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The Cross and the Cleaver:…FIRE!

It is safe to assume that a long, long time ago, an event took place, now shrouded in a mist of mystery. An event quite simple, yet very rich in offspring. Our not-so-distant ancestor had a piece of meat, and it occurred to her, or him, that impaling it on a stick to cook it over the fire makes for an attractive alternative to that of burning your fingers.

They exist, in many cultures, as a goal, as a very intentional enterprise. We know them by many names. The Mediterranean have their array of “shawarma”, “shish kebab”, “doner kebab” and a uniquely Greek “souvlaki”. Indonesian “satay” features alongside its Japanese cousin “yakitori”, sitting next to its nephew, two continents removed, the Peruvian “anticucho”. Few steps behind is the Russian “shashlik” and, ultimately, the Polish “szaszlyk”. (yeah … don’t bother trying to pronounce it). In the end, they are nothing more, or nothing lees, than THINGS GRILLED ON SKEWERS.

I grew up, with, and around the idea of meat, and veg, skewered, and grilled over charcoal or an open fire (basting with marinade being reserved for the wussies). There is a story about my first encounter with “szaszlyki” etched, with details, in my mind. Indulge me, when I share it with you.

It was the late 1970’s or early 1980’s, and we were on a family vacation in Zakopane; a gateway town to the Tatra mountains (think of Banff when it was still rustic, before it became so commercialised). The day was grey but pleasant. My mum and I were walking down the main street, while my dad went to the post office to get some money (such were the ways then). He walked out, several blocks away, and we spotted him, and he spotted us. As we waived to each other, he started frantically pointing to our right with his index finger. As if directing us there, because he was. On our right was a food-stand with lamb, or likely mutton, kebabs. Homemade tin box half filled with charcoal at one side, with metal skewers loaded with meat to the other. The aroma was most amazing. Next thing I remember is that I am standing on the street, holding a crude, square, cardboard plate, with a slice of Polish rye bread, a generous dollop of mustard, and cubes of grilled lamb on it. The taste was phenomenal, and I still remember it.

That experience of family, of hospitality, of my father treating us in these challenging times is what I always think of when I cook kebabs. Nowadays

they are sausage kebabs. Might be nothing original, yest still, this is my way to carry on the tradition … of family meals:

Use some, all, or any of the following ingredients:

– Sausages (“storemade turkey” from Close’s Family Foods, “Kaszubska” from co-op, or generic smokies or Grimm’s from anyone)

– Peppers (go for colours if you want to impress)

– Mushrooms

– Onions

– Bacon, bacon, bacon (preferably thick cut)

Cut everything into generous 1-inch cubes

Skewer alternatively onto metal skewers OR wooden/bamboo skewers soaked in water for at least 4 hours.

GRILL SLOWLY, on med low (or use indoor grill pan on med-hi, or oven at 350). I would rather dry stuff out than burn it, but that is just my opinion.

Serve with mustard, rye bread and cold, Pilsener-style beer.

NOTE – to make fancy, wrap each ingredient in bacon strips. Might not be healthy, but the taste is incomparable.

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