Winter cuisine in my house means a constant parade of spicy concoctions – soups, stews, and goulashes made with any number of foraged fridge, veggies and various leftovers that are usually on the brink of heading to the rubbish bin. What can I say? My mom was a WWII generation Scott and nothing went to waste in her busy kitchen. She was an accomplished and thrifty culinary technician. I began taking mental notes at a very young age.
The spices I tend to use the most are chilies, curries, coriander, cumin, cardamom and Ethiopian berbere. All of these spices infuse an aromatic heat. Alcoholic beverages that pair best are those that are light, fruity and on the sweeter side: Not sticky sweet but fruity and off-dry sweet. With regard to wines and hard ciders, you may have heard the term residual sugar. If, for example, you are looking for an off-dry to lightly sweet wine, you will want something in the 1.5 to 3 percent residual sugar range.
Most good restaurants with Indian cuisine have a Riesling or Gewurztraminer on the wine list. These wines have heavenly aromatics when they are made in an off-dry style. Served very cold, they pair perfectly with spicy dishes. The bit of sweet in the wine highlights the more subtle tones of stronger-flavored spices and herbs. Other than wine, lighter-style pilsners and ambers work well. Hard ciders are a fantastic choice when finding the right beverage pairing with any number of warm cuisine; Indian, Mexican, Central American, Argentinean, Thai, Vietnamese, etc.
A quick lesson on figuring out what is dry and what is sweet on the wine aisle: U.S. wine labels will usually specify the sweetness or dryness on a label – especially in the case of Riesling. European labels are a bit more mysterious. German wine labels always indicate sweetness levels. Kabinett is dry. Spätlese is off-dry. Auslese is medium-sweet. Beerenauslese is sweet, as is the case of Eiswein (ice wine). Trockenbeerenauslese is very sweet, late-harvest dessert wine. Sec means dry in French. Demi-Sec is off-dry. These terms are usually specified on labels of Chenin Blanc aka Vouvray wines.
When in doubt, ask the wine clerk or download a good wine app like Delectable or Plonk.
Written by Pam Long