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Inventing Cocktails with Kamala Puligandla

Kamala Puligandla is the author of the novella, You Can Vibe Me On My FemmePhone and writes The Dyke Kitchen Column at Autostraddle.



KAMALA: I'm Kamala Puligandla. I'm a writer.

ZAK: Kamala is a Food Friday returning champion. We last spoke about salad making. Today, we're taking it to cocktails.

ZAK: I like, kind of make an Old Fashioned. I think that's the only cocktail I've ever made. I'm overwhelmed. How can I improve my cocktail confidence?

KAMALA: Ok, so I think that classic cocktails are really delicious and really cool but I don't hold myself to doing them in the classic way. So, I like to borrow flavors from them. Sometimes I'll borrow ratios from them. I'm just really into making my own simple syrups right now that have whatever flavor that I'm into. So, recently, I think it was last weekend, a friend of mine was like, come over and hang out in our backyard and everyone was like, we'll bring our own cocktail so I was like, ooo, I have to bring a good one. So, I had some mezcal and I was like, what are some flavors that I can mix into a syrup that would go with the smokiness of the mezcal and I ended up putting some garam masala into my simple syrup with a cinnamon stick and some cloves and then I mixed that into the mezcal with some grapefruit soda. And that was really, really, really good. It's sort of like a paloma but it's like, I don't know, like a spicy paloma.

ZAK: That sounds really nice. How do you imagine what will work?

KAMALA: So, recently I realized that I thought I didn't like sweet cocktails but that when you add sugar to things it changes the things that everything else tastes. And for awhile, I was trying to resist putting in too much sugar because I have had sickly sweet drinks that I'm not into. But when I'm making my own syrup it helps it marry all the flavors together so that they're a little closer. They don't feel like alcohol, citrus, some other flavor. So that's something that I was like, I should just add syrups to things, But what I'm usually thinking about is like, I have the alcohol taste and I'm trying to figure out what about the alcohol taste I like so that I don't mask it. And then like, what can go with it to sort of enhance that. So with mezcal, I like that it's a little sharp and a little smoky and so I try to add citrus to it. I think citrus helps in every cocktail cause it helps brings the sharpness out and then doesn't overwhelm the smokiness or overwhelm the taste of the alcohol. And then also on something smokey, I was like, what are some other things that I eat that are sort of smokey and I was like, oh, I would put garam masala with chilis which are kind of smokey and I was just like, that sounds good. It sounds earthy and like it would go in the same family as smokey so that's what I was thinking. But then like, sometimes I'll have lighter cocktails. Like if I have gin I like to get a really herbaceous gin and then I don't love floral tastes that much but I do love putting other herbs in there so it's like, I don't know, there's like a rosemary simple syrup that I've made that I like and that sort of brings out the flavors in the gin. Things like that. That's mostly what I'm thinking about. I think it's similar to the salad question. I want something kind of earthy, something kind of bright and then something that's kind of punchy, so like, just pulling those things together and sometimes spicy is a really good addition and sometimes it's totally unnecessary.

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