This recipe is a tribute to my dear Romanian grandma who passed away recently. When I think of her, I think of how passionate she was about cooking and how for holidays she always wanted to bring the entire family together at one big table to eat and drink and enjoy her feast (this kind of reminds me of myself;).
One of my favorite dishes she always used to cook is this incredibly yummy Romanian specialty called Zacuscă. I remember my grandma in the kitchen preparing a huge pot of this flavorful veggie spread. She preserved it in jars and kept on sending me small care packages over to Berlin once in a while because she new how much I loved it.
When I heard that my grandma had passed away it made me think of all the nice moments we shared and the memories she left me with. And one of the first things that came to my mind was: “I have to go to the farmers’ market, buy all the ingredients I need and cook a big pot of Zacuscă like grandma always used to do.” So I went, carefully picked every single vegetable, spent the entire afternoon in my kitchen with the recipe she had given to me and held my own little ceremony for her and her memory.
It made me realize that creating something like a little ritual for the person you lost can help a lot to overcome the sadness and to let go of this beloved person. Writing this article and sharing the recipe means a lot to me.
Ingredients for 1 liter of Zacuscă
1,5 kg tomatoes
3 big eggplants
3 medium size onions
4 peppers (red and/or yellow)
250 ml rapeseed oil
1 chili (optional in case you like it spicy)
Preheat your oven to 250°C.
Wash peppers and eggplants, cut them in half and place on a baking tray (skin facing upwards). Then bake the veggies in the oven for about 10-15 minutes until the skin turns black. Take the veggies out of the oven and let them cool down for a bit.
While peppers and eggplants are in the oven, peel the tomatoes: Remove the stem with a knife and cut a shallow X on the bottom of the tomato, this will make peeling much easier. Fill a big bowl with ice water and set it aside. Place a pot of water on the stove and bring it to a boil. Then drop tomatoes into the boiling water. You can add several at a time. Remove them after 30 seconds or when the skin begins to peel and put them into the bowl of ice water. Let the tomatoes sit in the ice bath for 5 minutes then peel the skins with your fingers and cut the tomatoes into small cubes.
Peel the onions and cut them into small cubes.
Then start peeling the eggplants and peppers and cut them into pieces.
Preheat the oil in a big pot and sauté the onions for about 4 minutes on medium heat, then add the other veggies and tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and cook everything on a very low flame for about 1 ½ hours, stirring from time to time, until a thin layer of oil remains on top, and when you take a spoonful of Zacuscă from the pot only the oil should run off the spoon, not the Zacuscă.
Fill the hot mixture into sterilized jars.
For preservation put the jars into a big pot (make sure they don’t touch each other!), add enough hot water into the pot to cover the lower half of the jars. Let everything come to a boil again and boil the jars for 20 to 25 minutes. Then take the jars out of the water and let them cool down at room temperature.
To preserve Zacuscă for the winter you should keep the jars on shelves in the cellar or a colder room.
Originally you would eat Zacuscă just on a piece of fresh homemade bread but you can also use it as a quick and easy pasta sauce, or as a yummy veggie dip. Personally, my absolute favorite Zacuscă comfort food is eating it with roasted potatoes and a little bit of feta cheese!
Thank you Grandma for sharing this recipe with me!
text and photos: Gianna Thiess