Christmas dinner is typically an elaborate feast with a platter of roast meat and a plethora of sides. But this isn’t a typical Christmas. This winter holiday at the end of a nerve-wracking year calls for comfort food, without sacrificing that special-occasion feel. Fortunately, less traveling means more time to cook, and smaller gatherings make it less daunting to break away from the classics and try something new.
For a Christmas recipe fit for this unprecedented season, turn to chef Manish Mehrotra, whose Indian Accent restaurants exemplify that balance between comforting and dazzling. With locations in New Delhi and New York City, the restaurants showcase Mehrotra’s signature, modernized approach to Indian cuisine in a fine-dining setting. “It’s more of a global Indian food,” he tells Wine Spectator. “At heart, it’s Indian food, Indian flavors, Indian spices and everything, but the combinations are a bit different ... it is challenging, but it’s also fun.”
Born in the small city of Patna in eastern India, Mehrotra attended hotel-management school in Mumbai and worked with several hospitality groups before opening the original Indian Accent in New Delhi in 2009, and then its U.S. sibling in 2016. In addition to drawing inspiration from other international cuisines, both outposts highlight local ingredients from their respective regions. In New York, there’s a baked paneer with baby turnips and ghee-roasted lamb with roti pancakes among the à la carte options. In New Delhi, tasting-menu dishes include paneer with roast pepper and coriander curry, and confit duck kabab with crispy sevai (a rice noodle popular in southern India that’s similar to vermicelli).
Another dish that has been featured on Mehrotra’s New Delhi menu is the one he suggests for this holiday feast: Bengali rice kitsch-ree with mustard oil–fried sausage and masala mash fritters. The focal point of the dish is the kitsch-ree, which is Mehrotra’s riff on khichdi, an Indian dish of rice and dal (dried split peas, lentils or mung beans cooked until soft) that has traditionally been seen as far from gourmet. “It is, or was, India’s comfort food, long before Maggi noodles arrived on our shores,” he says. “Every community has its own khichdi recipe, but the two basic ingredients do not change.”
According to Mehrotra, khichdi “for too long has been confined to the home kitchen in India” and is now making refined appearances on menus from Indian chefs in London. The classic version is vegetarian, a diet Mehrotra’s family practiced in his household growing up. But as he recalls, “nobody stopped us from eating it outside the house,” so he has long been incorporating animal proteins into his cuisine.
For his non-vegetarian version, Mehrotra suggests using any “good, meaty pork sausage,” but chicken sausage is also an option. He likens the hearty, warming dish to the British staple of bangers and mash, though the finished product has more complexity. “The sausage is a bit spicy, but not a blow-your-mind kind of a spicy, with a very comforting, risotto-type [kitsch-ree] ... and you garnish it with a papad (a thin, crisp flatbread, also known as papadum), so it gives a different crunch to the dish,” he says. “It’s a flavor explosion in your mouth, but still in a subtle way.”
While making this at home requires a bit of advance planning, the result is a complete, satisfying, well-rounded dish. And though the recipe may feature some unfamiliar ingredients, such as asafetida (a pungent, powdered herb extract that gives oomph to the other flavorings in the dish), fenugreek leaves (milder than the seeds) and moong dal (dried split mung beans; lentils could be substituted), those can be easily sourced between Indian grocery stores and major retailers like Whole Foods and Amazon.
Mehrotra’s only word of warning is to be sure you’re creating a kitsch-ree with a smooth and silky texture that’s almost like a porridge. “There should not be any lumps in it, so make sure you keep on stirring while cooking and that it’s mixed very well.” The kitsch-ree can even be made a day in advance and reheated on the stove. “The only thing is, when you’re reheating it, you have to add a little bit of water and mix it nicely and remove all the lumps.”
The masala mash fritter mixture can be prepped up to four hours in advance, then fried just before serving for optimal freshness.
For a complementary palate-cleansing wine, Mehrotra pulls Hudson Vineyards Chardonnay Napa Valley Carneros 2016. “This dish is buttery and silky in taste and texture, and the sausage is a bit smoky and pickled. So a nice semi-dry Chardonnay goes very well with it," he explains, to help clear your mouth when you eat the kitsch-ree and allow you to enjoy the flavor in the sausage.
Alcohol consumption is still a bit of a taboo in India, where it’s highly regulated and restricted. Nevertheless, Mehrotra developed an affinity for wine and a knack for pairings, and Indian Accent’s New Delhi location manages to offer thoughtfully curated wine pairings, despite sourcing challenges. “You are dependent on government agencies and wine importers to supply you wines,” he says. “We really have to work really hard.” He credits his informal wine education to his international travels, which exposed him to many different regions and styles. “That is what really helped me to pair my menu in India with the wines, even if we have a limited selection.”
The location in New York, where global wines are much more accessible, features a list so impressive that it holds Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence. Overseen by wine director Anibal Calcagno, the program comprises nearly 450 selections with highlights in France, Italy, Germany, Austria, California, Oregon and Madeira. Accessibility is an important factor in the moderately priced wine program, and also a key reason behind Mehrotra’s pick of a “universally liked” style of Chardonnay to match this dish. Because in the final stretch of a tough 2020, few things sound better than a crowd-pleasing wine alongside a big bowl of comfort food.
Bengali Rice Kitsch-ree with Mustard Oil–Fried Sausage and Masala Mash Fritters
For the masala mash fritters (makes about 8 fritters):
- 1 teaspoon ghee
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon ginger, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon Thai green chiles, chopped
- 1 pinch asafetida
- 2 tablespoons boiled potatoes, mashed
- 1/2 teaspoon chaat masala (a tangy Indian spice blend)
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
- Salt, to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon garam masala powder (an Indian ground spice blend)
- 1/2 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi)
- 1/4 teaspoon lime juice
- 2 cups tempura flour
- 2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs
- Vegetable oil for frying
For the masala gravy (makes about 2 cups):
- 3 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 medium red onions, chopped
- 1 1/2 tablespoons store-bought ginger-garlic paste
- 4 teaspoons kashmiri red chili powder (mild in heat)
- 1/2 tablespoon turmeric powder
- 2 tablespoons coriander powder
- 2 large tomatoes or three medium tomatoes, chopped
- Salt, to taste
For the rice:
- 2/3 cup Gobindo bhog rice (an aromatic, short-grain, sticky white rice variety popular in Bengal) or any Indian rice
- 1 tablespoon ghee (this clarified butter can be bought jarred or made at home)
- Salt, to taste
For the dal:
- 1/3 cup moong dal (dried split mung beans)
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
- Salt, to taste
For the kitsch-ree:
- 2 teaspoons ghee
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon Thai green chiles, chopped
- 2 teaspoons masala gravy (see recipe)
- 2 teaspoons tomatoes, deseeded by halving and then scooping out the seeds, and chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon kashmiri red chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1/4 teaspoon garam masala powder
- Salt, to taste
- Boiled dal (see recipe)
- Cooked rice (see recipe)
- 2 teaspoons salted butter
For the sausage:
- 4 pork sausages
- 2 teaspoons mustard oil
- 8 teaspoons masala gravy (see recipe)
- 4 tablespoons raw mango pickle (optional)
- 2 teaspoons lime juice
- Pieces from one or two papads, roasted based on package instructions
Start the masala mash fritters:
1. Heat ghee in a large pan over medium. Add cumin seeds, coriander seeds, chopped ginger, Thai green chiles and a pinch of asafetida. Add boiled, mashed potatoes and chaat masala. Sprinkle in turmeric powder, salt and garam masala powder. Sauté well until the potatoes start to stick to the bottom of the pan, 12 to 15 minutes, but be careful that they do not burn. Finish with dried fenugreek leaves and lime juice. Set aside to cool.
2. Add tempura flour to a large bowl and slowly mix in water, using the amount of water that’s listed in the instructions of your tempura flour of choice. Whisk well until smooth and set aside.
Prepare the masala gravy:
1. Heat oil over medium in a kadhai, non-stick wok or any medium-to-high–sided, large skillet. Add cumin seeds and bay leaf. Add chopped onions and sauté until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add ginger-garlic paste and sauté for another minute. Add red chili powder, turmeric powder and coriander powder. Sauté for just a few seconds before adding chopped tomatoes and salt.
2. Continue to sauté until droplets of oil appear and masala thickens, about 12 to 15 minutes. The gravy should be almost a paste, not of pouring consistency. Set aside.
Prepare the rice:
1. Wash the rice in cold water at least twice. Place in a bowl and cover with just enough water to top the rice. Soak for 30 minutes.
2. Add to a pot with 3/4 cup of water, ghee and salt and boil for time listed on package instructions. Drain the water, and keep the cooked rice aside.
Prepare the dal:
Boil moong dal with turmeric and salt, according to package instructions. Set aside.
For the kitsch-ree:
1. Heat ghee in a pan over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and allow to crackle for 1 minute. Add chopped ginger, garlic and Thai green chiles. Fry for 5 to 7 minutes. Add masala gravy, chopped tomatoes, red chili powder, turmeric powder, garam masala powder and salt.
2. Pour in the boiled moong dal and add the cooked rice. Mix well and reduce heat to a simmer, letting it simmer for 10 to 12 minutes. Add a little water if you find it’s becoming too thick. The finished kitsch-ree should be creamy and runny in consistency. Stir in butter and set aside.
Cook the sausage:
1. Make closely spaced gashes that penetrate the skin of each sausage to prevent the skin from curling when the sausage is cooked. Either leave the sausages whole or cut them into pieces, depending on preference.
2. If using the optional mango pickle, remove the pith from the mango pieces in the pickle. Puree mango pickle in a blender and strain to make a smooth paste.
3. Heat mustard oil in a frying pan over medium-high until it begins to smoke. Add masala gravy and mango pickle paste, if using. Fry for 4 to 5 minutes. Toss the sausage into the pan. When the sausage is cooked through, remove from the heat and finish with lime juice.
Fry the masala mash fritters:
1. In a large pot, heat oil to 340° F. Add panko breadcrumbs to a wide and shallow dish. Shape the fritter mixture into medium-sized dumplings (each fritter should weigh about 3/4 of an ounce), dip in prepared tempura batter and coat with panko breadcrumbs.
2. Working in batches if needed so the fritters don’t overlap, deep-fry in hot oil until golden and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes, flipping halfway through to ensure even cooking. Remove with tongs and gently shake off the excess oil and then transfer to a plate.
For each serving, spoon the kitsch-ree into a pasta bowl, or on to a plate. Place the sausage on top, with masala mash fritters on the side. Garnish with roasted papad of your choice. Serves 4.
8 Palate-Cleansing White Wines
Note: The following list is a selection of outstanding and very good wines from recently rated releases. More options can be found in our Wine Ratings Search.
Soave Classico La Froscà 2016
Score: 91 | $34
WS review: A rich, creamy Soave, with vanilla and spice hints accenting the glazed apricot, biscuit and pastry cream notes. Sleek acidity gives this definition and focus, creating a lightly mouthwatering impression on the smoke-tinged finish. Drink now through 2024. 1,650 cases made. From Italy.—Allison Napjus
Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley Estates Collection 2018
Score: 91 | $35
WS review: Open-textured and lush, with toasty accents to the glazed pear and lemon meringue flavors. The buttery finish shows a savory richness that lingers with smoky hints. Drink now through 2024. 9,293 cases made. From California.—Kim Marcus
Alto Adige Cuvée Terlaner 2018
Score: 91 | $31
WS review: Rich flavors of melon, Gala apple, grated ginger and stony mineral are layered with sleek acidity, all framed in a svelte, elegant form. This is finely balanced and medium-bodied, with a lingering, mouthwatering finish displaying hints of spice, smoke and apple blossom. Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Drink now through 2025. 18,333 cases made. From Italy.—A.N.
Rully Montmorin 2017
Score: 89 | $29
WS review: This white starts out creamy, turning leaner and more focused as the bright acidity emerges. Apple, butterscotch and vanilla flavors prevail through the moderately long finish. Drink now through 2023. 2,000 cases made. From France.—Bruce Sanderson
Chardonnay Robertson Bon Vallon 2019
Score: 89 | $20
WS review: An elegant, well-knit white, with vibrant acidity behind the lemon and apple flavors, revealing subtle hints of salted butter. The smooth texture and good focus give this charm and intrigue. Good length. Drink now through 2026. 3,000 cases made. From South Africa.—Aleksandar Zecevic
Chardonnay Napa Valley Los Carneros Single Vineyard 2018
Score: 89 | $29
WS review: Custardy hints accent the freshly cut green apple and pear flavors, backed by firm acidity. Toasty notes and green spice details show on the finish, with buttery hints. Drink now through 2024. 1,200 cases made. From California.—K.M.
Chardonnay Monterey County 2018
Score: 88 | $18
WS review: Fleshy and well-spiced, with snappy acidity backing the freshly cut Gala apple and poached pear flavors. The toasty finish bears buttery accents. Drink now through 2023. 3,000 cases made. From California.—K.M.
Chardonnay Napa Valley 2017
Score: 88 | $20
WS review: Apple and almond tart flavors feature citrusy accents in this minerally style. Smoke and spice details show on the finish. Drink now. 13,500 cases made. From California.—K.M.