One memorable part of my 1993 visit to Russia was the "search for shashlyk." I was told that if I found good shashlyk, it would be a wonderful dining experience. Unfortunately, I had bad shashlyk in a lot of places ... try to avoid Russian dining establishments that are simply called "Cafe", or the places that don't have a name, but a number -- "Cafe #157", a holdover from the Soviet days.
I finally came across some terrific shashlyk at a little place called the Bombay Cafe, right down the street from the American Embassy in St. Petersburg. But this recipe, extracted from a Russian cookbook and slightly tweaked, was even better. I was lavishly complimented by my Russian dinner guests, who said that the only thing that wasn't authentically Russian about my shashlykwas that the meat I used was too high-quality ...
The easiest way to juice the pomegranates is to carefully seed them and place the seeds into a food processor. Whiz them around for a couple of minutes, then thoroughly strain. Bottled pomegranate juice is also available in Middle Easters markets, but, of course, fresh is always better.
- 2 pounds boneless shoulder or leg of lamb, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 2 cups pomegranate juice
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 bay leaf, crushed
- 1 teaspoon crushed thyme
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- Plum sauce (recipe below)
Combine the pomegranate juice, oil, salt, pepper, bay, thyme and garlic. Marinate the lamb overnight in this mixture. The next day, place the meat on skewers (remembering to soak them in water if you're using wooden or bamboo skewers), alternating each cube of meat with a slice of onion and/or eggplant. Grill the shashlyk over hot coals for 10 minutes. Serve with plum sauce, and with plov as a side dish. Serves 6-8, or more if you're preparing a multi-course meal.
Place the plums in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer until soft, about 6-8 minutes. Drain, then peel and pit the plums.
- 3/4 pound fresh plums
- 6 tablespoons pomegranate juice
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
- Salt and cayenne pepper, to taste
In a bowl mash the plums and then stir in the remaining ingredients. Transfer to a saucepan, bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes.
Cool the sauce, then place in a covered container in the refrigerator overnight so that the flavors will combine. Serve at room temperature.
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Chuck Taggart (e-mail chuck)