Spear Your Meat, But Don’t Spare Your Veggies: Shashlik

When you think of meat on skewers, you probably visualize this:

Or, perhaps, if you are even slightly familiar with Georgian cuisine (a country, not a state), this:

And you will be on the right track: regardless of countless variations of it, shishkebab definitely has a long military history. I couldn’t help but share with you, Beautiful People, these simply superb excerpts from Aram Khachaturyan’s ballet Gayane performed by the famous Bolshoi ballet troupe. Of course, as you might have seen in some of my previous posts, the Georgians not only dance, they also sing in their own inimitable style:

“Suliko” was Stalin’s favorite song (may his memory be erased forever), but with everything he should be justly blamed for, it is probably not his fault that Shashlik (a Russian name for shishkebab) is erroneously considered traditional Georgian food. In truth, it is as much Georgian, as it is Armenian, Azerbaijani, or even – big surprise! – Ukrainian. Even the name itself has Slavic origins. This is how it happened.

It all started with Omar Sharif – ah, sorry! – with Genghis  Khan, of course, in second half of 12th century, when a baby was born clutching a blood clot in his fist. “A great leader is born,” proclaimed everyone in attendance, and they proved prophetic (The Secret History of the Mongols, author unknown). The son of a minor chief of one of nomadic clans roaming Mongolian steppes did, indeed, become the first Great Khan and founder of the Mongol Empire, possibly the largest contiguous empire in history.  A tireless, ruthless warrior, known as the genocidal ruler, Genghis Khan led his army across plains and mountains, conquering Georgia, Armenia, Kievan Rus, Volga Bulgars and the Crimean peninsula on one side, and a large chunk of Central Asia and China on the other. The invaders brutally murdered civilian population of the conquered lands; their sabers and spears knew no mercy, and the death toll exceeded millions. When hungry, they used the same spears to roast chunks of meat – whatever game they would catch or hunt while on the road to the next conquest.

The disintegrating Golden Horde empire was, a couple of centuries later, inherited by the Crimean Giray Khans who proudly called themselves “the Great Horde, the Great State and the Throne of the Crimea” (Mingaleev, Documents of the Crimean Khanate).  They considered themselves Genghizides (descendants of Ghengis), and ruled the Crimean peninsula and the adjacent steppes, including large parts of South Ukraine. Eventually coming under the protectorate of the Ottoman Empire, Crimean Khans established political, military and familial ties with the Turks. The great Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent’s mother, Ayşe Hafsa Sultan, was a daughter of Menli Giray, “Sovereign of Two Continents and Khan of Khans of Two Seas (ibid.)” They did like impressive titles, didn’t they!  In fact, the last Turkish Sultan Mehmed VI, who abdicated in 1922, was a direct descendant of Suleiman, which in effect makes him a descendant of Genghis Khan.

Most historians believe that the thriving economy of the Great Horde was largely based on slave trade. Sabers and spears were now used to capture close to 20,000 people every year, and this is how a young girl, who later became a powerful Sultana Hurrem, had been captured during a raid on her native Ukrainian city Rohatyn  (https://koolkosherkitchen.wordpress.com/2018/12/04/ukrainian-borsht-for-sultana-3). Always in a hurry to deliver their live merchandise to the slave market in Istanbul, invaders followed an example of their militant ancestors by eating “soldiers’ fast food” – chunks of meat strung on spears roasted on fire, called shishkebab (shish means spear, and kebab – roasted meat).

Started by a former Ukrainian captive Hurrem, the Sultanate of Women came to an end with the most powerful of them, another girl from Rohatyn, Nadya, who became Turhan Sultan, the mother of Mehmed IV, the great-grandson of Suleiman and Hurrem.  Mehmed, who ascended the throne of Ottoman Empire at the age of 6, ruled together with his mother for almost 40 years at the end of 17th century. It was a period of relative stability; however, the empire and its protectorate the Crimean Khanate constantly encountered resistance by the Cossacks of Zaporozhskaya Sich who had lived in Southern Ukraine since the 15th century.

In the famous painting “Zaporozhtsy” I. Repin depicted a true historical event, when during the Russo-Turkish war Sultan Mehmed IV sent a letter to the Cossacks requesting their cooperation and fealty. Probably influenced by his mother who never forgot her Ukrainian roots, the Sultan phrased his request in a soft and polite style, contrary to his usual combination of demands and threats. I will not translate the Cossacks’s response, since the only word in it that would be acceptable in polite company was chort – devil. The rest is a string of obscenities very cleverly strung together (letter quoted in D. Yavornitsky, The History of Zaporozhsky Cossacks). The Cossacks, however, did learn from the Turks and Tatars to string meat on their spears and roast it on fire. The couldn’t call it shishkebab, though, because, with all their fondness for foul language, they balked at “shish” which in Russian and Ukrainian is an obscene gesture, much worse that the American middle finger. Thus, “shish” became “shash” and “shash” acquired a Slavic ending, morphing into shashlik.  Meat was never in abundance in Russia, but in the mountainous regions of Georgia and Armenia, who had also been victims of Genghis Khan and his descendants, shashlik took root and diversified, acquiring different marinades, dressings, and accoutrements.

shish 3
Since the lockdown has deprived us of occasional dining out, my husband started making Sunday dinners that consist of chicken shashlik marinated overnight and enhanced by a plethora of fresh vegetables. You can use any kind of meat you like, but my husband is on a very strict diet that excludes everything but chicken or turkey breast. First he cubes chicken breast and marinates it with sliced onion, vinegar, dry white wine, salt and pepper. Hot peppers are not used because shashlik is traditionally served with Tkemali – hot sauce or Adjika – extremely hot sauce.

As you see, it is very basic and very simple, but it needs to be mixed thoroughly, preferably by hand. It’s a man’s job, or so claim all the Georgians, Armenians, and Azerbaijanis. Women take care of the vegetables, and I make sure to wash and cube whatever I have on hand, such as zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, tomatoes, red onions, mushrooms, and anything else you might think of. Sunday afternoon, marinated chicken cubes are strung on skewers (distant relatives of Turkish spears and sabers), interspersed with cubed veggies, and arranged on a portable gas grill outside.

shish 1

Five minutes on each side, and our Sunday dinner is ready, complemented by chilled Sauvignon Blanc for me and Cabernet for The Chef, and garnished with traditional Georgian fresh cilantro sprigs.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 skinless chicken breast (about 3/4 lbs) cut into 1″ cubes
  • 1/2 yellow onion, sliced
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 small zucchini, cubed
  • 1 small yellow squash, cubed
  • 1/2 small eggplant, cubed
  • 1 firm tomato, cubed
  • 1/2 red onion, cubed
  • 10 – 12 small button mushrooms without stems
  • Bunch of fresh cilantro to garnish

PROCEDURE

  • Mix chicken cubes with sliced onion, vinegar, wine, salt and pepper. Thoroughly rub marinade into chicken by hand. Cover, refrigerate overnight or at least for several hours.
  • Wash and cube vegetables.
  • Fire the grill.
  • String chicken and vegetable cubes onto skewers. Arrange on grill. Grill for 5 minutes on each side.
  • Serve garnished with cilantro

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

46 Comments Add yours

  1. Rachael says:

    Ahhhh i never even considered the origins of kebabs before! Thank you for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My pleasure, dear Rachael, and I thank you for stopping by and commenting.

      Like

    1. Thank you for a shout-out, darling!

      Like

  2. Wonderful history today, Dolly. Shashlik is one of Jackie’s favourites. After hearing about the origin her comment was. “Oh, very nice. Put me right off my shashlik now” 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so sorry my post had this effect on Jackie! I hope she gets over her first reaction and continues enjoying shashlik, especially since you can use lamb. Thank you for stopping by and commenting, Derrick.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Her response was given with a smile, Dolly 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I figured that, Derrick. 😸

        Liked by 1 person

  3. jonahzsong says:

    So I take it this is the origin of fast food! Great recipe, Dolly.

    L-RD Bless, Keep, Shine, and grant you and your His Shalom Peace always.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much, dear Wil; I am so glad you like it!

      Like

  4. Looks delicious! Love the wine-vinegar marinade you’ve used.
    Your cat cutting board is so cute! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much, dear Ronit. Your approval always means a lot to me!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. An attrative delight- 🙂 thank you, dear Diane 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for your kind comment, darling (I am Dolly).

      Like

  6. CarolCooks2 says:

    Now that’s what I call a skewer…coupled with the history lesson and a glass of red…Perfick xx

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Who knew there was such a long and interesting history attached to what Americans consider a staple of the weekend barbecue? Thanks again, Dolly. Stay safe and well. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, dear Anna! You too, be well and stay safe.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. What another wonderful history lesson with delicious additions. Thank you Dolly! Seems i have to read your cookbook more as a real book, even i could not realise all the recipes. The first word to me about the origin of Shashlik. The best: Our citizens here are thinking its originally German. Lol
    Thank you, be well and stay save. Michael

    Liked by 2 people

    1. LOL Everybody thinks it’s originally theirs, but it isn’t. Thank you so much, Michael.
      Have a great week, dear friend!

      Like

  9. You are a born teacher, i always learn so much from you, and then get a great recipe to try also..

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much, dear Mimi, for a lovely comment. I’ve been teaching for 42 years; I guess it shows.

      Like

    1. Thank you so much for reblogging, dear friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Laleh Chini says:

    True. Thanks for sharing dear.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Laleh!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Laleh Chini says:

        My pleasure sweetheart.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, dear Nita.

      Like

  11. Beautifully entertaining. Although Zi am not a kabob person, your share clarified my cultural and geographical misconceptions. Thanks for sharing, Dolly. Cheers to the kabob and to Genghis Khan!💕🌺💕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He is not my favorite historical personage, but you can’t change history. Thank you for a lovely comment, darling!

      Like

  12. swatijena05 says:

    This is so good !!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, dear friend; I am so glad you like it!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. What a beautiful, beautiful song! Is there any way to get a translation?

    And thank you for stopping by my blog. Sorry I can’t offer to share my birthday lunch with you! Jackfruit or grated zucchini can be used to make pretty convincing “crab cakes”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Here is a link for translation: https://lyricstranslate.com/en/suliko-suliko.html-0. The poem is beautiful, and so is the music.
      Happy belated birthday, darling! I do make grated zucchini “cakes,” but jackfruit is a great iea – got to try, thank you,

      Like

      1. Sorry it took me so long to get back to you; I’ve been working fulltime for a few weeks, and – well, whoosh! Thanks so the translation, and a chance to hear the music again. So very, very lovely.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. No need to apologize, darling. I am also working (out of the house) and sometimes get extremely busy, so I totally understand. I am glad you enjoyed the music and the translation. Beautiful poetry, isn’t it?

        Like

  14. 15andmeowing says:

    They look great. Thanks for the recipe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for stopping by, darling!

      Like

  15. K E Garland says:

    This Genghis Khan story will forever change how I view shish kebabs. Hope you’ve been doing well down there!

    Like

    1. Thank you for stopping by, dear Dr Kathy; I am glad you like the story. We are trying to stay safe. How about you up there?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. K E Garland says:

        Classes begin the 24th Luckily, mine are all online but we are having an issue with preservice teacher field placements. So many changes…I’m literally taking everything one day at a time 🤞🏽

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I can imagine field placements AND field supervision in this situation! We are finishing summer semester next week and starting Fall on September 1. Whether classes will move to live classrooms on September 28 is a big if, but I am exempt from risk due to age (even though I am always 18!), and will continue online until absolute safety.

        Liked by 1 person

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