by Nathan Hamm on 5/26/2009 · 8 comments

Having recently purchased a grill, I decided to take a crack at one of those foods that all those who’ve spent time in Central Asia seem to miss — shashlik. Grilled meat on a stick alone is a brilliant concept but applying the right spices in the right way dials the whole thing up to transcendent. I had made half-hearted attempts to get the spices right in the past and came up with stuff that was all right. I searched around for recipes online and found plenty that were either vague, failing to specify, for example, whether or not to use whole or ground spices, or more complex than they needed to be. The winning recipe is the one I found here, which I have reprinted with a few tweaks below.

Lamb Shashlik


  • 2 pounds lamb (I used a roast)
  • 2 finely-chopped small-medium onions
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t whole cumin
  • 2 t whole coriander
  • Fresh ground pepper or cayenne to taste
  • 4 t vinegar


  1. Chop lamb into 1/2 oz (~15 gram) cubes
  2. Place lamb cubes into large ceramic bowl
  3. Add spices, salt, vinegar, and onions and mix thoroughly
  4. Cover and place in a cold place for 4-24 hours
  5. Skewer chunks of lamb
  6. Grill for approximately 10 minutes per side or until meat browns to crustiness.

Serve with whatever you prefer. In my case, it was thinly-sliced onions, grilled tomatoes, vinegar, and cold Baltika.

This ended up turning out fantastically. I did a large batch of lamb and one of chicken, using the same recipe. Guests gave the results very high marks. What made the biggest difference for me this time as opposed to earlier attempts was, I think, the use of whole spices. Grocery stores in my town don’t carry great spices, and I was able to get into the city to pick up better spices for this attempt. If you’re having a hard time finding high-quality spices (and I haven’t found a store with truly quality spices in my metropolitan area) , I highly recommend ordering from World Spice Merchants in Seattle. They don’t have everything you might need for Central Asian cooking, but they do have a great selection of very good spices.

Since the weather is getting nice enough to do a lot of grilling, I’ll try out a few recipes for other variations of kebab recipes from Central Asia and the Caucasus and let you know how it goes. If anyone has a favorite recipe, please share!

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This post was written by...

– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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michaelhancock May 26, 2009 at 4:39 pm

It looks delicious, and I’m glad you remembered the vinegar. Normally the onions are not chopped, but sliced, in my experience. Still, color me jealous!

Christian May 26, 2009 at 5:03 pm

This may be the best post on any blog ever.

Thank you for posting the spice combination!

Now, to check my pantry to see if I have everything…

Nathan May 26, 2009 at 5:12 pm

Michael, I also used gas rather than charcoal 🙂 You’re right that the onions are usually sliced. I wanted to play with one of my new fancy knives (though I should have been using one of my Chust ones!) and get more surface area.

Christian, thanks. I was going for the “best post on any blog ever.” Of course, the magic of grilled meat has more to do with it being good than anything else.

I have recipes for Uyghur, Turkish, and Georgian variations in some cookbooks I have. I know I have on hand everything I need for the Uyghur version. Maybe I’ll do that next.

jbd May 26, 2009 at 10:48 pm

if you can figure out a rational way to do khinkali i will be forever in your debt.

also: i’d add pomegranate.

Nathan May 27, 2009 at 8:59 am

The Georgian cookbook I have suggests pomegranate juice.

Khinkali is something I don’t think I’d have the patience to make. I might be able to pull off some kind of ersatz khinkali that tastes good but looks all kinds of messed up.

Turgai Sangar May 27, 2009 at 9:46 am

Hmmmm man… (BELCH) My fave in TĂĽrkistan along with ashlam fu.

Eli May 28, 2009 at 2:38 am

You can’t get good spices where you are? You need to move …

Nathan May 28, 2009 at 6:51 am

Agreed, Eli.

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