Self explorations and who influenced your life

Making Zacuska and the importance of preserving traditions


I grew up in Romania in communist times. Back then, autumn was associated with making preserves, pickles of all sorts, making spreads for winter-time. The whole activity would start in August and end in October or early November. I remember our "enclosed balcony" having rows of shelves full of colourful jars of various colours and shapes. The staircase of the block of flats I lived in was full of yummy smells ... everybody was cooking...... this was our normality. I doubt much of this is happening nowadays as buying ready-made products is something imported from the West and many Romanians, like those in the West, have adopted the practice -but I might be wrong. I am sure that in the countryside the traditions are preserved but not that much in the towns. But my short post is not about the past, but about the now.

I started to make Zakuska only a few years ago ... out of curiosity, out of a longing for the taste that was so familiar to me - and I missed that taste a lot. 

There are lots of recipes for Zakuska that one can follow - some families even had their secret recipes passed down to them from generation to generation. I have followed quite a few recipes over the years simply out of curiosity but this year's is, I think,  my favourite. It is nicely written on a special recipe card and I am sure I will make it many times. Today I've made it for the third time this season. Why? Because I like it, because I like to cook it and gift it to my friends .....and because I like to make small batches. 

So, here we go ..this is what you need


1 kg onions

4 kg aubergines (grilled and peeled) approximately 2 kg of aubergine pulp 

1 kg red bell peppers 

2-3 garlic cloves

1  big grated carrot

150 ml sunflower oil

1 small cup of water 

This is a making process that you can start in one day and finish the next one - so do not hurry.

First of all you need to grill the whole peppers until the colour of the skin is black. Once grilled put them in a plastic bag and let them cool down. Once they are cool it will be easy to peel them.. Click on the link to have a clearer picture.

Next it is the turn of the aubergines. If you are lucky and you have an ethnic food shop in your area you might be lucky to find aubergines that are already roasted in a nice jar. If you don't, it's time to follow the same process as the bell peppers ... you need to grill them until the skin is black just like in this image. Once they cool down you should peel off the black skin and save the yummy middle in a sieve. Stand them for half an hour and then start chopping them both finely. Aubergines are key for this recipe of Zakuska. 

Now it's time for the onions ... chop them finely or use an electric chopper. Set them aside. Do the same for the garlic. 

At this stage you can pat yourself on the shoulder as the hard work is done. Take a big pot, add the sunflower oil, chopped aubergine, grated carrot, chopped red bell pepper, chopped onions, put them on a stove and stir for about 10 minutes. After that,  add the cup of water and put the pot in the oven at about 150 degrees celsius for about 3-4 hours stirring from time to time.

After that, scoop the content into glass jars and you are done. Put the lid on .... and you can start eating ... spread on a piece of bread, as a dip with vegetables, on top of pasta, added to casseroles ... there are endless possibilities.




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