My husband, SJ, is into all sorts of adventurous things (as you know if you follow this blog!). So I wasn’t surprised that he unhesitatingly joined a ski expedition to the Kashmir Valley in the disputed mountain region between India and Pakistan.
Getting there wasn’t easy. He met his friends in the tropical and coastal mega city of Mumbai, feeling even more out of place than most foreigners with his skis and winter gear in tow. After careening through town in a minibus driven through oncoming traffic by an eight year old for a brief and chaotic layover, they flew to Srinigar and then took another minibus for two hours to reach the mountain town of Gulmarg.
Waking early in anticipation of deep powder and being some of the first foreigners to use the new high-mountain gondola, they quickly learned to adjust their mindset and pace to Kashmir time. Soldiers outnumbered skiers, with AK-47s casually slung across their chests or over their shoulders – while the westerners slung their high-tech skis with similar comfort and pride. The ‘new’ gondola looked like a second-hand 1970’s contraption, which India originally purchased in the 1980s but stored in containers until Pakistani hostilities cooled in 2005. The ski carriers weren’t made for 21st century fat skis, so everyone would cram into the small gondolas – soldiers, skiers and middle-class Indian sightseers – with skis sticking out the doors and preventing the safety latches from engaging. Twenty years of storage hadn’t treated the cables and motors well either, and the lift promptly shut down a few hours after opening. The government officials in charge of the lift told them it would run again soon, “inshallah”, with new parts ordered from France.
Undeterred, SJ’s crew gamely hiked up the mountain and explored the surrounding slopes, within sight of the Line of Control between India and Pakistan, and only about 100km from Islamabad. Off mountain, they embraced the local culture. The village tailor outfitted them in local clothing, called Pherans. They drank kahwah tea (see note below), and warmed up with rich bowls of lamb curry at day’s end.
SJ talked about the food so much that when I discovered Maya Kaimal’s Kashmiri Curry Simmer Sauce at Whole Foods, I knew it would be a hit. This Hudson Valley-made, tomato-based sauce is subtly spicy and full of flavor. I simmered the sauce with extra-firm tofu, onion, bell peppers, and a handful of raisins. I served the curry over rice noodles and topped it with a generous amount of toasted sliced almonds.
It tasted like I’d spent hours toasting spices and chopping vegetables, but in reality I spent the day looking after Amy and didn't start preparing dinner until SJ got home from work. This sounds like a Himalayan task, but in just 25 minutes were eating a warm meal with a sleeping baby in the background.
Kashmiri Curry with Tofu
Time: 25 minutes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 package extra-firm tofu, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
2 bell peppers (green, red, or yellow), chopped
1 jar Maya Kaimal Kashmiri Curry Simmer Sauce
¼ cup raisins
1/4 cup roasted slivered almonds
Heat the oil in a a sauté pan or Dutch oven for 1 minute. Add the tofu, onion, and peppers and cook until the tofu is lightly browned and onions are soft, 5-6 minutes.
Add the sauce and raisins. Simmer for 15 minutes.
Serve over rice noodles or brown rice. Top each serving with some sliced almonds.
Note: kahwah - a simple tea brewed with saffron, cardamom pods, and cinnamon bark.