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Of Russian origin: Shashlyk

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Meat lovers paradise

What springs to mind when you think of Russian cuisine? Borsch, Caviar, Pancakes?
Majority of Russian food isn’t exactly an advert for healthy living because of an abundance of carbohydrates and fats that help people through the long cold winters. But one staple item is bound not to disappoint meat lovers – the shashlyk.

Eaten all over the country, in every setting or situation, this skewer of lamb, beef or pork is an essential of the Russian menu. And actually nowadays it doesn’t just refer to meat, but any piece of fish or even vegetable put on an iron bar and cooked over an open fire. It is mainly enjoyed outside and traditionally accompanied with a special Pomegranate sauce, flat bread and if you are feeling good, then a salad or gherkin garnish. Of course a splash of vodka or beer is often nearby to wash it all down!

It is very important to prepare and cook shashlyk just right to ensure it is tasty and tender. But the Russians have had many years of practice. Indeed the method of spit-roasting is one of the oldest in Russian cooking history.

The origins of shashlyk

Shashlyk comes from the Caucasian Mountain tribesmen and became popular after the conquest of the Caucasus in the 19th century. This was when the region started becoming romanticized by the likes of Pushkin, Lermontov and Byron. Russian and European travelers then began to flock to the area and almost every memoir notes the delicacy of the shashlyk. Its importance in daily Russian cuisine is highlighted in Mikhail Bulgakov’s classic The Master and Margarita when an order is made for One Karsky Shashlyk!

Nowadays nearly every family has its own secret recipe for shashlyk that is guarded closely. The key inevitably lies in the marinade. During Soviet times this was largely made up of vinegar to soften the meat – any good quality produce was hard to find back then. But be warned, using vinegar now will get you mocked! Instead there are a number of subtle variations; however, what’s important is that the marinade (see below) enhances the meat's flavor. 

Best kept secrets

Some shashlyk veterans swear by fresh pomegranate juice, others by kefir. There are all kinds of herbs and spices that can be added to the marinade and many cooks also stress the importance of kneading the marinade into the meat. The process takes several hours, but if you are short for time, you can always buy meat ready-marinated at major supermarkets.

Although many people opt for a Birchwood bonfire, the general consensus is that the heat of charcoal produces better results. You can have a picnic outside, but if you are looking for comfort there are many restaurants that offer shashlyk on their menu.

Following below are a few recepies of this delicious dish.

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The Simplest Recipe


                       - any meat you like cut in large cubes
                       - sliced onions – lots, the volume of   cut onions should be no less
                         than half of the meat volume
                       - salt
                       - herbs to your liking – oregano and a bit of thyme is a good choice


Mix all ingredients well and put aside for at least 3 hours. Grill.

Shashlyk – Easy Basic Marinade


- 1 kg (=2.2 lb) lamb, pork or veal
- 3 tbsp oil
- 5 tbsp vine vinegar or lemon juice
- 5 onions
- 2 zucchinis (tomatoes or other vegetables)
- 1 bunch chives
- salt, pepper (freshly ground)


Cut meat into cubes (5-6 cm / 2 inches). Finely chop an onion and chives. Put everything in a saucepan, pour in vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper. Knead marinade into the meat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Slice remaining onions. Cut vegetables into cubes. Thread meat onto skewers, alternating with vegetables and onion slices. Grill on a charcoal grill for about 10-15 minutes. It is also possible to use other barbeque grills or a pan.

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Lamb Shashlyk in White Wine Marinade


- 600 g (=1.3 lb) lamb
- 100 ml (=0.4 cup) dry white wine
- 120 g (=4 oz) butter
- 400 g (=0.8 lb) onions
- 2 bunches green (spring) onion
- 300 g (=0.6 lb) tomatoes
- 300 g (=0.6 lb) egg plant
- 300 g (=0.6 lb) bell pepper
- 1 lemon
- 1/2 bunch parsley and dill (each)
- sugar, salt, pepper (freshly ground)


Finely chop green onions and 200 g (=0.4 lb) onions.

Cut lamb into small cubes (20-30 g / 1 oz). Place in a clay pot and rub with sugar, salt and pepper. Combine with chopped onions and wine. Knead marinade into the meat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours.

Slice remaining onions. Cut tomatoes, egg plants and bell pepper into cubes and thread onto skewers in alternating order.

Thread lamb onto separate skewers.

Turn skewers frequently while grilling to cook meat evenly.

Slide lamb and veggies off skewers. Combine in a bowl carefully. Pour melted butter and some wine over. Sprinkle with lemon juice and chopped herbs.

Pork Shashlyk in Kefir Marinade


- 500 g (=1.1 lb) lean pork
- 5 onions
- 1 l kefir
- salt, pepper, other spices to taste


Cut pork into cubes (5-6 cm / 2 inches).

Finely chop three onions.

Place a layer of pork in a saucepan, follow with a layer of chopped onions. Repeat. Season each layer with salt, pepper and other spices. Pour in kefir and refrigerate for about 24 hours.

Slice remaining onions. Thread pork cubes onto skewers alternating with onions slices. Baste with marinade while grilling.

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Pork Shashlyk in Red Wine Pomegranate Marinade


-3kg (=6.6 lb) pork
-100 ml (=0.4 cup) dry red wine
-100 ml (=0.4 cup) pomegranate juice (fresh)
-4 onions
-1 lemon (juice only)
-2-3 tbsp oil
-pepper (red, black and white)
-thyme, caraway and other herbs to taste


Cut pork into cubes (5-6 cm / 2 inches).

Slice remaining onions.

Place pork cubes and onions in a saucepan, pour in wine, pomegranate and lemon juice. Season to taste with herbs, salt and pepper. Knead marinade into the meat. Mix oil in (without kneading). Cover and refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours.

Thread pork onto skewers. Turn skewers frequently while grilling to cook meat evenly.

Tip: To juice pomegranate better, roll it between your hands or on a table. Then cut in half and juice slowly using a citrus press.