Our last president considered them an "axis of evil." Chris Fair calls them inspiration for a great dinner.
In her recent cookbook, "Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and Other Irritating States: A Dinner Party Approach to International Relations," the veteran foreign affairs expert aims to bridge politics and the plate.
"We are a country of so much global influence and so little global understanding," says Fair, an analyst of South Asian military and political affairs. "I wanted to be provocative."
As in pairing recipes for dishes such as Iranian fesanjan and Cuban ceviche with sharp-edged political commentary, including comparing the most recent President Bush and Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Curious George.
Rare is the cookbook with footnotes. Yet in "Cuisines," Fair dissects with humor, sarcasm, recipes and nearly 300 academic notations the nettlesome policies of Iran, pre-war Iraq and North Korea, the latest Bush's axis.
You need not agree with Fair's political perspective — the book doesn't merely lean, it topples left — to pull dinner party chatter from the pages.
Fair's advice to President Barack Obama? Learn to love Pakistan's chapli kebab.
"It's the food of the frontier," she says. "That's going to be the part of the world he's going to really have to get his head around."
CHAPLI KEBAB (Spiced Lamb Patties from Pakistan)
Start to finish: 4 1/2 hours (1 1/2 hours active)
2 bunches scallions, whites only, thinly sliced
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
2 pounds ground lamb (beef or buffalo can be substituted)
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon coriander powder
3 tablespoons pomegranate syrup or molasses (pomegranate juice or jelly could be substituted)
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro, plus extra for garnish
2 green chilies, seeded and finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely minced, then ground to a paste
1/2 cup gram flour (called besan in South Asian grocers) or finely ground breadcrumbs
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 medium slicing tomatoes
3 tablespoons canola oil
Fresh pomegranate seeds, to garnish (optional)
Mint chutney, for serving
In the center of a large kitchen towel, combine the scallions, onion and plum tomatoes. Squeeze gently over the sink to remove excess water, then place the vegetables in a large bowl.
Add the lamb, coriander seeds, coriander powder, pomegranate syrup, red pepper flakes, black pepper, salt, cilantro, chilies, garlic, gram flour and eggs. Mix well, then cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours or overnight.
When ready to cook, form the meat into 12 patties. Cut the tomatoes into a total of 12 thin slices, then press 1 slice into the top of each patty.
Heat the oven to broil.
In a large, deep oven-safe skillet over medium, heat 1 tablespoon of the canola oil until hot. Working in batches, carefully slide the patties into the pan with the tomato side up. Cook for 2 minutes.
Flip the patties, then place the skillet under the broiler on the middle rack. Broil for about 4 minutes, or until cooked through.
Use a slotted spatula to transfer the patties to a paper towel-lined plate to drain excess oil. Cover with foil to keep warm. Repeat with remaining patties, using an additional tablespoon of oil per batch.
To serve, place the kebabs on a platter and sprinkle with additional chopped cilantro and the fresh pomegranate seeds, if desired. Serve with mint chutney.
(Recipe adapted from Chris Fair's "Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and Other Irritating States: A Dinner Party Approach to International Relations," Globe Pequot Press, 2008)
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.