Growing up there was no PB&J in Bulgaria. The closest I got to the taste was a type of store-bought, packaged sweet that had a peanut butter like filling and a bit of jam, sandwiched between two buttery cookies – kind[a] like an Oreo, but not really. And while I love sweets – chocolate to be exact – I must admit, a comfort-style savoury snack is always on top of my craving charts. So on a Saturday afternoon, after running around with bleeding knees (which happened often), I used to love sitting on my grandma’s stoop and indulge in a slice of freshly baked bread with some Liutenitsa.
Liutenitsa is, arguably, one of Bulgaria’s most popular “dishes” – a spread that virtually goes with everything: grilled meat, pita bread, you name it. It’s a widely popular spread and comes in different variations across Eastern European countries – some compare it to Ajvar but it’s much more tomato-y than that. It’s usually made with tomatoes and peppers and, while some recipes call for eggplant, I’ll be the first one to tell you that an eggplant version crosses over to a completely different type of spread. But I’ll focus on that some other time.
Each household has a different variation and the version I’m about to present to you is purely based on the abundance of “left over” ingredients, while still focusing on my grandma’s classic recipe.
With Da Kid involved in the Film industry, I often find myself with an abundance of produce, courtesy of their Props department overspending for food scenes. While Liutenitsa is based made with heirloom or ripe Roma tomatoes, I had an overload of cherry tomatoes around, so I gave it a try. Same goes for the peppers – you want to use long sweet peppers but I had to take advantage of the overflow of red bell peppers I had sitting around. I also added carrots – I don’t usually do that. So, here it goes.
INGREDIENTS (Makes 2 medium sized jars. You can easily double the recipe)
- 2lbs red peppers
- 1lb. ripe tomatoes (in this case cherry)
- 1 carrot
- 2-3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1tbsp salt
- 1tpsb ground black pepper
- A sprinkle of Bulgarian chubritsa if you have it
- Wash peppers, tomatoes and carrots.
- Grill the peppers or roast, if you don’t have access to a grill – a sizzling hot cast iron grill pan works wonders, too. Once grilled, place in a large bowl and cover for at least 10-15 min to cool off. This techniques steams the peppers a bit and allows you to peel them easier. Once peeled, remove the stems and seeds and chop finely (or run through a food processor). Grade carrots and process along with peppers and a crushed clove of garlic (I like the “zing” it adds to the overall taste).
- Boil water in a large pot and throw the tomatoes in for a quick minute. Take them out, run under cold water and peel. Chop roughly.
- In a large pot combine the tomatoes, peppers, carrots and garlic and cook over a medium heat for at least an hour, stirring occasionally to ensure bottom doesn’t burn. Half-way through add salt and pepper, plus the sprinkle of chubritsa, if you have it. Once done – there should be no liquid or water from the tomatoes left – remove from the heat and let it cool down.
- Ensure you have clean jars lined up.
- Fill jars with Liutenitsa and close them tight. They should last about 10 days to two weeks in your fridge. If you’re making a bigger batch, you can sterilize the jars by filling a XL pot with water, bringing it to a boil and placing the jars in there for about 5 min. You can then store in your pantry.
Best enjoyed on a toasted baguette with crumbled feta on top. You can also use with grilled meat, sausages and meatballs or homemade pita bread (recipe to come).
Have you ever tried Ljutenitsa? Would you try this recipe? If you do, shoot me a comment below and let me know your thoughts.
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