Old World Tuesday: Shashlyk, Kinda

May 31, 2010 § 9 Comments


Shashlyk, or shish kebab for you, is a Russian/Caucasian classic. It is no coincidence that shashlyk and shish sound sort of similar – both are derived from the Turkish for “skewer,” or shish, and the -lyk/lyg suffix in shashlyk is a Turkic suffix which helps to make a noun out of another noun. For instance:

gonag = “guest” in Azeri, or Azerbaijani – the native language of my country, which belongs to a group of Turkic – Turksh-like – languages.

gonag + lyg = gonaglyg, “an occasion for guests to come over,” i.e. “dinner party”

(It’s not actually spelled that way in Azeri, which uses the Roman alphabet with a few extra letters thrown in, but I don’t know where the right symbols are on my keyboard).

I know this because I once spoke 6 languages and grammar used to make me tingle as much as firearms do today. Grammar is also one of the funnest things for Jacob and I to discuss. We are different that way – some couples talk about The Sopranos, some talk about how many cases there really are in Turkish and so forth.

Anyhow, back in the Old Country, both the skewers and the pieces of meat were much larger, and the meat was mutton or lamb and not beef, like in this case, but the concept is, overall, the same – you marinate the meat and then skewer and grill it. Simple, right?

In this case I used 2 grassfed sirloin steaks, which I had completely trimmed of all fat and gristle, before cubing them into uniform, 1″ pieces.


I used this marinade recipe for 2 steaks-worth of meat, but found that to be a bit too strong – too salty and too sweet. So I would say try some other marinade. When I figure out a better one, I’ll let you know. But, either way, the basics of any marinade are simple – some oil and some acid (I don’t even know if you have to have fat, but you definitely need to have acid for tenderizing). I seem to recall that back home they marinated kebabs in a mixture of lemon juice and onions, although I am frankly not sure anymore.


Anyhow, skewer them like so… Be sure to soak your bamboo skewers for an hour or more prior to grilling to prevent them from burning. Then simply grill them over hot coals (the ones that are glowing-red yet are already covered with a layer of white ash), turning the kebabs after a couple of minutes, until they are medium-rare to medium. You don’t want to cook sirloin for very long at all. Do not cover your grill while you are doing it, and don’t walk away – they will only need a few minutes on each side. Use tongs to turn them.

And that’s all! I served these sprinkled with some chopped cilantro, mustard wedge fries from the Smitten Kitchen (which I always want to call “Smitten Kitten,” because “kitten” and “smitten” rhyme), and grilled fresh asparagus from my farm. (If you do want to try the fries, note that I skipped lemon peel because it made the fries too sour, and flipped each fry half-way through. You really need to do that.)

§ 9 Responses to Old World Tuesday: Shashlyk, Kinda

  • Yumm! That looks delicious!

  • A says:

    Shishkebab is probably my favorite food. But we don’t do it very often because we don’t have a mangal. We do indulge on occasion though. Here’s what we did last time: http://annasrecipebox.wordpress.com/2009/05/26/shashlik-shish-kabob-authentic-uzbek-dish/
    For our marinade, we use just dry spices, onion, and seltzer water. I think the carbonation does the same thing as an acid, so it comes out pretty tender without any additional flavor to mask the lamb.

    • Sofya says:

      Awesome Anna, thanks! My hubby keeps talking about just welding one (mangal). What dry spices go you use? Cumin?

      • A says:

        Thanks! We use mostly coriander, but because I like cumin we use that a little too. And serve it with vinegared onions with a dash of paprika.

  • Sofya says:

    Yes, coriander sounds like a great idea. Fits right in. On my end the onions were usually mixed with sumac and herbs. Sumac grows here in the wild, and it’s the right kind, so I should just harvest some and crush it in my coffee grinder. Does the same thing to the onions – makes them soft and sour. I love it!

  • Irina says:

    Back when I lived in Russia and used to eat meat, I had several tasty shashlyks marinated in red wine. Additional wine was poured onto the meat while it was cooking on the grill. I think the meat was pork, but I suppose any kind would work.

  • Sofya says:

    Interesting! My experience of marinating in wine was very negative (beef and squirrel) – it did terrible things to the texture, made it not chewy. I wonder how different the wine was.

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