5 Crazy-Good Cocktails With An Indian Twist

by Simona Terron
Celebrations are a wonderful time to serve some tasty drinks but the same old same old can get boring after a while. Why not wow your guests with something unusual, and have them guessing the flavors that are teasing their senses? As an Indian girl who loves to not only play bartender but who also enjoys teasing the best notes out of all the wonderful spices we use in our cooking, here are my simple hacks to do both in style. 

It’s easy if you follow our simple tips to use spices and other ingredients that feature prominently in Indian cuisine. We even have a couple of recipes for you to try, if you think you’re convinced and ready to go on a delicious adventure. So let’s begin; are you taking notes yet? You totally should be!

Cinnamon

Yes, this is a common ingredient in mulled wine or Christmassy beverages but it’s time to pull out all the stops and experiment with it in slightly different ways. Have you ever thought of pairing cinnamon and vanilla? For a drink that’s rich, aromatic and creamy all at the same time, take your cue from The Bar in the UK, where their spiffy bartenders have come up with the Baileys Cinnamon Spice. It’s basically a combination of Baileys Original Irish Cream Liqueur and Smirnoff Vanilla that is designed to wow you with its nutty notes and fragrant, spicy, cinnamon finish. Sprinkled in its powdered form on top of the drink with a longish cinnamon stick acting as a swizzle stick, this cocktail will be a hit with those sporting an active sweet tooth.


Cloves

This strong spice is used to stud glazed hams at Easter and features pretty often in hearty stews and curries. But what if you were to introduce it to some dark spirits like rum and apple brandy? MG Road, the bar and lounge in Asheville, North Carolina encourages its bartenders to mess around the plentiful spices from their sister establishment, the Indian street-food inspired restaurant Chai Pani. They came up with Camp David, a yummy drink made from rum, apple brandy, pineapple, clove, and longleaf pine. It’s complex and refreshing, with the fruity flavors marrying perfectly with the cloves and pine.

Green Chili & Cilantro

NYC’s Indian restaurant Tabla may have shut its doors, much to the despair of its many fans, but not before we memorized executive chef Floyd Cardoz and beverage director, Leo Barrera’s recipe for a cooler that’s made by muddling cucumber, green chili pepper, and cilantro, adding some strong gin. Try it out at home if you want to experience the complex yet subtle marriage of cool cucumber and the strong herby notes of cilantro with the heat from the green chili.
For precise measurements, here’s the exact recipe:

Kachumber Cooler

Makes one cocktail

Ingredients
  • 2 half-inch slices of cucumber
  • 8 leaves fresh cilantro
  • 2 quarter-inch slices of fresh green finger chili (any medium-mild chili, such as jalapeno or Anaheim can be substituted)
  • 1 3/4 ounce gin (Tabla used Plymouth)
  • 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
Instructions
Muddle cucumber, cilantro, and chili in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass until well broken and slightly mashed. Add gin, lime, and simple syrup and shake vigorously. Strain into a double rocks glass, half filled with ice. Garnish with a slice of cucumber.

Tamarind

A souring agent used in several Indian dishes, this dried fruit is also a popular Indian street nibble. When used to make sweet and sour chutneys, it becomes the best accompaniment to several savory Indian snacks. We couldn’t resist the urge to replicate this Tamarind Margarita recipe at home, also borrowed from Tabla’s scintillating bar menu:

Tamarind Margarita

Makes one cocktail

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 ounces tequila (Tabla used Sauza Blanco)
  • 1 ounce triple sec (Tabla used Luxardo, which is less sweet than Cointreau)
  • 2 ounces lime juice
  • 0.4 ounces orange juice
  • 0.4 ounces simple syrup
  • 0.2 ounces tamarind paste (available at Kalustyan's in NYC)

Instructions

Shake tamarind paste with tequila and triple sec until dissolved. Add remaining ingredients. Shake well and pour into a salt-rimmed double rocks glass over ice. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Cardamom

We Indians can’t seem to get enough of these little dried green pods; the powdered seeds are heavily used in desserts, the entire pods are lightly bashed before being tempered and added to almost all dishes, rendering them fragrant for miles around, and the empty seed pods are never thrown away, just added to the tea leaf jar where they render the tea, beautifully aromatic. In a pinch, Indians are even known to chew on cardamom, which are covered in edible silver foil and carried in a little box—the most organic breath freshener ever!
Chic NYC townhouse bar and restaurant Greenwich Project, offers a refreshing Cardamom Collins that’s been created by their beverage director John McCarthy. Since imitation is the best form of flattery, copy their swagger by mixing vodka, fresh lemon juice and house-made cardamom syrup, then shaking, stirring and straining it to get a fizzy, citrusy drink best served in an ice-filled Collins glass, topped with soda water and garnished with a lemon wheel.

Are you feeling adequately adventurous after reading this? Expand our repertoire further by experimenting with other ingredients that Indian food is famous for: curry leaves, ginger, red chilies, black peppercorns, nutmeg. The Indian spice box is your magic lamp, use it to fashion your own take on creating cocktails and dreams, or better yet, cocktails that give you good dreams.

Image: Shutterstock

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