As part of my #LocalFoodieFriday series, I once wrote about a Bulgarian restaurant just minutes from my house that introduced me to a beautiful and rich cuisine for the first time. Sadly, 4 Seasons has since closed. While I am always hurt by the closure of local businesses, this one hurt extra because we were regulars. Aside from that, there’s no other Bulgarian restaurant in my city that I know of, so how was I supposed to get my fix? I missed my banitsa with a side of lyutenitsa! Of course, the only way out was to make it myself.
Lyutenitsa is one of my favorite condiments. It’s a thick, rich tomato and red pepper puree that is delicately flavored. Almost plain, the acidity of the tomatoes lifts it up and the weight of an added eggplant gives it body. Much of the flavor comes from the roasted red peppers, with just a few scant herbs added in. I enlisted the help of a Bulgarian friend to tell me what was traditional and what was verboten in this recipe. As much as I wanted to add garlic and onion, he assured me that these were not something he had experienced in lyutenitsa before. And though I wanted to leave out the eggplant, it turns out it’s an important part of the final texture of the spread. I’m grateful to have had his help, because otherwise I would have created a bastardization of lyutenitsa!
As it is, I still worry that something is off with my lyutenitsa. To me, it tastes great and reminds me of the delicious spread that came on the side of my kebabche sausages at 4 Seasons. But there’s always a fear when you make a recipe from another culture, that you’re doing it wrong and offending the ones that hold that recipe dear. Recently I was very worried that my recipe for Nigerian Jollof rice would spark a debate about whether Jollof is Nigerian or Ghanaian, and whether I did it right at all. Fortunately, the recipe resulted in an influx of traffic to my site from Nigeria, with no comments chastising me; so I assume something went right. With all of my #GentGoesGlobal recipes, I strive to do as much research as I can to make sure that I’m staying true to the cultural roots of a recipe, while sometimes adding my own twist. I hope I manage to do them justice!
Fortunately, my friend gave this recipe his stamp of approval, so I will proudly and happily make it again. Lyutenitsa goes great as an accompaniment to sausages or other grilled meats; or, do as I did and make it into a bagel spread when you’re feeling like having a light snack before lunch. This versatile spread is a wonderful accompaniment to your fridge or pantry. If you have fresh tomatoes and peppers at the end of summer, this is a great way to preserve them for winter. In fact, this is what lyutenitsa was made for! If you’re like me, and the craving strikes midwinter, then your favorite canned tomato variety should work just fine.
That’s enough text for such a small recipe, so my only remaining recommendation is that you enjoy! And get ready for a whole new slew of posts, because the post-holiday lazy/hectic/winter depression period is ending and productivity is kicking back into gear. If you have any suggestions for countries to tackle in the Gent Goes Global series, comment below! Until next time, here’s to good drinking, great eating, and even better living.
- 3 red bell peppers
- 1 eggplant
- 1 15-oz can peeled crushed tomatoes (about 3 whole tomatoes, if using fresh, peeled and crushed by hand)
- salt and pepper (to taste)
- red pepper flakes (to taste)
- 1 pinch granulated white sugar
- dried or fresh dill (to taste)
- Roast your red peppers and eggplant in a 450°F oven for about 20 minutes, turning every so often to blacken all sides. Alternatively, you can char them over a gas hob if you have one. Peel them and blitz in a food processor to puree.
- Heat a skillet over medium heat with a little canola oil. Add the puree, tomatoes, salt and pepper, red pepper flakes, and sugar, and simmer until the liquid evaporates and the mixture thickens (about 25 minutes). Stir in the dill. Serve as an accompaniment to any dish and enjoy!