So you spent your summer preparing exotic shashlyks on the mangal. Making a döner kebab holds no secrets for you anymore. You’ve mastered the art of the lyulya-kebab, whether with meat or potatoes. And now you’re wondering: what else could you possibly put on a skewer to further defy gravity? How about stuffed vegetables, skewered transversely with their stuffing hanging dangerously over the hot coals?
This is more than just a dare, of course — it also makes for a delicious kebab! The idea again comes from Stalik Khankishiev, who briefly mentions it in Bazar, Kazan i Dastarkhan without giving an exact recipe. Thanks to yours truly, you’ll now have exact proportions and instructions, and you don’t even need to learn Russian.
I’ve been using natural wood for grilling shashlyks and other kebabs for quite a while now (I explained the process in my lyulya-kebab recipe post). The wood smoke certainly imparts some flavor, but the relatively short cooking time of a kebab means that the exposure, especially on an open grill, isn’t sufficient to achieve the same results as, say, traditional American barbecue. While I don’t want to turn my meat into something that only smells like smoke, I’ve been searching for some middle ground.
Looking at other smoked products, there’s one prominent example where tradition turned to a different combustible, more for reasons of availability than flavor in the beginning: Scotch whisky. You might not think of Scotch as a smoked product, and yet… Historically, peat was used in places where it was the only consistent source of fuel, such as Islay. The peat smoke would permeate the malted barley drying in the kilns, and the flavor of the whiskies produced owed so much to that smoke that distilleries retained the practice even after technology rendered it no longer necessary. The aroma of burning peat is so intense in fact that it’s called peat-reek. You can read more about the influence of peat on whisky here.
This is all well and good, but this is a Russian food blog, not a Scottish food blog. But wait — aren’t there other parts of the world that have peat?
Shashlyk po-karski (Kars-style shashlyk) is a rather mysterious dish. Every time I’ve ordered it in restaurants, I’ve been served either a rack of lamb or individual grilled lamb chops. What made either version specifically from Kars, a Turkish town that once belonged to medieval Armenia? Why not call it chalakhach, another dish of mysterious origins that seems to consist of grilled lamb chops?
Pokhlebkin sheds some light and gives a pretty different definition of the dish — and unlike Brighton Beach restaurant owners, he was a food historian. In his essential Cookbook of the Soviet Peoples, he explains what distinguishes a shashlyk po-karski from other kebabs:
- The dish requires round chunks of lamb loin of similar shapes, each weighing about a pound.
- The marinade is different from what you use in Georgian mtsvadi (Georgian kebabs tend to be minimally marinated).
- The shashlyk is cooked progressively, and thin pieces are cut off the outside while the rest keeps grilling.
This still doesn’t explain why Kars Armenians decided all of a sudden to invent this Turkish-sounding dish, but I think I have a theory.
Labor Day’s already over, a week behind us, and you probably think you’re done with barbecues until next year. You’ve spent the past two (three?) months reluctantly pigging out with wrinkled beef franks and shoe-sole patties prepared by self-proclaimed Grill Masters who swear by their kerosene-soaked charcoal briquettes. You’ve hung out in 100+ temperatures next to a burning hot charcoal fire when you could have been inside sitting in front of the AC. You’ve guzzled all the mediocre beverages that marketing campaigns have disguised as summer drinks just because they need to be served ice-cold (I’m looking at you, Provence rosé).
There is a better barbecue life out there, and it’s not too late! And no, I’m not talking about tailgating season.
While working on a few kebab recipes over the summer, I’ve been facing a dilemma with my side dishes. On the one hand: tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and zucchinis are the best things you can buy at farmers markets at the moment. On the other: I can’t serve all my shashlyks with grilled vegetables. This terrine manages to still use the summer vegetables we love, and add some variety. I originally wanted to have all the quintessential ingredients in a single dish, but I felt like that prevented the flavors of each individual component from expressing themselves fully. So I’m planning to make two terrines.
This first terrine contains only tomatoes and peppers — never mind that neither of them is a vegetable, technically speaking! Thanks to the magic of agar agar (which can be purchased here), you can either serve it cold, or warm it in a 200 F oven. It goes great with my lyulya-kebabs or shashlyk Five Fingers!
I’ve already talked about Stalik Khankishiev a few times, most recently here. In this video, Our Stalik demonstrates an interesting idea. Summer’s coming to an end, you’ve braved the heat wave and the thunderstorms to make kebabs more times than you care to remember — seriously, who thought summer was the best season for grilling? Your ungrateful guests are getting tired of eating the same meat kebabs all the time, and yet the grill demands to be used. Enter the shashlyk “Five Fingers” — a massive display of the most succulent cuts of lamb to be remembered! (By the way, if you know Russian, Stalik has an interesting blog.)
Red Alert! Random Eastern European dishes are invading our streets and restaurants! Should you duck and cover, or welcome the enemy?
Not unlike Iron Curtain, Moscow 57 is a restaurant-to-be that plans to serve pan-Soviet cuisine and offers previews before opening. They also operate as a catering business. With their Moscow 57 Under The Tracks summer events, they’ve found an unexpected home inside the Urban Garden Center in East Harlem. Not only have they created a kind of old-fashioned dacha right under the Metro North tracks, but they even have live music and other performances paced according to the comings and goings of trains. Somehow, it works better than you’d think!