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Why you should never worry about wasting wine

A leftover Merlot can do wonders for pork chops as well as it can for zucchini (but don't leave too much)

Zucchini, cherry tomato and olive tagine. Photo: Samar Halarnkar
Zucchini, cherry tomato and olive tagine. Photo: Samar Halarnkar

Last month, I was enjoying a typically balmy Bengaluru evening. A gentle breeze danced in through the patio doors as I lay sprawled on my faded red sofa—on which my seven-year-old has drawn a smiley and signed her name, so I never want to change the upholstery—listening to Aretha Franklin’s soaring, powerful voice from 1972 pour out Amazing Grace on my record player.

Yes, I listen to records and CDs, not just because I have no idea how to download music and am not interested, but because the warmth of the wall of sound that emanates from my rickety 35-year-old Cosmic speakers and Arphi amp and equalizer is unparalleled.

The evening was significantly enhanced by a glass of good Merlot. I enjoy red wine, particularly because it is the only alcohol explicitly prescribed as part of my diet. This may have something to do with conventional, scientific wisdom, which says that compounds found in red wine promote heart health. I use the word “conventional" because I am uncertain if this holds for Indians as much as it does for inhabitants of the Mediterranean.

Regardless, I have—since the day four years ago when they found a blocked artery in my system—turned my back on my true love, Old Monk rum. I try to stick to the two-glasses-a-week prescription, but that is easy to exceed, especially with a wife who says, “Nothing is going to happen if you have four." Reluctantly, I asked my cardiologist if there was anything to her dodgy medical advice. He shrugged and said, “Exercise well, drink some wine, and you’ll be fine."

The result is that we consume more red wine than ever, and there are always random dregs in random bottles, many sitting there for weeks. It was only last week that I got around to pondering the remnants of the Merlot I was drinking that evening with Aretha. The good thing about having so much leftover wine is that it is easier to use in the kitchen. At any point in time, I have at least a couple of bottles waiting to be finished, and I am happy to pour the wine into whatever it is that I am cooking.

So it was that I used the leftover Merlot as a simple marinade for pork chops and chicken—both made for my sniffy seven-year-old, who can now tell wine from rum—and a Cabernet Sauvignon in my version of a Moroccan vegetarian tagine for the grass-eating wife, modified from a recipe I found in Food And Cooking Of Africa & The Middle East.

The good thing about wine is that it’s hard to go wrong. I am no oenophile, and I am reasonably unacquainted with its use in food, so I follow my instincts, as I always have in culinary matters. A dash here, a drizzle there—a technique that serves me well—although you must make quick correlations in your mind when using wine with Indian food. Is garlic a good match? Usually. Is cardamom? Um, unlikely. In general, I find milder spices merge well with the subtle flavours of wine. Do remember that wine evaporates quickly on high heat, so it’s best to add it when the heat is low or things are at a simmer.

Given this solution to leftover wine, it is tempting to open a new bottle every time you want some, but don’t do that. As they say, wine turns to vinegar soon enough, and you don’t want too many bottles of unfinished wine in your fridge. Drink what you can, and use the rest in your food. As I’ve indicated, wine works well with vegetarian entrées and meat. Whip them up, put on some music—and open another bottle.

Pork chops in merlot

Serves 2


1/2 kg pork chops, with fat (you can trim the fat if you wish)

2 tsp paprika (Kashmiri red chilli powder)

2-3 tsp garlic, finely chopped

2-3 tbsp wine

Salt to taste


Rub all the spices over the pork chops, work in the wine and marinate for at least 2 hours. Place in an oven-proof dish, seal with foil and bake for 20 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius. Uncover and grill for 10 minutes, basting with its own juices.

Zucchini, cherry tomato and olive tagine

Serves 3-4


1 zucchini, cut into discs, then halved

20g cherry tomatoes

1 cup large olives, stuffed with garlic if possible

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1/2 cup parsley or celery leaves, chopped

2 tbsp garlic, finely chopped

2 tsp ginger, finely chopped

1/2 cup wine

1 tsp saffron threads

1 tsp sugar

2 tsp paprika

1 tbsp olive oil

Salt to taste


Heat the olive oil gently, sauté the garlic and ginger for a minute. Add onions and sauté till soft. Do not brown. Add cherry tomatoes, sugar, saffron and wine. Let it cook on medium heat, stirring now and then, for 5 minutes. Add zucchini, salt, paprika, and toss. Continue until the tomato skins begin to crack and they look adequately cooked. Do not overcook the zucchini. Sprinkle chopped leaves a minute before finishing.

This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures.

The writer tweets at @samar11

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