On the grill: salmon and corn shashlik

And just like that, it’s August, a month when almost anything can happen, and that’s usually the case in Russia. Each year the country braces itself for ‘the curse of August’, the month’s propensity for natural disasters, hurricanes to flooding and even peatland fires, combined with a tragic number of air and rail accidents and Kursk submarine accident. The month of August is also the scene of military, social and political upheavals, such as the declaration of the First World War and the outright coup of 1991, which this year celebrates its thirtieth anniversary.

So while we prepare for something seismic, let’s try to take advantage of August’s perks – and the corn season is at the top of the list. As this relentlessly cheerful harvest climbs to the height of an elephant’s eye, it’s time to whip out all of our favorite corn recipes: cornbread, corn muffins, corn chowder, polenta and, of course, just plain. old corn on the cob. Brushed with butter and sprinkled with a little salt. What could be nicer?

How about corn shashlik? Cut into chunks, the corn on the cob looks great on a shashlik skewer and pairs well with everything from fish to veggies.

Before building the skewer, however, let’s take a look back at the history of corn in Russia and the outsized role corn played in improving relations between the country and its superpower opponent: the United States.

Jennifer Eremeeva / MT

Khrushchev, Iowa and corn

Overshadowed in pre-revolutionary Russia by wheat, rye, oats, barley and buckwheat, corn was grown mainly in the black soil region of Bessarabia (now Moldova). Heavily influenced by Romanian culinary culture, corn porridge, known as mămăligă, is still a popular dish in this region. But in the rest of Russia, corn was unknown or considered suitable fodder for animals rather than food for humans.

It would take a Soviet premier and a capitalist corn seed seller from Iowa to change the corn count for Russia. In one of the most enduring relationships of the Cold War, Roswell Garst of Iowa and Nikita Khrushchev befriended during Garst’s repeated visits to Moscow and Khrushchev’s memorable 1959 visit to Iowa. . Corn was the catalyst for the friendship and remained at the heart of their decades-long friendship, which continued after Khrushchev’s ousting from power in 1964.

As a former sheep farmer on the Russian-Ukrainian border, Khrushchev came to power with a vast knowledge of agriculture and a desire to modernize Soviet agriculture and significantly increase yields by increasing cultivation in areas of the USSR which had never been cultivated before. Khrushchev hoped this “virgin land” program would ultimately produce more livestock, essential for a population that still lacks protein in their diet.

Large-scale corn cultivation emerged as a solution thanks to a timely editorial in 1955 by Lauren Soth of the Des Moines Register, titled “If the Russians Want More Meat.” Soth’s editorial, which won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 1956, proposed hybrid corn as a pragmatic solution to the Soviet Union’s underperforming agricultural performance. It also included a heartfelt invitation – if not approved by the US State Department – to Soviet delegations to visit Iowa and learn all the Corn Belt had to offer: “Everything we Iowans know about corn … will be available for Russians on request. Soth ended on a pragmatic note. “Of course, the Russians wouldn’t. And we doubt that even our own government would dare to allow an adventure in human understanding of this sort. But that would make sense. “

Corn poster for cattle

Corn poster for cattle

To everyone’s astonishment, Khrushchev nodded. It made sense, and the State Department rushed to arrange to receive a Soviet trade delegation. It was during this first trip that Iowan Roswell Garst showcased their efficient seed factory with state-of-the-art machinery and mechanization. Returning home, the Soviet delegation sang the praises of Garst and his factory in Khrushchev, which paved the way for Garst to visit the Soviet Union. There he met Khrushchev and Anastas Mikoyan, then First Deputy Prime Minister. It was from Garst that Khrushchev first learned to call corn on the cob “little sausages,” a phrase the Soviet Premier would repeat frequently in the years to come.

Garst’s relationship with Khrushchev was unique, and Western journalists found his access to the Prime Minister and his family amazing. Over the years, Garst continued to travel to Eastern Europe, and he and his family welcomed the Khrushchev family to their farm on Khrushchev’s memorable trip to Iowa in 1959.

Garst’s advice fell on fertile ground. Regardless of the suspicions of Soviet farmers that corn was an “alien” crop, Khrushchev embarked on a vigorous cultivation of corn, growing from 4.3 million hectares to over 60 million acres in 1962. Thanks to the hot, dry weather, the first years of Maize cultivation was a great success, but the cooler and rainier weather of 1962 resulted in a catastrophic loss of almost the entire USSR maize crop.

Corn on the farm

Corn on the farm

The revival of post-soviet corn

After perestroika, when fast food chains entered the Russian market, popular fried chicken chain Rustic’s – now a KFC franchise – reintroduced the corn on the cob as a popular side dish. While corn isn’t likely to eclipse potatoes or buckwheat in traditional Russian cuisine, it remains popular, especially when it comes in season. What is right now.

There are so many ways to enjoy fresh corn on the cob, but grilling or roasting them brings out the natural sugars in corn kernels and enhances the already fabulous flavors of corn. Grilled corn is perfect with just about anything you want to throw on the grill, but in the mind of Nikita Khrushchev and Roswell Garst, here’s a shashlik recipe that combines fresh corn on the cob with salmon – two separate ingredients. very different culinary canons meet halfway for a delicious exchange. Drying the salmon lightly ahead of time and pre-cooking the corn means these skewers only need a few moments per side on the grill, eliminating any risk of scorching or getting too dry. The red pepper gives this skewer a nice color palette and thin slices of lime add a citrus touch to the salmon.

So, in the spirit of international friendship, throw those salmon and corn shashlik skewers on the grill and enjoy August… while you still can.

Jennifer Eremeeva / MT

Jennifer Eremeeva / MT

Corn and salmon shashlik


  • 1 ½ lb. (700 grams) salmon, cut into 2 inch cubes
  • 3 corn on the cob
  • 2 red bell peppers, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 limes, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon of red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons of sea salt
  • 1 large bunch of fresh dill, finely chopped


  • ¾ cup (175 ml) olive oil
  • Juice and zest of a lime
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded
  • 1 cup (240 mL) fresh herbs: cilantro, dill and mint
  • 5 green onions


  • Sprinkle half the sea salt over the salmon cubes, then gently squeeze the dill on each side of the cubes. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  • Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cook the corn on the cob for 10 minutes (longer if the type of corn requires it). Remove from the pan and let cool to room temperature. Once cool, cut the ears into 2-inch (5-centimeter) pieces. Mix the pieces with the remaining salt and red pepper and set aside.
  • Prepare the dip by combining all the ingredients in a food processor fitted with a steel blade or blender and mixing until smooth. Cool the sauce until ready to serve.
  • Pat the salmon dry with paper towel, then thread it on shashlik skewers next to the lime slices and interspersed with pepper and corn.
  • Heat the grill to medium-high heat and oil it with a damp paper towel soaked in vegetable or canola oil. Grill the skewers 2-3 minutes per side or until the pepper is lightly charred and the salmon has turned translucent.
  • Serve immediately with the dipping sauce.

Jennifer Eremeeva / MT

Jennifer Eremeeva / MT

About Marco C. Nichols

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