Pairing Cocktails With Indian Food Is Easy — Just Ask Maneet Chauhan

When in doubt, go for something bold.

<p>Food & Wine / Getty Images</p>

Food & Wine / Getty Images

Everyone knows to pair beer with Indian food — but cocktails are what raises the game.

However, you can’t just go pairing any mixed drink with dishes that are as nuanced as the biryanis, curries, and tandooris India puts forth. So, here to help is Maneet Chauhan — the award-winning chef, author, television personality, and founding partner of Nashville’s Morph Hospitality Group — who knows better than anybody how best to find the perfect pairing for your favorite Indian meal.  

Read on for some of her foolproof tips.

Go for bold flavor profiles

Indian cuisine, with its myriad of flavors and textures, is a culinary marvel. Pairing it with a too-subtle drink would be a disservice to its complexity.

Related: 11 Maneet Chauhan Recipes You Need to Add to Your Rotation

“Indian cuisine is so complex, as there are so many spices and layers of flavor and texture, so it has to be paired with cocktails that are bold enough to stand up to those flavors and textures. Usually, when I’m looking at pairing cocktails and dishes, I’m looking for something with similar layers of flavors,” says the 47-year-old Punjab-born chef. “The flavor profile of the cocktail shouldn’t end at just bitterness or sweetness — there needs to be a follow-through with every sip that offers a little bit of each of those characteristics, which is what I look for in food and cocktail pairings. I also love mimicking ingredients. For example, if I’ve added saffron to a dish, I’ll try to use a saffron bitter or make a saffron essence to add to the cocktail that will work along with the dish.”

But avoid using overpowering ingredients

Striking the right balance is key: Remember, there's a huge difference between bold and overpowering. And when it comes to Indian dishes, such as curries and biryanis, you want a drink that will hold its own while enhancing the food’s flavors. “I recommend avoiding very strong ingredients and flavors that will overpower the entire dish. For example, use rose syrup instead of rose essence because this is a very strong flavor, and there should only be a hint of it in your drink,” Chauhan advises. “I implement this into my cooking too, making sure not to create a meal that’s just one note and instead layering flavors to create a complex dish. If I’m using rose in a recipe, I’ll also use cardamom because these flavors complement each other as opposed to overpowering each other, creating a perfect marriage of flavor."

Remember that sweet cocktails aren’t always your friend

As Chauhan points out, people almost always think Indian food ought to be paired with sweet drinks — perhaps as an effort to quell the heat or the influence of the many herbs and spices used to create the layers of flavor. But it’s not exactly the right way to go.

Related: Maneet Chauhan's Secrets for Turning Strawberries Into Street Food

“When it comes to Indian cuisine, it’s a common misconception that Indian food should be paired with sweet ingredients because it grounds the flavors. This happens often with wine pairing as well — there’s an assumption that Indian food should be paired with sweet wine like a Riesling, but that will take away from the flavors being highlighted in your dish,” Chauhan says. “Instead, consider the different types of spices and how you can accentuate and create those flavors. American Single Malts like Stranahan’s are great for pairing with Indian cuisine because there’s such a range of notes — from sweet and spicy to smoky — that can enhance the flavors of your dish.”

Consider a whiskey-based cocktail

Chauhan likes to expound on the virtues of a whiskey-based drink — which, for the record, works perfectly with Indian dishes because they are both bold and complex and able to stand up to the nuanced flavors of Indian dishes. “The love of whiskey in the Indian subcontinent is really deep. It’s the go-to drink when you go to India and is considered the must-have spirit when celebrating good times,” Chauhan explains. “I always gravitate towards an Old Fashioned because of its versatility and how well it sits alongside other flavors on the palate.”

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