Last night, in our ongoing quest to prepare for the winter we made zakuszka. Lots of zakuszka. Now you may be wondering what exactly zakuszka is, unless of course you have you lived in the Balkans at some point in your life. Zakuszka is the way that Romanians, Bulgarians and some parts of Yugoslavia ensure a vegetable intake throughout the winter. Zakuszka is the Hungarian spelling, but apparently it’s not popular in Hungary, it’s just a Transylvanian thing. It’s derived from the Romanian word for the same thing, which is, I think, Zacuscă. According to this wikipedia article it’s Romanian in origin, but I reckon there’s no way that zacusca is a Romanian origin word, and it must be Slavic. (That’s what you get with Wikipedia, I suppose).
So, anyway, what this process involved (aside from creating absolute havoc in the kitchen) was first to grind up 2 kilos of red peppers - and they were a very specific type of red pepper too, kind of tomato shaped red peppers. To be honest there are more kinds of pepper available here than I’d ever thought fathomable. I guess for living in a Hungarian town this is what I should have expected, given that paprika is one of the few words in English that comes from Hungarian (the other two that I am aware of are goulash – unsurprisingly – and coach –in the sense of means of transportation, derived from the Hungarian town of Kocs apparently). But anyway, I digress.
Where was I? Ah yes, feeding two kilos of peppers through a meat grinder. Took a while. There are a lot of peppers in two kilos you know. But this was relatively pleasurable compared to the next phase which was to feed a kilo of onions through the same grinder. Because I still have this thing in my eye, I have a little bottle of fake tears that I can put in whenever it bothers me (which is less and less often thankfully). What a waste of money. Just feed an onion through a grinder and bob’s your uncle. If this were a magic realism novel rather than a mere blog, anyone subsequently eating this zakuszka would be seized with melancholy, thanks to the tears shed while making it.
So you take this ground up concoction and throw in half a litre of sunflower oil (I told you this was an industrial sized recipe) and slowly cook it for an hour. Meanwhile, you burn off the skins off 8 aubergines*. I can’t really explain this process in any other way, and I’m sure there are modern ways of achieving the same result, but basically you put the aubergines on a fire (either outside on a real fire, or inside on the gas ring) and turn them until all the skin has cracked and burned and then you strip them and chop them. (They get this delicious burnt taste). So you take these roasted(?) aubergines and feed them through the grinder too, and then mix in a large pot the onion/pepper mix, the aubergines, a litre of freshly prepared tomato juice, a kilo of soaked and cooked white beans, another half litre of oil, some peppercorns, bayleaves, salt and a little sugar and cook that “until the oil rises to the surface”. Only it didn’t really, and we just stopped after two hours. Then you stick it in jars, and steam the jars on pots of boiling water for half a hour. And that’s it.
We were at it for basically 5 hours straight, but now we have a pantry full of zakuszka (and strawberry jam) and are thus set for the winter. The kitchen looked like a bombsite though.
(*More word facts. The word I thought was Hungarian for aubergine is vinete, but it turns out that this is in fact the Romanian word that Transylvanian Hungarians use. The word that other Hungarians use is padlizsan, which is basically the Turkish word Magyarised. I can tell you’re gripped.)
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