Because it’s the season for tasty and juicy eggplants, we recommend preserving them for the cold season. Discover a recipe for eggplant zacusca, one of the best-loved canned vegetable medleys in Eastern Europe.
Zacusca is the name of a vegetable preserve recipe found in Balkan countries. The recipe is made from vegetables that are cooked and fried in oil. The main ingredients for the classic zacusca recipe are eggplants and baked peppers. To these are also added onions sautéed in sunflower oil.
Over the years, the recipe has undergone changes, depending on the tastes of those preparing it. Carrots, mushrooms and even courgettes can be added. But the taste of classic zacusca, as my mother and grandmother used to make it, remains unmistakable.
Here’s the full list of ingredients and the steps you need to make one of our best-loved vegetable preserve recipes.
Eggplant zacusca – Ingredients
- 6 kg eggplants
- 4 kg red peppers (long pointy + bell pepper)
- 2 kg yellow onions
- 1 kg tomato paste
- 500 ml sunflower oil
- Salt and ground pepper to taste
- Sugar to taste (optional)
- 2 sprigs thyme
Eggplant zacusca – Preparation
Start by preparing the eggplants and peppers, which require cooking on the grill or in the oven. Wash the eggplants well and pat them dry with paper towels. Do the same with the peppers. If you can, roast them on a grill for a richer taste, or bake in the oven.
After baking, sprinkle salt over both the eggplants and the peppers for a quick and easy cleaning. Cover with a foil and set aside for 10-15 minutes. The vegetables will soften under the foil and their skins will peel off easily.
Clean the eggplants and peppers with hands moistened with cold water. Do not clean them under running water: as the water runs over the vegetables, their juices will run off and the taste will be weaker.
After cleaning, place the eggplants and peppers in a sieve. Discard the juice of the eggplants and save the juice from the peppers for cooking the zacusca. After draining, finely chop the eggplants and roasted peppers.
While the vegetables are draining, prepare the onions: clean, rinse with cold water and chop finely.
Pour the oil in a large 7-8 liter pot or saucepan. Place the pot on the stove and heat up the oil. Add the onion and sauté until glassy, stirring with a spatula so they don’t burn. Don’t overcook it so it doesn’t taste like fried onions. When it starts to brown, add a little of the juice from the roasted peppers over the onions to attenuate the fried onion taste.
Once the onions are softened, add the cooked eggplant and roasted peppers. Mix thoroughly with a spatula to blend the vegetable mixture well. Add the juice from the roasted peppers and simmer the vegetables for about 60 minutes. Add 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp ground pepper and the thyme sprigs.
Stir occasionally to prevent the zacusca burning down. When the oil begins to rise to the surface around the edges of the pot, add the tomato broth. Again, stir ingredients well to homogenize.
Cook the zacusca for about 30 minutes more. In the meantime, taste and season with salt and pepper. You can also add a little sugar if you like a slightly sweet taste, or if you find the tomatoes too sour.
Distribute the hot zacusca int sterilized jars. Seal the jars tightly.
Cover the jars with blankets and leave them covered until they cool completely. Then you can label the jars and transfer them onto pantry shelves. You’ll enjoy the delicious taste of this vegetable spread in the cold season or when you take a break from meat dishes.