Camel Spit has published multiple plov recipes, but has yet to provide instructions for that essential Turkmen party staple: shashlyk. Sure, you could translate the dish as "shish kebab," but that does not do justice to the fire charred, fat laden, tangy meat that tastes uniquely of Turkmenistan, and the scarce wood from the desert sacrificed to cook it.
Whether you first had it in the shady back alley behind the Presitzhe bar & grill in Abadan (Bizmein) or with the famous shashlyk masters of the Nebit Dag Bazaar, or that special gem in Ashgabat, the Iceberg Café, shashlyk was always a great break from the grechka/chorba/chorek diet of village life. It did not even have to be good shashlyk, just some grilled meats cooked outdoors with a pivo (beer) or three.
Many Volunteers have attempted to recreate various shashlyk recipes, and below I’ll try and recount as many as I can remember from some of the great PCV shashlyk masters of yore, and of course our Turkmen counterparts who actually know what they are doing.
Russian Shashlyk spice packs
Just like those great Taco Bell or Old El Paso Mexican seasoning packs your mom would send you in care packages, these Russian pre-made spice packs are great for a quick rub or marinade without too much work. Available online from the following shops, they are a cheap and easy.
Its up to you how you want to do this, but arbitrarily spraying the cooking shashlyk with a baklashka (plastic bottle) of vinegar always makes you look like a real shashlyk master. Put some apple or white vinegar in a Dasani bottle diluted down with water. For full effect, poke a hole in the cap, screw it back on, then squirt the vinegar water through the hole.
Finding the secret ingredient of Turkmen shashlyk may be difficult, since the roasted flavor comes from the dangerously endangered desert wood Saxahual. If you can't take a poaching trip to the Kara Kum desert, charcoal seems to be in order, at the very least. Whether you want to actually lay the skewers across the grill or place them on an oiled grate is also up to you and the dimensions of your grill space.
If wooden soak for a few hours prior in water. It metal, handle with care once on the grill
Recipe #1 The “Kransnavodsk Special”
2lbs of Fish: For authentic flavor, choose the critically endangered Oesetria Sturgeon. To not alienate your friends and/or violate US customs law, any good fresh fish such as Salmon, Halibut or even Swordfish will do.
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 3/4 cup of lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon of dill
- 1 tablespoon of vinegar
Cut fish into 1-2” chunks. Set aside.
Prepare the marinade and pour into ziplock freezer bag. Add fish and shake bag to coat. Refrigerate for 2 hrs prior to cooking. Greatness takes time. Any shashlyk master will advise patience.
Brush your grill grate and fish with oil to avoid excess sticking. The hotter your grill i,s the more quickly the fish should “release” from the grate after a few moments of cooking. Lower heat means you’ll lose more fish to the grates.
Fish cooks fast so watch out that you don’t burn one side inadvertently. A single flip is all that should be necessary about 4-6 minutes into a hot grilling. When fish flakes with a fork, its done.
Grilled Pomadori (tomatoes)
As in life, a master will only succeed with big tomatoes and some chopped basil to put them on.
Skewer 3-4 big tomatoes and grill evenly on all sides until tomatoes can be easily pierced and skin is charring.
Serve alongside fish and top with chopped basil.
Recipe #2 Chicken Shashlyk
- 2lbs Chicken, cut into large cubes
- Shallots or Whole Onion (a few shallots or one large onion)
- 1 Lemon
- A few bay leafs
- Salt & Pepper
- Mineral water/Seltzer water
Marinade: Place chicken into a pot and add the marinade
- One lemon, wedged and squeezed into the pot
- Sliced shallots or onion
- Shashlyk spice kit (any “flavor” grill pack works to suit taste)
- Several bay leafs (just for taste, remove before skewering and grilling)
- Salt & Pepper to taste, can disregard if adding a spice kit or your own spice blend
- Mineral/Seltzer water
Once marinade is prepared, mix up the chicken and marinade in the pot. Now, add several cups of carbonated mineral water or seltzer water to the point that it begins to cover the meat mixture. At this point, place a heavy lid that is a size to small on top and weigh down. Place in refrigerator overnight and remove only the chicken to thread onto skewers before grilling.
- Remaining sliced onion (very thinly sliced)
- Chopped fresh mint
- Vinegar (small amount, enough to make the onion “wet”)
Mix together in bowl and smash/crush with your hands to break the onion slices and release their juices. Mix together vigorously until onion, mint and vinegar are combined. Serve on top of or the side of the chicken shashlyk.
Recipe #3: Chicken “Mix” Variant
Follow recipe as above but disregard the garnish. Instead intersperse some veggies on the skewers, and serve together.
- Large button mushrooms
- Red onion
Slice the red onion very thick to get chunky wedges (1-2”), place alongside a large mushroom and then 1-2 pieces of chicken, repeat down the skewer with the marinaded meat.
Recipe #4: Lula Kebab with a Spicy Twist
This is for about 4 people, so just the double the recipe for a larger party.
Take 1lb of 80/20 or 85/20 ground beef and place in a mixing bowl. Take ¼ of a large onion (can use slightly more if desired) and finely chop. Add to mixing bowl. Take a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley and finely chop. Add to the mixing bowl.
Prepare marinade separately.
For the marinade:
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice, or 1 whole lemon
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- two good pinches of red pepper flakes
- one good squirt of Worcestershire sauce
- Whisk together
Pour marinade into the mixing bowl and hand-mix until everything is incorporated, don’t overmix the meat.
Refrigerate covered for at least 2-3 hours. Take out the meat and form good sized hamburger patties with your hands. Take a skewer and place the center of the patty in the middle of the skewer and carefully wrap the patty around the skewer. Massage the meat onto the skewer until you have that classic Lula look.
Grill on high heat evenly for about 7-10 minutes, or until fully cooked. Avoid charring, so watch carefully and turn when necessary to cook evenly.
Garnish with the thinly sliced onion/mint mix and some lavash or naan bread.