IPAs And Indian Food: Like Peas And Carrots (In Mumbai)

Fact: Indian food is incredibly flavorful and can be quite spicy.
Fact: India pale ales are incredibly flavorful and can be quite bitter.
Fact: It's difficult to pair beer with Indian food.
Fact: It's difficult to pair food with IPAs.
Fact: Indian food and IPAs were made for each other, literally.

That last fact should be self-evident, but if it was Indian restaurants (at least the ones around here) would stick a few Loose Cannons, maybe an Avery IPA on the menu. But that's not the case. Instead, your beer options are limited to a redundant list of light lagers whose labels might invoke thoughts of India - Kingfisher, Taj - but are otherwise indistinguishable from the light lagers made in St. Louis and Golden, Colo.

To be fair, lagers have been the beer of choice in India for more than a century. In fact, lagers are the beer of choice in most parts of the world. There was a time, though, when bitter, hop-forward ales from England were all the rage on the subcontinent (and then the Indians booted out their British overlords and switched to the German stuff).

Travel to England today and you'll be hard pressed to find a pub that doesn't have curry on the menu. For a people known for fried fish and sausages, they have fully embraced an Indian staple as their own (thanks to their old Asian holdings). But travel to India, and the culinary cultural exchange doesn't stand up, at least where beer is concerned. 

That's a shame because there may be no better beverage to pair with a spicy curry than a hoppy India pale ale.

As craft beer has become more popular over the past decade, so too has the idea that beer can be paired with more than burgers and pizza. Thomas Keller commissioned Russian River Brewing and Brooklyn Brewery to make special beers for his restaurants The French Laundry and Per Se. Here in D.C., Chef Eric Ziebold's tasting menu at CityZen has included a beer course, and Michel Richard imports the Belgian pilsner Blusser for his restaurant Central. And then there's Birch & Barley, which offers a beer pairing with each course of Chef Kyle Bailey's tasting menu.

Once the domain of wine, beer is being recognized as an ideal accompaniment to food. Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewing and author of The Brewmaster's Table, has gone even further to say that beer offers a wider range of flavors and styles, making it the ideal accompaniment to food. (The Brewmaster's Table, as it happens, is a book about pairing food with beer.)

That may be true, but when it came to Indian cuisine, I never gave it much thought. As oafish at it may sound, I viewed curries and kormas as ethnic food made by people from foreign lands. So if the people running the restaurant wanted to offer a few light lagers with their dishes, so be it. Their food, their beer. After all, you go to Indique for the food not the drink. Well, a cold Fisherking may be common in Mumbai's curry houses, but it's not the ideal beer for the food. The ideal one might just be a California pale ale. (I know it's not an IPA. I'll get to that.)

Book I got thinking about this particular food and beer pairing after reading Pete Brown's latest book, Hops and Glory. In it, the British beer writer explores the development of the IPA and England's colonization of India, and chronicles his journey from Burton-Upon-Trent (the birthplace of IPAs) to Calcutta with a keg of IPA in tow. It's a good book, and in it Brown makes the point that IPAs not only go well with Indian cuisine, they taste like they were made for it.

"[The IPA he brought from England] really was dangerously drinkable, and when the tandoori canapés came round it went beautifully, cutting through the heat and harmonizing with the spices so perfectly it was as if the beer had been designed specially to go with the cuisine, and perhaps it had."

That sparked my interest. While Oliver and other beer writers have made the point that IPAs can go well with very flavorful dishes and spicy foods, Brown's 450 page treatise on the matter convinced me to try the pairing myself.

Because Indian restaurants don't offer India pale ales, I conducted my tasting at the next logical location: the Iron Horse bar in Penn Quarter.

I like the Iron Horse, a lot. Not only does it offer a great selection of craft beers and is home to bartender extraordinaire Scott Stone, but it has a tavern license. What that tavern license means is that they don't serve food, so you can bring in food from anywhere. As long as you're drinking, that's no problemo. You can even have food delivered and never leave your barstool. That's turned the Iron Horse into my go-to bar for watching college football (Pattison Avenue and pints, people) and in this case, my go-to spot for lamb vindaloo and IPAs.

DSC_0030 The vindaloo, which I picked up from nearby Mehak, was great. Chunks of lamb and potato swam in a pool of fiery red curry. It was delicious, and completely overwhelmed my pallet. The onion kulcha, a doughy flat bread filled with onions, was good, but no match for the vindaloo.

For the pairing, I ordered Flying Dog's Double Dog imperial IPA, which clocks in at 11.5% A.B.V.; Flying Dog's Snake Dog IPA, which comes in at a more modest 7.1% A.B.V.; Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (on the theory that English IPAs aren't nearly as high in alcohol as our IPAs), which runs 5.6% A.B.V.; and Sierra Nevada's new Juniper Black Ale, a hoppy 8% A.B.V. black IPA.

Of the four beers, the two with the lowest alcohol levels paired the best with the spicy Indian dish. The Double Dog (a personal favorite) was much too sweet for the dish and the heat of the vindaloo overwhelmed whatever hop characteristics the Juniper Black Ale had, making it taste like an ordinary stout. On the other hand, the IPA and pale ale were spot on.

Although the IPAs didn't compliment the curry in the same way the dark stouts compliment chocolate and coffee flavors, the Snake Dog IPA and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale stood their ground with the vindaloo. A dish with the much flavor and heat would turn a Taj to water, but the IPAs remained bright, hoppy and citrusy deep into the bowl.

Between the two beers, I favored the pale ale. Both went well, but the bitter bite from the Snake Dog and the spicy of the vindaloo were a bit much for me. The Sierra Nevada, though, was refreshing, and the subtler hop bitterness helped restore my taste buds between bites.

These results shouldn't have been surprising, even if they were. This food and this style of beer should be easier to find together, even if it's not. But the fact is, IPAs pair well with Indian food, even if you have to bring the food to the beer.

And if Indian isn't your thing or you want a few more pairing options, you could try Thai (which Scott suggested) or fried chicken (which my wife suggested). I think they're both right. If it's spicy enough or fried enough, it can be matched up with an IPA. Brooklyn's Oliver has suggested pairing IPAs with fried fish, Mexican and calamari. Point being, IPAs go well with spicy and greasy food. When it comes to pairing Indian food with beer, though, I don't think there's a better option than an IPA (or pale ale).

Iron Horse Taproom
507 7th St. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20004
(202) 347-7665

817 7th St. N.W.
Washington D.C., DC 20001
(202) 408-9292

Grilled Lamb Sandwiches: Upgrading From The Same Old Tailgating Grub

DSCN5640 When it comes to tailgate grilling, what do you think of? Burgers? Dogs? Maybe wings if you're feeling it?

All of these are great options ... that we have all the time.

So every now and then, it's good to change up the menu some. I'm not saying you have to drop the brats from the lineup, just consider a substitution. Consider a hot pressed, grilled lamb sandwich. It's a hell of a thing, and it can take less time to prepare than an Oscar-Mayer frank.

As much as I love grilling, when I'm at a tailgate party, I want to focus on football and beer drinking. Firing up the grill is part of the experience, I just don't want it to be the primary experience. Most of us, I suspect, are of the same mind.

However, there is that group of people out there who like to show up at the stadium parking lot hours before the game and cook elaborate meals. You can do that with this recipe, if you want. Or, you can prepare everything the day, or week, before and do the final steps within minutes. It's your tailgate, do what you want.

DSCN5605 Sadly, I live nowhere near my college team (South Florida) or my pro team (the Bucs). So I spend most weekends planted on my couch. But to demonstrate that this recipe can be done at a tailgate, I broke out my tiny Weber grill - the same grill that I've taken to numerous tailgating events.

Basically, all you're doing is making a sandwich. But man, what a sandwich. I marinated half a butterflied lab leg in rosemary, garlic, oregano and basil overnight. Grilled it along with some onions, and then thin sliced the meat for the sandwich. Along with the lamb and onions, I added brie and blue cheese, arugula (I like some green on my sandwiches) and finished it with roasted garlic mayo.

Once the sandwich is assembled, I wrapped it in foil and pressed it on the grill using a brick. The cheese melts, the bread gets crusty and your tailgate meal gets exponentially better.

If someone handed you this sandwich and a beer at 11:30 a.m. on a Sunday, you'd know your day was starting off right.

DSCN5644 This is the point in the grilling post that I normally talk about what beer to pair with the meal. Not this time. When it comes to tailgating, you either drink whatever your buddy brought or you pick up a couple six packs of your favorite beer. Making sure the beer pairs well with the pre-game meal isn't (or shouldn't be) a consideration.

Instead, I'm going to discuss Abita's Save Our Shore, a big, unfiltered weizen pilsner that you'll feel good drinking, and not just because of the 7 percent A.B.V.

As it did after Hurricane Katrina, the brewery from Abita Springs, La., has produced a beer to raise money for a recovery effort. In 2005, Abita released Restoration Ale and for every six pack sold, the brewery donated a dollar to the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation.

Following the BP oil spill in the Gulf (which has not magically disappeared), Abita produced Save Our Shore. For every one of the 22 ounce bottles sold, Abita will donate 75 cents to SOS, a charitable fund managed by the Northshore Community Foundation and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.

It's a great cause and a great beer.

DSCN5628Hot-Pressed Grilled Lamb Sandwiches
(Makes 6 generous servings)

Half a lamb leg, butterflied
8 oz. brie, cut into slices
8 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
2 large onions, cut into thick slices
5 whole pieces of fresh rosemary
1 tbs. dried oregano
1 tbs. dried basil
3 heads of garlic, one chopped and two whole (the two whole heads are optional)
olive oil
8 tbs. mayonnaise
Kosher salt and black pepper
Sandwich rolls (ciabatta bread works, as does crusty French bread)
Aluminum foil
2 bricks
Large sealable freezer bag

Like I said, you can do everything up to pressing the sandwiches the day before, or cook everything in the parking lot.

DSCN5601 The day before you grill the lamb, place it in the freezer bag with the rosemary, oregano, basil, chopped garlic and 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Seal the bag and rub the oil and spices on the lamb. Make sure all the air is out of the bag and place it in the refrigerator overnight.

If you want roasted garlic mayo for the sandwich (you do), chop the tops off the two remaining heads of garlic, place each in a sheet of aluminum foil, coat with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt. Seal the foil and roast the garlic in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. When the garlic is done, allow the heads to cool, squeeze out the soft garlic cloves, mash and mix with your mayonnaise.

When you're ready to grill the lamb, make sure your grill is set up with a hot zone and a cool zone. Remove the lamb from the bag, discard the rosemary and wipe off the seasoning. Lightly coat the lamb with olive oil or vegetable oil and generously season with salt and pepper. Do the same with the slices of onion.

Place the lamb on the hottest part of the grill, fat-side down. Sear the lamb for 5 to 7 minutes, being careful to watch for flare-ups. Turn the lamb over and move to the cool side of the grill, close the lid and allow to cook for 50 minutes.

Remove the lid, place the onions on the grill, and close the lid. After 5 minutes, flip the onions.

Once the onions are cooked, everything can come off the grill. Allow the lamb to rest for 20 minutes before slicing it.

When slicing the lamb, keep in mind that it's more complicated than steak. The muscle fibers in a lamb leg are not nice and uniform like they are in beef. So, you'll have to cut the lamb into pieces, and then cut thin slices off those pieces, always cutting against the grain. Take your time, and as you slice the lamb, make sure the pieces are thin enough to be bitten through easily.

DSCN5634 Now, assemble the sandwich and wrap in aluminum foil, making sure the whole thing is covered. If you're doing this the day before, you're done for now. If you've cooked everything at the tailgate, it's time to go back to the grill.

Place the wrapped sandwiches on the grill and set your bricks on top. If the sandwiches just came out of a cooler, they'll need about six minutes per side. If they're freshly made, give them about three minutes per side. Flip the sandwiches, put the bricks back on.

You'll know the sandwiches are done when you unwrap the foil and see nothing but melted cheese and crusty bread. Now go grab a beer, it's almost 11 a.m.

The Perpetual Grill: Leg of lamb, charred garlic and onions, and berry cobbler

Image019 Monday was Memorial Day, the official start of the grilling season, blah, blah, blah. Naturally, food writers across the land responded in kind. You couldn't open a newspaper, thumb through a magazine, or log onto a food-related Website last week without learning how to grill a hamburger or skewer zucchini.

Well, here at D.C. Foodies, we know that grilling isn't a seasonal pursuit. That's why we bring you the grilling knowledge all year long.

As long as we have fire, we will grill.

The warmer weather did, however, give me the opportunity to break in my new backyard. The missus and I certainly enjoyed living on Capitol Hill, but our tiny apartment wasn't much for entertaining (though that never stopped us). I was lucky enough to have a small patio for my charcoal grill, but now I have land for my gas and charcoal equipment to roam. Hell yeah.

For my inaugural backyard soirée, I went big: leg of lamb on a spit, charred scallions and young garlic, homemade tzatziki, and mixed berry cobbler on the grill. To drink, I picked up a few six packs of Duck-Rabbit, one of North Carolina's many great breweries finally making their way into our area.

I was particularly excited about the lamb. It's one of my favorite meats and perfect for grilling. Consequently, it graced the grates of my old Weber many, many times, many, many ways: chops, steaks, kabobs and butterflied leg. Thanks to my new gas grill, I can now add rotisserie to the list.

Honestly, I don't know if there's a prettier sight than five pounds boneless leg of lamb slowly turning and sweating on a grill. (Decadent tip: Rather than loose all that luscious lamb fat, stick a pan of potatoes underneath the meat. Roasted potatoes in lamb fat -- come on people, what more can I do for you?)
As for the vegetables, I snagged a couple bunches of young garlic. They're in season and tasted great when I grilled them with the smoked pork chops a couple weeks back. I also grabbed few bundles of green onions.

By the way, if you're not grilling green onions, start. The heat cools the onion's bite, leaving you with a mild, sweet treat. Add a little salt, chunky black pepper and olive oil, and your day is going right. I find an excuse to throw on a few scallions nearly every time I light the grill.

The dessert, a berry cobbler, is a classic outdoor dish, as it can be done on a grill or campfire. Peaches also work here, but I'm not a fan and berries are in season. Just to be fancy (and because it's good), I finished the dessert with crème fraîche ice cream, and a drizzle of honey and balsamic vinegar.

And then there was the beer. I was pretty psyched when I heard Duck-Rabbit found its way up here. I used to live in Chapel Hill and am a big fan of the North Carolina brewing scene. Duck-Rabbit is certainly one of the better beers produced in the Tar Heel state, but there are many more and a few better ones. Hopefully, breweries like Big Boss, French Broad and Carolina Brewing will follow Duck-RImage043abbit north. 

For those of you going to Savor this week, swing by the Foothills table. You'll be glad you did  (especially if they bring their Seeing Double IPA). The Winston-Salem brewery might be producing the best beer in North Carolina and some of the best brews in the country. And if you want to check out a couple other North Carolina beers, you can find Highland and Carolina Beer Company at Total Wine, and occasionally in Greg Jasgur's always surprising beer lineup at Birreria Paradiso. If you're looking for Duck-Rabbit, I found it on tap at Rustico and RFD, and in the bottle at Whole Foods and Galaxy Hut.

So as your friends and neighbors are getting the rust off their grills and grilling skills to burn a few hot dogs, bust out a fat lamb leg and show them that for a few of us, the grilling season never ends.

Rotisserie lamb, grilled garlic and onions, and berry cobbler
(Makes 8 servings)

For the lamb and vegetablesImage025
1 5 lb. lamb leg, butterflied and tied
2 bundles of spring onions (about 8 onions a bundle)
2 bundles of young garlic (about 8 garlic stalks a bundle)
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup of fresh rosemary
1/4 cup of tarragon
3 tbs. oregano
1 clove of garlic, minced
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

For the tzatziki
1 16 oz container of Greek yogurt, plain
1/2 English cucumber, seeded and diced
1 lemon, zested and juiced
4 tbs. of dill
1 garlic clove, minced finely
Kosher salt to taste

For the berry cobbler
4 pints of blueberries
2 pints of raspberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp. lemon zest
2 tbs. lemon juice
3 biscotti cookies (1/2 cup)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces

The night before, marinate the lamb and prepare the tzatziki. For the lamb, coat the meat in olive oil and cover with the tarragon, three quarters of the rosemary, and the pepper. Because salt will draw moisture out of the meat, don't add any until you put the lamb on the grill. Cover with plastic wrap and stick it in the refrigerator. For the tzatziki, combine the ingredients in a bowl and taste. Adjust the seasoning as necessary.

Image010 When you're ready to start grilling, pull the lamb out of the refrigerator so it can lose some of the chill and generously sprinkle with salt. Light the grill and skewer the lamb. Once the lamb has had 30 minutes to warm up, place the spit on the grill, start the rotisserie and close the lid. If you like your lamb rare, it'll need an hour and a half with the rotisserie burner set to about medium heat. For more well done, shoot for two hours and an internal temperature of about 170 degrees.

In a bowl, combine the remaining oil and rosemary with the garlic, oregano and pepper. Baste the lamb leg with this sauce every 15 minutes.

As the lamb cooks, prepare the cobbler. Place the berries in a large mixing bowl and add the sugar, flour, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Gently toss, making sure not to crush the berries. Carefully move the mixture into a cast iron pan -- or a baking pan you're comfortable using on the grill -- that's been oiled

For the topping, combine the biscotti, flour, brown sugar in a food processor. Pulse the mixture until it's reduced to a coarse powder. Add in the butter and the salt, and pulse again. Spoon this mixture on top of the berries.

Image051 If you're using the same grill the lamb is cooking on, you'll have to bake the cobbler while the lamb leg rests. If you have a couple grills at your disposal, go ahead and throw the cobbler on. Whether you're using gas or charcoal, you'll want to cook the cobbler with the lid down for 40 minutes using indirect heat.

When the lamb is done, remove it from the grill, but not the spit, and let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes under a piece of aluminum foil. As it rests, brush the garlic and onions with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss on the grill for about four minutes per side, or until they pick up a nice char. You can also toss on a couple pieces of flat bread to warm up.

Image031 After the lamb has finished resting, remove the spit, carve it up and break out the tzatziki.

When the cobbler is ready, the crumbly crust should be golden brown with the fruit bubbling through. Try to let it cool off -- trust me, it's hot -- before dishing it up with your favorite ice cream.

Grilled Lamb with Neeps and Tatties

Image037This New Year’s Day, let’s pay homage to the man who helps us celebrate the occasion.

Sit down Dick Clark, I’m talking about Robert Burns. The 18th century Scottish poet, who gave us such classics as “Address to a Haggis” and “A Red, Red Rose,” penned “Auld Lang Syne.” Sure, none of us know the words, but that doesn’t stop us from mumbling through it every year.

Now, I imagine ol’ Rabbie Burns wasn’t much of a grilling guy, but he probably would’ve approved of my take on the Scottish staples lamb, neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes). Rather than mashing both vegetables -- the traditional method -- I grill the turnips with scallions. The sweet, smoky flavor of the turnips is the perfect contrast to the buttery mashed potatoes and savory lamb. In keepinImage055g with the Scottish theme, I used herbs and seasonings that could be found in Burns' Scotland. 

And what better way to chase away the Champagne hangover than a couple fingers of single malt Scotch (hair of the Scotty dog)? I'm a Macallan fan, myself, but with five distinct Scotch regions and dozens of distilleries to choose from, there are plenty of whiskies out there to like.

Grilled Lamb with Neeps and Tatties

(Makes four servings)

Image0091 2.5 lb. lamb leg, boneless

8 potatoes, (Yukon gold or other mashing potato) quartered

3 turnips, quartered

4 green onions

1 head of garlic, minced

2 tbs. thyme

1 stick of butter

1/4 cup of cream

Salt and cracked black pepper to taste


Before heading out for your New Year’s Eve celebrations, season the lamb with the salt, pepper, thyme and garlic. When you’re up and about the next day, pull the lamb out of the fridge and light the charcoal (if you have a gas grill, hold off lighting it until you’re ready to cook).

Add the turnips and potatoes to dueling pots of boiling salted water. Cook the turnips for about 10 minutes and the potatoes for about 20 minutes, or until both are tender. Pull the pots off the heat and drain the turnips and potatoes separately.

While the potatoes are still hot, add them back to the pot and mash with a wooden spoon or potato masher. Add the butter, salt, pepper and cream. Continue mashing in the pot until the ingredients are fully incorporated. For smoother potatoes, finish the potatoes off in a food processor. When finished, cover with aluminum foil and set them in a warm oven.

Image022Image027When the grill is ready, scrape the garlic off the lamb leg (as best you can) and place it over the hottest spot for three to four minutes until a crust forms. Turn the lamb and cook for another three minutes. Move the lamb to a cooler spot of the grill and cook with the cover on for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, uncover the grill, and coat the green onions and boiled turnips with vegetable oil and season with salt and black pepper. Place the vegetables on the grill next to the lamb, turning as necessary to prevent too much charring. When the turnips and onions are ready, the lamb should be ready to come off (if you like your lamb rare, pull it off after 30 minutes).

While the lamb leg rests for seven minutes, dice the onions and turnips and toss together.

When the lamb is ready, carve it up and pass it out with the neeps and turnips.

Happy New Year!