The Turk’s Shish Kebab

If you happened to be driving U.S. Highway 63 from Rochester, Minnesota, to Ashland, Wisconsin, on April 21, 1957, you might have wondered why there were so many cars parked on the shoulder of the highway north of Hayward. Some sort of celebration, you would have concluded as you passed the full parking lot at The Turk’s Inn. After all, it was Easter Sunday, and people were probably celebrating the holiday.

One of your passengers might have glimpsed a short man with a fez on his head in front of a large brick barbecue just south of the building. If the wind was from the east, you might even have smelled the wonderful aroma of meat and vegetables cooking over an open fire. George the Turk was cooking shish kebab!

Hundreds of people used to reserve a table for Easter Sunday shish kebab a year in advance. Served with bread, salad, and pilaf, George’s shish kebab was an Easter Sunday favorite with people from all of northwest Wisconsin. I have often wished that I had George’s recipe.

Now, thanks to my sister Barbara, I do. Barb likes to play golf and lives in Hayward, Wisconsin. When I found a little cookbook, Vol. II Treasured Recipes–from the Kitchens of Members and Friends of the Hayward Women’s Golf Club, at the Goodwill store in Stillwater, Minnesota, I thought that she might enjoy it. The book was published in 1977 and includes recipes by many prominent Hayward ladies. In what became one of her Christmas presents she found George the Turk’s recipe for shish kebab.

The book credits the recipe to Marge, the daughter of George and “Ma” Gogian, from the Turk’s Inn at Hayward, Wisconsin. Here it is.

INGREDIENTS:

1 leg of lamb (2 lbs. meat cut in cubes)
3/4 cup sherry (Amontillado or dry sherry)
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. garlic salt or 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1 T oregano
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 medium onions (about 3 inch diameter)
2 medium green bell peppers
12 small tomatoes (about 1 inch diameter)
6 skewers

PROCEDURE:

Trim the fat and gristle from the lamb. Remove the bone and cut the meat into one inch cubes. Clean and finely chop one of the onions. Put the meat with the chopped onion, wine, lemon juice and seasonings into a resealable plastic bag. Marinate overnight in the refrigerator, turning the bag a few times to make sure all the meat is coated with marinade.

When you are ready to start cooking the shish kebab, fire up your grill or light the charcoal to make a hot fire.

Clean and quarter the second onion and separate the pieces into layers. Wash the peppers and remove the stem, seeds and white membrane. Cut the peppers into two inch pieces. Wash the tomatoes.

Drain the marinade from the bag into a small saucepan and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the marinade for a few minutes to make the basting sauce. If there is not enough liquid, add a little more sherry. Remove the sauce from the heat.

Load the skewers as follows: Start with a lamb cube, then pieces of onion and green pepper, another cube of lamb, then a tomato followed by another cube of lamb, pieces of onion and green pepper and another cube of lamb. Continue alternating the meat and vegetables until you have one-sixth of the meat on each skewer.

Broil over a hot grill, turning and basting the meat and vegetables often. Cook until the meat is nicely browned and sizzling. Serve with rice pilaf.

NOTES: Marge advised “If lamb is tough, sprinkle with lemon juice.” but since I do not know how to determine if the meat is tough without cooking and eating it, I always add a little lemon juice. Lamb is seldom tough, but the lemon juice is insurance and adds a little extra zip to the flavor.

Since the Turk’s Inn was cooking for hundreds of guests, Marge’s recipe for a family dinner is, as my sister Barb says, “a little vague” about exact quantities and how the skewers were loaded. Barb remembered that two skewers were plated with the pilaf for an order, so each diner would get three tomatoes. I have adjusted the quantities to make four generous servings.

Barb also noted, “Marge would get upset often when the tomato would drop off the skewers, typical of grilling them with the meat as it took longer for the meat to grill than the veggies.” Many grilling recipes suggest grilling tomatoes on a separate skewer, so they can be cooked for a shorter time than the meat. If you fear tomatoes on the floor, you might want to try this. Firm tomatoes cut into one-inch pieces work for this recipe too, though they don’t look so nice on the skewers.

George always grilled shish kebab over charcoal, but a gas grill would probably work just as well.

I had shish kebab at the Turk’s Inn only a couple of times, and both times it was served with the Turk’s Pilaf, which is made with bulgar or coarsely cracked wheat. However, George and Ma both knew I really liked that pilaf, so they may have substituted it for rice pilaf.

Here is a recipe for deliciously simple plain rice pilaf.

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