Lutenitsa, What The Heck?
Come here in September - October and visit a rural place. The tasty smell of roasting pepper will hit you in the nose. What do they do with all this pepper? Some of it goes in jars for cooking and salads in the winter. Most of it doesn't. Come closer and see what people are doing in their backyards: they are making lutenitsa.
What is this?
Lutenitsa or lutenica is a kind of chutney made of peppers, tomatoes and sometimes carrots and is popular only in Bulgaria, Serbia, and Macedonia. Sometimes it's a bit spicy because it contains hot peppers. It can contain also eggplant, onion, garlic, and black pepper (see recipe at the bottom of the article). Unlike Indian chutneys it's usually not served freshly cooked but is preserved in jars for using all year round.
Bulgarians eat lutenitsa with toasts or as garnish to meatballs, sausages and other roasted meat. You can also find it in the popular beans & lutenitsa salad and as typical garnish to barbeque dishes in restaurants.
Where to find it?
Fortunately there is enough factory-made lutenitsa in stores so you don't have to beg a rural family to sell you a jar or two. But there are a couple of things to have in mind:
- Many of the industrial made jars (especially the cheaper ones) contain also potato starch to make volume. This of course makes the lutenitsa lower quality than the real one.
- Most of the commercial lutenitsa also contains preservatives.
- More often you'll find finely-ground lutenitsa. While it's not bad at all, it's different than the traditional lutenitsa.
- If you want to taste real lutenitsa but can't find homemade one, look for coarsely-ground in the stores (or just ask for "edro smliana lutenitsa").
- Most lutenitsa is not spicy but you can find some spicy types.
- There are other interesting products similar to lutenitsa: aivar, lutivka (spicy!), apetitka etc. You'll usually find them on the same stands in the stores.
How to make it (Recipe)
You don't have to live in Bulgaria to make lutenitsa although it helps :) Here's is one traditional recipe:
Don't be shocked by the quantities :) Making lutenitsa is a lot of work so typically Bulgarians make big quantity at once.
- 15 kg tomatoes
- 10 kg red peppers
- 5kg eggplant
- 800ml vegetable fat
- 2 tea cups sugar
- 1 tea cup salt
Roast and peel the peppers and eggplant. This can take several hours and several hands. Grind them. Smash and grind the tomatoes (raw). Boil the tomatoes in a large pan. This may take about an hour as you need part of the water to evaporate. You need to slowly stir the tomatoes while cooking them.
Once done with the tomatoes add the eggplants and peppers and continue cooking for another hour. Add the vegetable oil, keep cooking and stir for another hour. Add the salt and sugar and fill the ready lutenitsa in jars.
At the end you have to sterilize the jars to preserve the bounty for the winter. Put the jars in water and wait until it boils. Keep it boiling for 15-20 mins.
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