Open Book

Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and Other Irritating States: A Dinner Party Approach to International Relations (Globe Pequot Press, 2008) by Chris Fair, SB’91, AM’97, PhD’04

Photo: David Ebershoff

Politics and food are incontrovertibly linked, says international-policy analyst Chris Fair, and her 2008 “cookbook” explores the policies of “perfidious” countries through the lens of their cuisines. With years of world travel under her belt, working for D.C. think tanks and the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan, Fair has picked up a stew of recipes, and for this book, after commenting on each country’s “dossier of perfidy,” she arranges menus showcasing fare from ten nations, among them Iran, North Korea, Cuba, China—and the United States.

In a chapter on India, the Kashmir Valley in the subcontinent’s far northwest provided the items for Fair’s menu—and it doesn’t include the samosas and curries one might expect. Instead, she explains, the region’s food reflects both the Hindu and Muslim populations who once inhabited the valley. Since 1947 and the end of British colonialism, Kashmir has been contested territory between Pakistan and India, and attacks by Islamic militants have pushed Hindu minorities from the region. Fair explores the social and political conflict between the valley’s populations, along the way explaining how Kashmiri spices differ from other Indian ones and offering suggestions for how to find, or fake, South Asian flavors.—R.E.K

“Kashmiris tend not to offer appetizers; however, they always place yogurt on the table. Incidentally, like Iranians, Kashmiris tend to eat dinner seated on the floor with the various plates and serving dishes arrayed upon a large plastic sheet, which often resembles the plastic tablecloths of my youth. Keeping with these traditions, our dinner party will feature homemade yogurt (or store-bought, if you prefer). The main dishes will be lamb meatballs in yogurt sauce (gushtaba) served “Muslim style” accompanied by a spinach and lamb dish called palak maaz and a dish that is served in nearly every Kashmiri home I have ever visited, dum aloo [potatoes in spicy gravy]. (The two latter dishes are shared in Kashmiri Hindu and Muslim culinary traditions.) These will be served with plain basmati rice.”

(Reprinted from Cuisines of the Axis of Evil by Chris Fair, ©2008. Published by Globe Pequot Press, Guilford, CT.)