Citizens, it is a well-known fact amongst many in Central Asia and the former Soviet Union that the grillmasters of the Silk Road country of Turkmenistan are some of the finest in the region!
Turkmenistan is a country in Central Asia, bordered by Kazakhstan to the northwest, Uzbekistan to the north and east, Afghanistan to the southeast, Iran to the south and southwest, and the Caspian Sea to the west.
Turkmenistan has been at the crossroads of civilizations for centuries. In medieval times, Merv was one of the great cities of the Islamic world and an important stop on the Silk Road, a caravan route used for trade with China until the mid-15th century.
Annexed by the Russian Empire in 1881, Turkmenistan later figured prominently in the anti-Bolshevik movement in Central Asia. In 1924, Turkmenistan became a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic (Turkmen SSR); it became independent upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Turkmenistan possesses the world’s fourth largest reserves of natural gas resources. Most of the country is covered by the Karakum (Black Sand) Desert. Since 1993, citizens have received government-provided electricity, water and natural gas free of charge.
Shashlyk are a form of Shish kebab, made from lamb or chicken. They’re popular in varied places such as Turkey, Mongolia, Morocco, Pakistan, Israel and other countries, where you can often find them being roasted over wood, charcoal or coal by street vendors.
These are cooked on grills known as ‘Mangals’, which is the Middle Eastern name for barbecue that closely resembles a South African braai.
As noted on the site:
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. (TFD suggests mesquite charcoal as the only acceptable alternative).
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.
Spray the cooking shashlyk with a baklashka (plastic bottle) of vinegar always makes you look like a real shashlyk master.
I’ve adapted his recipe to use my favorite Georgian shashlyk spice mix (I prefer it to the Russian packaged version he uses) and I also spec Georgian mineral water.
Battle on – The Generalissimo
2 lbs boneless organic chicken breast and thigh meat, cut into large cubes
1 red onion
1 Onion, sliced
1 Lemon, thoroughly rinsed and microwaved for 10 seconds to make it easier to juice
4 bay leaves
½ bottle Khmeli Suneli spice mix
Salt & Pepper
1 cup + lots more Mineral water/Seltzer water – TFD recommends the superb Borjomi carbonated mineral water from Georgia
1 sliced onion (very thinly sliced)
Chopped fresh mint
White Vinegar (small amount, enough to make the onion “wet”)
Marinade: Place chicken into a pot and add the marinade: the lemon, wedged and squeezed into the pot, the onion slices, khmeli suneli, bay leaves (just for taste, remove before skewering and grilling) and the Mineral/Seltzer water.
Mix up the chicken and marinade in the pot. Now, add several more 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.
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 marinated meat.
Be sure to soak wooden skewers for a few hours prior to cooking in water. It metal, handle with care once on the grill as they heat up FAST.
Prepare a mesquite charcoal grill. Place skewers on grill and cook (turning several times) until done.
Put some white vinegar in a Dasani water 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 onto the cooking skewers. Remove when done.
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 on the side of the chicken shashlyk with bread on the side. Try pita or TFD’s personal choice of accompaniment for this dish, non bread from Tajikistan!
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