You might not think green-finger chili, chaat masala, and pickled beets could make for a refreshing cocktail. Aravind Kozhikott will prove you wrong.
Cocktail: Purple Pickled Cuke
$8 at Aravind (596 Danforth Ave. #DAN)
Tracing the roots of Aravind Kozhikott’s unorthodox cocktails practically requires genealogical software, even if, at first glance, it looks as easy as adapting Indian street food to his restaurant on the Danforth. “I went backpacking all over India a few years ago, and grew to really love the crazy local drinks that you’d get at the little roadside stands,” he says.
One of those drinks, the gola—shaved ice and fruit, a common street treat—particularly inspired Kozhikott. The result: the Purple Pickled Cuke, made of house-pickled beets, honey, coriander, cucumber water, lime, ginger, chaat masala, green finger–chili purée, and Hendrick’s gin, served over crushed ice. It is unquestionably a solid contender for Toronto’s most original cocktail.
This gin-soaked, savoury Sno-Cone with pickles sounds strange, sure, but it’s also crazy-refreshing. The citrus, ginger, and coriander revitalize, while the pickled beets, cucumber, and ice-cold gin provide a cool, crisp antidote for heat-dazed senselessness.
Of course, golas in India don’t contain Hendrick’s—or alcohol of any kind. Culinary cocktails aren’t exactly de rigueur over there or, for that matter, in most of Toronto’s Indian restaurants. “It took a while for people to get that Indian food didn’t have to be accompanied by beer,” Kozhikott says. “Indian flavours work so well in cocktails.”
Especially the tropical flavours (coconut, lime leaves, ginger) that flourish in his family’s region, Kerala, known for its light, fresh, fishy cuisine. Kozhikott didn’t grow up there, but rather in Kincardine, Ontario, where he helped his parents with the family business—restaurants—and grew to appreciate Ontario produce, which he uses in all his culinary cocktails. His style was also nurtured working at places like Thuet Conviction Kitchen and Globe Earth in Rosedale.
Although it’s his name on the front door, Aravind is a family affair. His father does a lot of the cooking and baking, and his mother is in charge of desserts, chutneys, and those crucial beets that transform Kozhikott’s Purple Pickled Cuke.
Aravind Kozhikott’s Purple Pickled Cuke
House-pickled beets + Hendrick’s gin + Honey + Coriander + Lime + Ginger + Chaat masala + Cucumber water + Green finger–chili puree + Crushed ice