Pairings: Why to try riesling alongside Indian dal

There is something quite beguiling about our Wine of the Week, the Smith-Madrone 2016 Napa Valley Spring Mountain District Riesling ($34). You could call it a quirky beauty, with an abundance of midpalate fruit that is never overwhelming and does not create impressions of sweetness.

It is this beautiful overlay of fruit that makes the wine a standout. You’ll notice white peach and nectarine, yellow peach and nectarine, baked apple and pear, with hints of tart citrus zest.

There is a beautiful flourish of minerality, too, which you notice best on the finish, especially when you take a deep breath just after swallowing a mouthful.

The wine takes its style from Alsace, France, and as you would expect, it is wonderful with some of the region’s foods. A simple fondue or raclette with potatoes and cornichons is a seductive partner.

The wine also provides a refreshing contrast to some of the classic gratins of the region, including a stunningly luscious cabbage gratin.

But the wine also crosses geographic borders. It is outstanding with many Indian and Thai curries, provided they don’t have too much heat (the wine can take a little without turning bitter).

You may also enjoy it with white, yellow and red lentils as well as young chickpeas, which are the inspiration for today’s pairing.

Although dal, as Indian lentil soups are called, is often served in small portions at the beginning of a meal, this version is hearty enough to be a main course.

Channa Dal with Rice, ?Yogurt & Chutney

Makes 4 servings

1 cup channa dal (split baby chickpeas), red lentils (masoor dal), or yellow split peas (matar dal), picked through and soaked in water for several hours or overnight

3 tablespoons clarified butter, ghee, or olive oil

1 yellow onion, cut into small dice

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

- Kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom seeds

- Whole nutmeg

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1 cup basmati or jasmine rice, rinsed

- Black pepper in a mill

3/4 cup plain whole milk yogurt

- Chutney of choice (see Note below)

1 cup plain yogurt

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Drain the lentils, put them into a medium saucepan and add about ?4 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat, and simmer gently until the lentils soften and begin to fall apart. Add water as needed. Skim off any foam that forms on the surface.

Meanwhile, put the fat into a medium sauté pan set over medium low heat, add the onion, and sauté until soft and fragrant, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add the garlic, sauté 2 minutes more, and season with salt.

Add the cumin, turmeric, cayenne, cardamom, and a few gratings of nutmeg. Stir gently for ?2 minutes. Add the grated ginger, stir, and remove from the heat.

Cook the rice according to package directions; remove from the heat and let rest 10 to 15 minutes before fluffing with a fork.

When the lentils are nearly tender, stir in the onion mixture and continue to cook gently until the lentils have completely fallen apart; thin with a little water if necessary to achieve a proper soup texture, which should be thick but not too thick. Taste, correct for salt, and season with several generous turns of black pepper.

To serve, add a large scoop of rice to individual bowls and ladle soup over it. Top with a generous dollop of yogurt, a generous spoonful of chutney and some cilantro leaves, and enjoy right away.

Note: Chutney refers to a wide range of Indian condiments, some made primarily of fresh herbs and others made of fruit, aromatics, spices, and sugar that are simmered for many hours. With this soup, you can use the cooked type, readily available in most supermarkets and often at farmers markets.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date. Email her at

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