Ripe dark fruits, exotic spices, tobacco and mocha with smoky minerality, every time I put my nose in the glass something different emerged.  I can't wait to cook a meal around this wine...

But my first introduction to Caggiano was with his white wines, which I think are some of the best I've tasted from the region.  Rich, extremely aromatic and complex, these wines make your mouth water for the fresh seafood of Campagnia.  His Fiano di Avellino is named Bechar after a locality in the Sahara desert where Antonio Caggiano carried out a photo essay.  Although it is all stainless steel fermentation, it has a richness on the palate that I've not really tasted in other Fianos, luscious and full-bodied apricot and honeyed wine but still dry and focused. And then there is the Greco di Tufo named Devon after a photo essay he did in an area of the Arctic Circle.  Plush tropical fruit, peach and almond blossom but dry, fresh, balanced, it still has all of the acidity and minerality you want from a Greco.  This wine will be in lineup for our upcoming dinner at Maximo's.

Caggiano uses organic and sustainable viticultural practices and the estate takes part in a program sponsored by the Campania Region for integrated insect and disease control. The bureau provides subsidies to estates practicing organic agriculture and using techniques that reduce their environmental impact. Strict inspections ensure progress and results. Sulfur and copper-based products are used in accordance with organic guidelines to combat mold and pests. The soil is analysed regularly and, when needed, only organic fertilizers are used.

So as you can tell, I'm a little more than excited by these wines and am anxiously awaiting the arrival of the whites.  The Taurasi is in stock now and I should have the others in a week or so.  And while I do find these wines spectacular, I would be remiss if I didn't mention my other favorite producers in the region.  Alois, San Gregorio, Mastroberardino, Taburno and Benito Ferrari all make exceptional Campagnia wines and you know if you pick up any bottle produced by them at any price level you will be assured a high quality wine. 

Here are a few of the reviews I found on the Caggiano wines we currently have access to:

2007 Cantine Antonio Caggiano Taurasi Vigna Macchia dei Goti (RP 92pts)- "The 2007 Taurasi Vigna Macchia dei Goti is a huge, exotic wine that bursts onto the palate with masses of super-ripe dark fruit, incense and tobacco. I am not certain how this unusually supple, opulent Taurasi will age, but it will deliver immense pleasure along the way. Anticipated maturity: 2015-2025. Antonio Caggiano makes gorgeous wines that show the more refined side of Campania's indigenous grapes."

2010 Cantine Antonio Caggiano Fiano di Avellino Bechar (RP 91pts)- "The 2010 Fiano di Avellino Bechar is fabulous. The aromatics alone are breathtaking. Smoke, flowers and ash are some of the notes that emerge from this rich, textured white. The aromas and flavors meld together beautifully in this generous, sumptuous yet beautifully balanced Fiano di Avellino. Anticipated 
 maturity: 2011-2015."

2008 Cantine Antonio Caggiano Greco di Tufo Devon (WS 92pts) - "Dried pineapple and ash aromas follow through to a full body, delivering lots of mineral character. This has a citrus peel and apricot aftertaste, with layers of fruit. Drink now. 1,500 cases made."


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