They became pacifists and vegetarians in Russia based on the principles of their spiritual leader Peter Verigin and his idol, the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. However, not all eschewed meat, and for that we can be grateful because it gave us one of the most unique regional foods in our province: shishliki.
Shishliki is an old Russian recipe of marinated and grilled lamb. It's a specialty around Yorkton, Kamsack and Canora, where it's popular at weddings, summer barbeques, community events and family reunions.
Traditionally, there are just three ingredients – lamb, onion and salt. Lemon may be added as a tenderizer if the meat is tough, but it is unlikely the first prairie Doukhobors ever saw a lemon or could afford one if they did.
Among the 7,500 Doukhobors who came to Canada in 1899 was the Zbeetnoff family, whose descendant Michelle (Zbeetnoff) Hughes of Norquay is publisher of Prairies North magazine. Even though she was raised in the bosom of her mother's Ukrainian family, she still makes the shishliki and piroshky (fruit pies) of her Russian Doukhobor grandmother.
"I want my children to be familiar with the old recipes because it's part of their heritage," she says. "Back then, it was subsistence living. Everything they had was by the hard work of their own hands."
And in this recipe, the hands are still at work. No spoon allowed! Pork or chicken may be substituted for the lamb.
2 lbs lamb (1 kg)
1 big onion, sliced
Cut meat in 2-inch cubes. In a bowl, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, if using. With your hands, rub the seasoning into the meat. Mix in onion. Cover and refrigerate 3–7 days, turning the meat once a day. Thread meat onto skewers and grill.
Note: If you're feeding a crowd, use 50 lbs of meat, 20 lbs of onions, 1/2 cup salt and 1/4 cup pepper.
(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)