Romanian Zacusca Recipe

By Greg B. I’ve known a family of Romanians for a while now, but I haven’t seen this particular recipe made in years, so I’m going from memory!  Zacusca is a great food, not a meal in it’s own (though you can certainly eat enough of it to make it one) but a spread on bread for sandwiches or even just a nice snack on break of crackers.  Here is my version from what I can remember of how it is made!

It’s a simple recipe but man is it delicious. I make it about 4 times a year, though traditionally it is made in the fall, around harvest time.  For ingredients, you will need:

  • 4 Large red peppers
  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 2 medium onions
  • ~ 6-7 cloves of garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • *two medium tomatoes

This recipe involves a lot of grilling, so make sure you have a suitable place to grill.  I like to use charcoal to grill food, but you can do this on a gas grill as well.  First, take your garlic cloves and remove any of the shell or outside lining.  Second, take your eggplant and slice a few “X” marks into it, in places where you will want to shove your garlic cloves into the eggplant.  Third, shove garlic cloves into the eggplant!  The eggplant should be fairly covered in garlic at this point, and that’s how you know it’s ready for roasting.

Start your coals.  This time, I used a mesquite charcoal I had leftover from the end of summer, which is ok by me since it will add an extra smokey flavor to the food.   You will want to heat a large area, to roast all the vegetables evenly, so try to cover the base of the grill with about an average or 2 coals on top of each other.  You don’t want to concentrate the heat too much in one location, but really give every spot a good chance of cooking evenly.

Wash and dry your veggies, leave the red peppers intact and slice the onions after removing the outer shell.  Then place them all on the grill and cook each side until it is blackened.  The red peppers should blacken on each side, even the bottoms, and the eggplant should become a very dark and very mushy version of itself.  Onions will roast nicely, I keep them to the outside usually, since they cook so fast.

Once everything is blackened, take the eggplant and the red peppers and place them in a brown paper bag for about 15 minutes, rolling the end and sealing it.  This bag steaming method will help remove the blistered skin of the peppers.  After the time is up, remove the vegetables and start prepping your food processor!  remove the red pepper blackened skins, the stems and the majority of the seeds.  For the eggplant, remove the burnt skin an the top, but leaving the roasted garlic and internal portion of the eggplant.  Place everything in a food processor, add salt and pepper (adjust later to taste) and some olive oil, and process!

The end result should be a nice red, slightly chunky, thick hearty spread.  Some bits of blackened skins will remain and give this dish a nice smokey, roasted flavor.  At this point, while it’s hot, I like to eat as much as I can.  With a baguette, or wheat thins, or baby carrots, basically any vehicle to eat this zacusca is great.

And that’s how easy this awesomely delicious food is.  It works great as an appetizer, great as a spread on sandwiches and great on just about anything you can think of to use it on.  At this point, I should note that while making this today, I totally forgot the tomatoes (why they’re starred in the ingredients list).  Basically roast them along with the rest of the vegetables, and you’ll be golden.  I fortunately had a can of tomato paste, and while not ideal, I added some of it to the food to give it a bit of tomato acid to balance out how sweet the peppers are.  At this point, I’d like to ask Mike would wine would best go along with this food, in just a baguette + zacusca serving.  Any recommendations?  For beer, I’d keep it simple, a nice pale ale, like Anderson valley’s.  Something that is refreshing, but wont overpower the more subtle sweet flavors and smokey aromas

This entry was posted in FOOD, Recipes and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Romanian Zacusca Recipe

  1. noble pig says:

    My hubby is Romanian, I’ll have to make this for me!

    Happy new Year to you all and all the best for 2009!

  2. michael says:

    Hi Cathy! Happy New year!

    I agree that this looks great and look forward to trying it myself! Another great recipe, Greg! We might have to change your title from “beer man” to “food and beer man” :)

  3. Greg says:

    Haha, I cant take credit for this recipe, I just happened to be a casual observer!

  4. Pingback: Grilled Leg of Lamb Stuffed with Apricots | food, wine, beer, culture

  5. loredana says:

    Hi,
    This is not the right way for zacusca.I am romanian and the recipe is wrong including the quantities of eggplant,peppers..etc.Good replica good try..Bravo!!:)

  6. Greg says:

    Hi Loredana, welcome to the site! I’d be happy to make it again, if you have specifications for changes :) The family I saw make this was from Bucuresti, maybe there are regional differences?

    Also my memory may not always be 100% right :)

  7. loredana says:

    I am from bucuresti myself.The grilling part of eggplant and peppers is right.But onions need to be cut in small cubes and then put in a big pot of oil and cooked ’till they get golden.Then u add eggplant,peppers and tomatos (they have to be without seeds).The whole cooking process takes about 4-6 hours.After everything is cooked on the stove(watch very closely not to burn the bottom)then u transfer the pot to oven for 1 hour or so.U can find the recipe on internet U will see this is the right way.And trust me is great!I just made it:))
    Have a great day Greg!
    All the best 2 u!
    Lore

  8. Loredana says:

    P.S

    U should have more eggplant than red peppers.Don’t grill/broil eggplant with garlic in the skin.Make sure after grilling/broiling u let the eggplant and peppers in a strainer for at least 2-4 hours so all the bitter oils will go away:)Try this recipe and then u can say,,I ATE THE BEST ZACUSCA EVER!!”
    Lore

  9. Pingback: food wine beer culture Romanian Zacusca Recipe | Indoor Grills

  10. Dorin says:

    My mom used to do large quantities of “zacusc?” every autumn when I was a kid. She’d store it in the pantry and use it for sandwiches throughout winter.

  11. Dorin says:

    My mom used to do large quantities of zacusca every autumn when I was a kid. She’d store it in the pantry and use it for sandwiches throughout winter.

  12. Alex says:

    Hi, I am from Romania. Very nice try but follow Nicoleta’s recipe. I would also like to add that you are using the wrong peppers. You need a very specific type which here is called “gogosari” ( http://farm1.static.flickr.com/212/469832559_ff0697ced9.jpg?v=0 ) and its specific to Romania. Wikipedia says that in america the peppers that resemble mostly with gogosari is pimento peppers, use that ! You should also use red onion or water onion how we call it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_onion . Do that and you will be much more pleased of Zacusca.

  13. Alex says:

    lol .. sorry for posting 4 times.. i kept getting some errors ..

  14. Greg says:

    Hi Alex,

    Thanks for the input! I’ll be looking forward to making a few more recipes as the season gets on to fall. Maybe I’ll do a little taste test of commenter’s separate inputs :)

  15. Ted says:

    Alex, I received a packet of pepper seeds from Hungary. I am told that the name on the seed package translates to “Pritamin Paprika”. The sender said this pepper is also referred to as “gogosari”. Do I have the right pepper? I have some growing in my garden. While none are ripe, the shape is the same as those in your web link.

    Ted

  16. Alyce says:

    Greg,

    I am also Romanian. First, I’d like to apologize for my fellow countrymen who were so rude by telling you that your recipe is all wrong. Your recipe is not wrong, it’s just different than theirs. There are as many recipes for Zacusca as there are cooks! And every cook boasts that theirs is the best, but that’s only because they’ve become accustomed to that flavor.

    My recipe includes equal parts (by weight) of bell pepper, eggplant, onion and carrots (yes, carrots). Add oil, salt and pepper. Towards the end of the cooking, I add some tomato paste for some acid, but I don’t add whole tomatoes because they are too juicy. You’ll know your Zacusca is done when the oil separates from the rest of the paste.

    If you have the time give this a try, but I’m sure all the other recipes are just as delicious. Oh, and mushrooms is another popular ingredient in Zacusca, but I don’t like the texture.

    Enjoy and thank you for posting about Romanian food.

    Alyce

  17. Greg says:

    Hi Alyce, Thanks for the helpful comments and the recipe! Given the sheer number of recipes just in the comment section, I’m thinking of having a zacusca festival at my house this fall. Maybe then we can make each recipe and have a bunch of people eat and rate them all to see how we Americans like them :)

    I know I’ve eaten other Romanian foods before, and I loved them all. Do you have any other recipes you want to pass on?

    -gb

  18. Sylwia says:

    Hi All,

    Thanks for all the suggestions on zacuska. Most of my friends are Romanian and I had a chance to try zacuska many times. My favorite. Just today I got a great bargain on farmers market with peppers and tonight is the cooking zacuska night! Wish me luck!.Sylwia

  19. Greg B says:

    Good luck, Sylwia! come back and let me know how it turns out :)

  20. PurpleD says:

    Greg, your recipe is not “wrong”.

    Although we Romanians agree that there are some guidelines for “Zacusca”, every household makes it with a slightly different taste. For example, I like with with more eggplant and mushrooms….Since it’s a mix of veggies, it depends on your particular preference. It’s important that all of them are mashed into a paste.

    I’ve got to try it myself now! :)

  21. PurpleD says:

    Oh, I forgot…I envision a white wine with this recipe. Maybe you can find a semi-dry Romanian wine. My american husband, accustomed with wines from all around the world, was shocked at how delicious Romanian wines are! Not to mention our plum brandy (Palinca), but that’s another story…He even wants to name our daughter Plum Brandy!? :-)

  22. Thank you so much for your blog and this recipe. We wanted to do something special for my son’s teacher, who is Romanian. We think it turned out fabulous, but I suppose the real test will be what she thinks! :) I do know that we’ll be making it often here at our house.

  23. Pingback: Romanian can-can « Table for the World

  24. Adrian says:

    it is good to see so many of my countrymen/women here, i would like to add my 2 cents as well, by adding brown mushrooms that have been cut down and pan-fried will also add a further dimension to this already mighty recipe….. i must say that in 30 yrs i have not come across a spread that can rival this in taste!

  25. Mariana Marinescu says:

    Hi, everybody!
    I too, am Romanian-from Bucharest, but my maternal grandmother was from Ramnicu’ sarat, which means that she cooked both the Moldovan, and the Wallachian way..plus a few Greek and Turkish ways..from what I remember! Yes, zacusca was an “autumnal ritual” to us, since we had to go and shop for lots of Kgs of “gogoshari”, “vinete” (egg-plants) and tomatoes, and then the whole process began; it involved a lot of searing gogoshari (and, no, as someone already mentioned, there are NONE to be found in the US-same goes for “vishine”-sour cherries, and “”gutui” (quinces) which-when found, are extremely small, not ripe, and extremely expensive..being imported from Mexico)and egg-plants, and then, after you cleaned and sliced the eggplants, you lay them on a wooden trivet, and sprinkled them with salt, and just let them lose the bitter juice that way. Then you cooked the onions in oil, same for the tomatoes and peppers, and chopped garlic. And YES, I LOVE the mushroom version-that I made myself, quite a few times ! This concoction is generally canned in jars (in “bain-marie”, which means the jars are floated in a bigger pot with water in it, and boiled very gently and indirectly for a few hours), then they were extracted, cleaned, cooled off, and covered with a thin layer of cellophane, which clung to the tops and shrank to fit! “Old School ” ziploc plastic-wrapping I guess…
    It was time consuming, and we produced plenty of jars, that were…quickly consumed, before winter was half over! Bon appetit!

Leave a Reply