Wine and Sri Lankan 'Short Eats': Dinner at Dinesh's House

Posted by Dinesh Perera on August 08, 2014 (0 Comments)

Guest post by Emily Solomon. Emily is the Tasting Room Manager at Summerland Winery in Summerland, CA.

Tonight, we would all experience something riveting. Tonight, we would enjoy food not just through the senses of our smell and taste, but also through history. Stepping into Dinesh Perera and his wife, Jennifer McCandless’ home, I was pleasantly greeted by smells of cumin, ginger and cayenne. The combination of these exotic spices formed and separated, creating a salivating sensation in my mouth.

As I took off my shoes and sat down to the dinner table, I noticed the great female characters to the left, right and straight across from me, who would be joining me in experiencing Sri Lanka food in the most intimate setting; in a home with a true to life Sri Lankan Chef, preparing all of his creations right in front of our eyes. At first, we exchanged small talk about our days and careers over savory snacks called “Short Eats” that are commonly found in fast food shops in Sri Lanka. The first of the savory snacks was lamb samosas prepared with a fresh mint dipping sauce. The samosas were made using a classic Garam Masala made of black peppercorns, cloves, Ceylon cinnamon, cumin seeds, coriander seeds and cardamom pods. To top off the dish, my friend and I encourage the other guests to try the samosas with Summerland Winery’s 2012 Pinot Noir from their Estate Theresa-Noelle Vineyard, a full-bodied Pinot with light acidity and robust flavors of black cherry, nutmeg, chocolate and raspberries that accompanied the spices of the dish with incredible grace and roundness that only a Sta. Rita Hills Pinot could master.

Next, we moved onto the patties filled with fish, spiced with a Ceylon roast curry powder and paired with traditional mango chutney.  The chutney and the fish was a delectable combination; just the mere sounds of “mmm” would have made anyone think that we were all tasting the perfect marriage of sweet and spicy for the first time. My friend and I had only brought one white wine, Summerland Winery’s 2013 Viognier, however, the tropical fruit flavors of mango, melon and peach was able to pick up on similar flavors in the chutney incredibly well.

By this point, Dinesh had finally completed the rest of our meal and he was ready to join us. He kindly presented these yummy looking Sri Lanka beef patties with a side of savory sauce, only to be compared to one of the greatest comfort food dishes on the planet, beef wellingtons. The first bite was lip-smacking delicious and everything that came after that was pure bliss. The organic beef sautéed with onions, mashed potatoes, black pepper and cayenne exploded with flavor. The only wine that could stand up to the robust flavors of the patties was the Summerland 2012 Syrah from Paradise Road Vineyard. The pepper spice of the wine merely allowed the spices of the dish to unravel and move smoothly through the palate without leaving any harsh acidic notes behind.

I hadn’t eaten such a flavorful meal in months and the craziest part was that Dinesh had gone very mild on the spices, as to not overwhelm anyone’s taste buds. He also mentioned that in Sri Lanka, if the chef feels that a dish tastes best using the strongest amount of spice possible, then that is the way his/her guests will eat the dish. The spicier the food got the more heated the conversations became. There was no more small talk to be had at that table, only intellectual conversations remained about our theories on how we all connect, or where our true passions stemmed from and whether we felt brave enough to pursue them. I guess that’s the funny thing about food, it brought us together long enough to allow everyone at that table to shut out the stresses of our daily lives to be able to move into deeper into the more unknown parts of our brains that were itching to be tapped into.

Before moving onto the final course, Jennifer nicely prepared a cold palate cleanser similar to Bieler Broth- a dish founded by a physician by the name of Henry Bieler, who found the broth to cure multiple illnesses of the body. To create the freshest broth, all of the ingredients that went into it were organic from the zucchini, green beans and celery to the swiss chard and chopped parsley. If my body hadn’t gotten its full serving of vegetables for the day, this palate cleanser certainly did the trick.

For the final savory snack, Dinesh decided to make us Chinese rolls stuffed with fish and lamb, not in the same roll of course. As I picked up the roll and dipped it in ketchup, topped with cayenne pepper for an added kick, I noticed that this was unlike any other Asian roll. It had the crunchiness of fried chicken, balanced by the doughiness of baked croissants that have just come out of the oven. How could both crunchiness yet softness appear so beautifully in such a small dish? Dinesh explained that he coats the dough with egg batter, then dusts it with bread crumbs before throwing them in the deep frier for a short period of time as to not overcook the rolls. The pure talent that Dinesh exuded through his food already impressed me, but the rolls definitely reaffirmed my thoughts.

By the end of the meal, I was not only full in my stomach but also in my heart. For the rest of the night, I could taste traces of the mango chutney and warm beef patties on the sides of my tongue. I could also smell notes of cumin and black pepper on my dress. As I went to bed that night, I hoped that my dreams would transport me back to that table. I had many more questions that I wanted Dinesh to answer about the many different spices he used, but for now I will just have to save them for my next visit.

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