Zacusca – a traditional Romanian eggplant and red pepper, vegan breadspread.
Now that is a long title. But I had to name it somehow, the Romanian name zacusca, doesn’t really describe what it is. Well, Romanian people do not need a description of this. I cannot imagine that there is any Romanian on earth, who doesn’t know what zacusca is. Together with sarmale, supa de galusti, salata boeuf and vinete are probably the best known and loved foods all over the Romanian territory.
So what is zacusca for the rest of the world? It is basically a bread spread made every autumn by women all over the country. The main ingredients are gogosari and eggplants, which fill the markets there in autumn. Mountains and mountains of gorgeous aubergines and gogosari and other vegetables. My grandmother used to buy like 10 – 20 kilograms of each of them and then spend a few days grilling them on the stove (we lived in an apartment in the city, so there was no possibility to make that in the garden like other people do), peeling them, cooking them and then preserving the jars. Gogosari are some kind of Romanian red bell peppers, sweeter and thicker than the usual red peppers. As I cannot even find a translation of the word and as I never ever seen gogosari outside Romania, I can assure you now that zacusca can be made with normal red bell peppers.
You normally have to grill the vegetables but if you don’t have the possibility or don’t feel like doing it, than just place the stuff in the oven and let cook until the skin blackens and the vegetables are soft.
The result is the BEST vegetarian/vegan bread spread you have ever tasted. And as you can make a lot of it and then preserve the jars you can enjoy this for quite a long time. It can also be eaten as a dip or with noodles like a normal pasta sauce, you can enrich the taste of other sauces with it, you can mix a few tablespoons of it with sour cream or cream cheese and eat it over baked potatoes and so on.
Serves: 4-5 jars
- 4 medium aubergines
- 6 large red bell peppers
- 2 big onions
- 500 ml/ 2 cups pureed tomatoes
- 120 ml/ ½ cup vegetable oil (no olive oil)
- 4 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 2 scant tablespoons salt
- about 20 black peppercorns
- Grill the aubergines on a hot grill until the skin blackens all over and the aubergines are very soft.
- Grill the bell peppers until the skin blisters and blackens.
- Alternatively you can place the vegetables on baking trays laid with parchment paper and place in the hot oven at 200 degrees Celsius/390 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20-30 minutes for the bell peppers and about 40 minutes for the aubergines, turning the veggies about 3 times in the meantime. Don't take them out before they are really soft.
- Take everything out of the oven, sprinkle with coarse sea salt and cover (I normally cover them with plastic foil). This procedure makes the peeling afterward easier. Let the vegetables cool, than peel carefully and place everything into a big sieve. Let drain well for a couple of hours.
- Chop the onions. Heat the oil in a large pan and cook the onions until translucent. Add the aubergines and the red bell peppers, the pureed tomatoes, the bay leaves, the peppercorns and salt. Add about 300 ml/ 1 ½ cups water as well, the mixtures should not be too dry.
- Cook everything on a very low flame for about 1 ½ hours, stirring from time to time.
- Sterilize your jars while your vegetables are cooking. I normally place the jars and their lids in a big pan filled with water. Bring the water to a boil and cook the jars and the lids for about 5 minutes. Take the jars and lids out and let drain on a clean kitchen towel.
- Adjust the taste with salt and honey. You might need a bit more honey, depends on how sweet the peppers and the tomatoes were. Puree the vegetables roughly (there should still be small bits in the zacusca, it should not turn to a paste) with a hand-held mixer. Pour everything in the jars, close with the lids and preserve.
- For preserving the jars I use the same huge, quite flat pot that I use for sterilizing the jars. I place a folded kitchen towel on the bottom of the pot, put the jars on the towel taking care that they don't touch each other, then pour enough hot water to cover the bottom half of the jars. I let everything come to a boil again, then boil the jars for 20 to 25 minutes. I take the jars out of the water immediately and let cool at room temperature.
- If you don't have the time to preserve the jars immediately after the cooking and they are already cold then please fill the pot with cold water instead of hot. So again: hot water for hot jars and cold water for cold jars. Bring to a boil and boil for 20 to 25 minutes.
- Keep the jars on shelves in the cellar or a colder room.