Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Zakuszka - Aivar, but not quite

This is the "sacred" vegetable spread that, again, sneaked into the Transylvanian Hungarian kitchen from the Romanian kitchen, but originates somewhere in the Balkan, former Yugoslavia. Please don't make me break down from which country in the modern Europe's map, I have absolutely no clue will it be Serbia, or Croatia, or whatever.. If they know it at all :). Anyway, the Romanians in the south happily incorporated it into their kitchen with roasted egg plant. I've seen it confused with the egg plant spread, but if you see in the recipe mayonnaise, you can be sure it is not the zakuszka.

From there was just one door away to get incorporated into the Transylvanian Hungarian kitchen, you can bet with slight modifications, or not so slight, as it is made in three variations:  the original eggplant, with cooked beans, and with mushrooms.
Not a surprise, first of all the Hungarian kitchen has lots of bean based meals, and the Transylvanian forests are full of mushrooms...Plus, Egg plants is not something that grows originally in Transylvania.
Some make mixed versions adding both egg plant and beans.

I learned that the name zakuszka in Slavic doesn't mean any specific meal, it is rather translated as "little cold bite", a buffet meal, an entree, a starter.. Well, it is true, it is a cold bread-spread bite :), served as a snack, breakfast, or starter.
There is NO such as BEST zakuszka recipe, everybody tries a new recipe when sounds promising, and has their preference when it comes to beans, egg plants or mushrooms. Some add even a 1 kg of cooked, pureed carrots (not us..). I like all the variations... OK, if I have to confess my favorite is the one with beans, but just gimme any :D.
One secret is to have everything minced (except the beans and mushrooms) fine or nubbly (again a personal choice) and cooked on low fire for very long time until the flavors mature nicely together.
The one below is the recipe from which I like the most the zakuszka (made by my mother in low). Don't ask from where it comes from, it is one of the many circulated among the women in our village :).

2 kg (4.4 pounds) paprika, kapia (capia?) paprika, (you can use pimento peppers or red bell peppers) - believe me or not, this is such a varied meal that you can add 3 kg (6.6 pounds) paprika as well if wanted (I have heard even of 5 kg but I wouldn't try, that's more like the aivar, and is not really appealing)
1 kg (2.2 pounds) onions
1 kg (2.2 pounds) tomato, or 0.5 litre (2 cups) fresh tomato juice (some like it more sour, if you too, add up to 1 liter tomato juice)

To give the taste:
1 kg (2.2 pounds) of smaller white or pinto beans, or 1-2 kg (2.2 - 4.4 pounds) egg plant (up to you, really) or 1 kg (2.2 pounds) mushroom
salt, ~2tsp (add gradually and adjust the taste, depends what salt you use..)
pepper, as much as you like, add at least 1 flat tsp
bay leaves, ~5-7 pcs
1 liter (4 cups) sunflower oil (I suppose you can use olive oil as well, I just don't like the taste of olive oil in Hungarian meals 'cause that's not what I got used to)
1-2 chili paprika, optional

fresh bread

Needs some preparations for all your ingredients, and about 3-4 hours of your time.. *Sigh*..
Now let's take the ingredients one by one..
Tomatoes: drop the tomatoes in hot water for couple of minutes and peal them. Cut into cubes and start sauteing until the texture of the tomato is more like a pure. My Grandma didn't like the seeds, so she ran the tomato pure through a tool dedicated for the purpose, but you can use a sieve. Or just sticking to ready tomato sauce is also a good idea :).
Beans: boil the beans, if you chose to add beans. Some like the beans pureed (for me it is too pasty..), others whole. You choose :). The best are the "firstling" (??) beans, we called them "zsengés paszuly".
Mushrooms: you need to saute the mushrooms in some oil, if you chose to add mushrooms for 2-3 min.
Peppers & egg plants: At the same time start to roast the peppers and the egg plants (if you chose to add egg plants) on a grill, until you can peal them easily. The egg plants especially should be quite black, and might look like burned, but not to worry. You need to kinda burn off the skin :D. When ready peel the skin off (help yourself by dipping the egg plants or just your fingers in cold water). Chop the egg plants finely, or use a mixer to get a creamy texture.
If you want to free yourself from extra work can leave the paprika un-grilled, the smoky flavor is however a nice extra to the zakuszka. 
Peal them, and mince the paprika.
Mince the onions, and start simmering them in half of the (hot) oil until glassy, add the minced grilled (or un-grilled) paprika. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper.
If the paprika was un-grilled let it simmer just as you did with the onions for a while. 
Let it slowly cook together for ~about 30-45 minutes at low heat. It shouldn't boil to much, but rather barely show some tiny bubbles on top. If you had grilled pepper 30 min might be enough, if you added them raw let them cook longer.
Stir occasionally.
Add the tomato pure, and boil for about 1 hour at very low heat. When you taste it and the flavors have kinda nicely blended, you can add the left half of the oil, the egg plant cream, - or beans, - or mushrooms and let them cook together for additional 30 - 45 minutes. The mixture should be shiny rather then juicy..
If you add beans or mushrooms, be careful not to overcook them anymore.
The result will be an awfully big portion, but don't panic. The big portion is needed for the great taste, and you have two options:
- it can be divided it into smaller portions and store in the freezer. Before serving remove from the freezer and let it defrost in the fridge. Enjoy.
- place the ready zakuszka in jars, put them in a basket closely together wrapped around with hot towels and pillows and let them cool down in the warm bed. They should have a layer of oil on top, carefully not to mix it store them in the chamber.

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