I have two pieces of exciting news!
First, you and I are going on a journey! For the next two weeks, we are going to explore and celebrate Kashmir, the disputed territory that is split between two countries, one half in India and the other in Pakistan. From now until December 23rd, "in praise of sardines" will essentially morph into "in praise of Kashmir."
Second, I am giving away a fantastic prize to a lucky reader!
What's going on here? Why Kashmir? What prize?
In answer to the first question, I am participating in A Menu for Hope, a charitable event hosted by fellow Bay Area food blogger Pim of chezpim to raise money to support the efforts by the U.S. Fund for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to aid the victims of the devastating earthquake that struck Kashmir in October, killing at least 90,000 people and leaving more than 3 million homeless. I am asking you to donate by buying raffle tickets to win the... well, I'll get to that just as soon as I finish telling you how to buy your tickets.
Each ticket cost just $5 and gives you one chance to win my tasty prize. You can securely purchase as many virtual raffle tickets as you want through this page of the First Giving website. With your donation, be sure to specify that you want to win my scrumptious prize (I promise, I'll tell you very soon) that I'm offering by including my name, Brett, and/or the name of this website, "in praise of sardines," on the donation page.
The drawings will be held December 23rd and winners will be announced January 1st at Chezpim.
It would be fantastic if each of my readers bought at least one ticket! Of course, the more tickets you buy, the better your chances of winning my delicious prize. Whether you win or lose, though, 100% of the money you donate will go directly to UNICEF. No money will pass through my hands. Every cent you donate will help to shelter and feed the Kashmiri children and families who are already starting to confront the freezing temperatures of winter.
I thought it would be fun to use the opportunity presented by this fundraiser to become acquainted with the people of Kashmir, the way they lived before the earthquake struck and before the region was besieged by war. And the way they will live once again. In my experience as a traveler, one of the best windows through which we can gain a glimpse of people from cultures different than our own is through their cuisine. As Brillat-Savarin quipped nearly two hundred years ago in his gastronomic masterpiece, The Physiology of Taste, "Tell me what you eat, and I shall tell you what you are."
As many of the readers of this site know, my wife's family comes from India, specifically from Gujarat, a region southwest of Kashmir. Although we were unable to visit war-torn Kashmir during our honeymoon/"culinary tour" of India a dozen years ago, N visited the region, one of the most beautiful in India, as a child. I've asked her to share with us during the next few weeks some of her beautiful memories from that trip.
Since I myself haven't visited the region, I'm inviting you to come along with me as I explore the rich culinary traditions of the Kashmiris, to glimpse how they live, eat and celebrate in better times. I will share with you everything I learn from my collection of dozens of South Asian cookbooks, travel guides, history books, Salman Rushdie's novels, and the internet.
With me as your guide, we'll cook Kashmiri dishes (like one of my favorites, the famous rogan josh, a spicy dish of braised lamb), open some of the spice bottles in the Kashmiri pantry, and even take a couple of field trips to Indian and Pakistani grocers and restaurants in the Bay Area.
So, at long last, let me describe the prize I am offering to the lucky winner!
In the spirit of our journey, the winner will receive a Kashmiri Cooking Kit, filled with the ingredients necessary to cook a Kashmiri feast. If you (or someone you love) are not familiar with Indian cooking but have always wanted to learn, this is the perfect gift. Even if you have dabbled in Indian cooking or are an expert, this kit will include some difficult to find (and expensive) spices that I gathered during my trips to Spain, New York and, most recently, Berkeley.
In case you're worried where you will put all the wonderful spices I am about to describe, the highlight of my prize is this shiny new spice box known as a masala dabba (pronounced ma-sah-la dub-ba).
Made in India, your new masala dabba is a 7-inch round stainless steel canister that contains seven little cups beneath a tightly fitting clear plastic and stainless steel lid. By opening one container, you will have access to all your most used spices (clockwise from the top, green cardamom, cumin powder, black mustard seeds, turmeric, coriander powder, black cumin seeds-a finer version of regular cumin seeds- and, in the center, cayenne-spoon not included).
In addition to those seven spices, your prize will include smoky black cardamom pods, whole nutmeg, cinnamon sticks and some whole dried Indian chilies, all purchased Saturday at Vik's in Berkeley. These spices are very fresh, so if you have some of them already, I advise that you replace your older spices with these.
The winner will also receive some spice mixtures made from whole spices that have been toasted and freshly ground by yours truly. Each mixture is called a masala. You'll get garam masala (added before serving, to perfume your food), chaat masala (sprinkled on some snacks), and chai masala (to spice up your tea).
At Vik's, I also bought the lucky winner a bottle of mustard oil (indispensable for Kashmiri cooking), fragrant Basmati rice (1 lb.), a jar of ghee (clarified butter), and some black tea to make masala chai (cup not included!).
When I was in Spain in July, I bought you this cute little bottle of Spanish saffron. As you will discover in the next few weeks, Kashmiris are just as enamored of this spice as the Spanish.
At the end of September, I visited New York and stopped by the famous spice shop Kalustyan's in Murray Hill. Just for you, I picked up some bright red, mildly spicy Kashmiri chili powder, the crucial ingredient to flavor and color tandoori chicken, which I cannot find in the Bay Area.
Finally, with all these new spices in your pantry, you will need some great recipes! Over the next few weeks as I read through my collection of three dozen Indian cookbooks, I will collect some of my favorite Kashmiri recipes to give to you. I am also giving you The Best of Kashmiri Cooking (pictured below) by Neerja Mattoo, which is, so far as I know, the only Kashmiri cookbook available in English. As an added bonus, I will even throw in some of N's family recipes for Gujarati vegetarian food!
To have a chance at winning this Kashmiri Cooking Kit, click the button below to go to the Menu of Hope donation page, make your donation, and buy at least one raffle ticket. Be sure to specify that you want to receive the "Kashmiri Cooking Kit!"
P.S. If you are not interested in the prize I am offering but still want to make a donation, check Pim's "Menu for Hope" announcement page for a list of the prizes being offered by all of the other kind and generous food bloggers who are also participating in this event. You can even choose to purchase a variety of tickets, naming specific prizes on each ticket!
I wish you all the best of luck and thank you, on behalf of the people of Kashmir, for your participation and your generosity!