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SIOUX CITY | When Barbara Sulzbach thinks of her childhood, she immediately thinks of deep-fried beef served on a stick.

That's why chislic -- a traditional dish of cubed red meat on a skewer or toothpick -- was one of the first appetizers that the Indigo Palette co-owner added to her restaurant's menu more than a year ago.

"Every time my dad (Robert Sulzbach) would take the family to a fancy restaurant, he'd always order the chislic," Sulzbach recalled, inside her 1012 Fourth Street dining room. "Dad's favorite appetizer quickly became my favorite appetizer."

Apparently, the Sulzbachs weren't alone in their love of chislic -- which means skewed meat in Russian.

According to legend, immigrants from Crimea, Ukraine introduced chislic to southeastern South Dakota in the 1870s, utilizing bite-sized pieces of beef, venison or lamb cooked with such veggies as tomatoes, peppers or onions.

Since then, the meaty variation on shish kebab can be found at county fairs and community events throughout the Mount Rushmore State.

"People who grew up in Iowa or South Dakota in the 1950s could get chislic everywhere," Sulzbach said. "It was probably the ultimate comfort food."

The way Indigo Palette makes its chislic is to take cubed pieces of sirloin steak, marinating it in a thick steakhouse marinade.

"You need both quality beef and a good marinade for chislic," Sulzbach said, adding that she marinates the meat overnight. "Otherwise, it won't have that rich taste."

Then, she lowered the marinated sirloin and cut pieces of mushroom into a deep fryer for approximately 90 seconds.

"The meat and mushrooms are all cut small enough so they won't need a long cooking time," Sulzbach said. "Chislic shouldn't be served well-done. Instead, it should be served medium-rare to medium, with a warm pink inside."

After its deep-fried bath, she removes the meat and mushrooms, draining the excess oils onto a paper towel.

"The best chislic is easy to make," Sulzbach said, sprinkling salt and garlic salt to the resting pieces of sirloin and mushroom. "There should be very little guesswork involved."

Then she skewers the meat and mushrooms onto a wooden stick, adding raw cherry tomatoes for color.

Moving the chislic to a plate, Sulzbach serves it with a homemade honey mustard and bagel chips.

"Whenever we cater a party, the first thing people will ask for is the chislic and our deep-fried asparagus," she noted. "They may not be the healthiest things on our menu but they're among our most popular items."

Sulzbach speculated that may be due to nostalgia for a simpler time.

"When I was a kid, every town had a steakhouse that used only the freshest of ingredients and made everything to order," she said. "The food wasn't fancy but it tasted good, and everything was made with love."

Indeed, much of Indigo Palette's menu is made up of foods Sulzbach and partners Kristine Elkjer and John Glaza remember enjoying in the past.

Such as the chislic Sulzbach remembered from childhood.

"Chislic was my dad's go-to appetizer because he liked it so much," she said. I don't know if dad was a chislic connoisseur but I'm sure he'd like my version a lot."

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Food and Lifestyles reporter

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