Cooking

Mangal Mania

Kachka's chef tells us how to grill out like a Russian
Mangal Grill
Photo: Shevchenko Alexander via Flickr

You've marinated your meat, threaded it onto skewers and fired up the grill. Now all that's left is waiting for the thing to heat up enough, so you can throw those kebabs on the hot grate. For Bonnie Morales, chef/owner of Kachka, a red-hot Russian restaurant in Portland, Oregon, that's where the record comes to a screeching halt.

"Skewers are really popular as a grilled item in the U.S., but they're really not meant to be grilled on a grate—they're meant to be cooked in a box," she says. "If you've ever tried to grill skewers on a grate, you'll know that it's messy, they stick and they're often unevenly cooked—that's because it's not really the method that was supposed to be used in the first place."

For Morales, the daughter of parents who emigrated from Belarus the year before she was born, the superior way to get your grill on this summer is with a mangal (a large, rectangular grill) and the place to do it is at your dacha.

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A dacha is a summer home popular in Russia and other Eastern Bloc countries. The land where a dacha is was originally given to residents by the government, so they could get out of the city and have a garden. "It sounds really idyllic, but the real reason for it is so that everyone could supply food for themselves," Morales explains.

When it gets hot out, families retire to their dachas and break out their mangals, grilling up skewers of lamb, chicken, whole fish, vegetables and even cheese. But you don't need a dacha or a traditional mangal grill of your own—here's Morales's advice for a Russian-style feast at home on a regular charcoal grill.

Source your skewers: Seek out extra-long (at least 17 inches) skewers, like these or these.

Pick your protein: Grab some eggplant, whole trout, lamb, chicken or grilling cheese like halloumi and marinade it with bold flavors. "If you really want to do it right, the marinade is really important," Morales says. For a whole chicken, the chef suggests taking a quart of kefir and adding a sliced yellow onion, a bunch of cilantro and plenty of salt; she soaks lamb in potent pomegranate juice. Cut everything you're cooking into bite-size pieces, so they cook evenly.

Hack your grill: Grab your Weber and remove the grate. Light the coals, and once they're white hot, spread them evenly across the bottom. If the skewers aren't long enough to traverse the entire grill, place bricks inside the bowl to create a shorter distance across the hot coals.

Skewer away: You'll want the skewers evenly balanced across the heat and spaced far enough apart that they can be easily turned without touching each other, floating freely over the coals.

The final step? Relax and enjoy your own DIY dacha.

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