Looking for a recipe to make on Game Day? Look no further, I have what you need! This is an appetizer I ate a lot as a child, and I love eating it today with my family. We call it zacusca, but you will find it in other Eastern European cuisines under the name of ajvar.
Often heralded as “the vegan caviar of the Balkans,” ajvar is first mentioned in a recipe in the 19th century, in the Great Serbian Cookbook by Katarina Popović. This light, low calorie dish is a bit time-consuming, yet also unbelievably easy to make: it’s a a delicious concoction of open-fire roasted eggplant and bell peppers and oven-roasted tomatoes, with extra helpings of crushed tomatoes. It’s aromatic, wholesome, and truly addictive in its simplicity. My daughter loves to eat zacusca on fresh bread, and her hands and smiling face smeared with this colorful spread are truly a vision of happiness 🙂 Make this at home instead of buying it from the grocery store, and you will not be disappointed!
This is a modified version of a recipe I posted awhile ago, where I used the zacusca as a panino ingredient. Recently I have tweaked this recipe by changing the pepper-to-eggplant ratio and most other ingredient quantities and by adding oven-roasted tomatoes. As I wrote in my original post, you start off by roasting the eggplant and peppers over the stove top burners until they turn soft and the juices start running. I always put aluminum foil on the stove (leaving the burners uncovered, of course) to make the cleaning easier afterwards.
Here’s a pepper during roasting…
… and here’s an eggplant:
While these are roasting away, it’s time to oven-roast the tomatoes. Place the halved tomatoes in a pan covered with aluminum foil, lightly smear with vegetable oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and dried oregano.
Put the pan in the preheated oven and roast the tomatoes for about 45 minutes or until brown-red and soft. When cooked, take the tomatoes out of the oven and cool down in a bowl.
Let the roasted peppers and eggplant cool down in a bowl as well. When cold, remove their charred skins, quickly run them through cold water, and pat dry to remove any excess water. Put the eggplant, peppers (with seeds removed) and tomatoes (skins on) in a blender…
… and blend until the mixture is homogeneous. Set aside.
Sauté the diced onions in a big pot for a few minutes until soft and translucent.
Add the eggplant, pepper and tomato mixture to this pot along with 1/2 cup vegetable oil, bay leaves and salt and pepper to taste.
Also add one big can of crushed tomatoes.
Bring to boil over a medium heat. Reduce down the heat to low and cook for about 1.5 hours or until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the zacusca has a thick consistency.
This delicious appetizer keeps well in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks, or even longer if you preserve it through canning. We usually eat it spread on slices of fresh bread or as a side dish. For a special Game Day presentation I recommend serving it on crostini or crackers with diced cucumber and green onion on top for extra freshness and texture. I have recently become a fan of Mary’s Gone Crackers products, which is why this weekend I will be serving the zacusca on top of their original crackers.
Wishing everyone a fabulous weekend and a delicious Super Bowl spread 🙂