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9 September 2019

Zacusca is a Romanian vegetable spread made primarily from roasted eggplant and red peppers. It is popularly served as a spread on bread, but also as a relish for meats. Learn how to make it with Chili Pepper Madness.

If you’re a fan of roasted red peppers and roasted eggplant, you’re guaranteed to become fan of this particular recipe, which is a combination of them both. It’s a classic recipe popular in Romania, emphasizing local ingredients, and even though it’s characterized as a spread, it’s much more versatile than that. I’ve used it as a pasta sauce and also as a dip with bagel chips.

You can do so much with this recipe once you put your mind to it.

What is Zacusca?

Zacusca is a vegetable spread made primarily from roasted eggplant and red peppers, though it also includes onions, tomatoes, oil and spices among other possible variable ingredients, depending on the cook. It is considered a Romanian eggplant and pepper spread, though it can be characterized as a sauce or a salsa. The spread is quite similar to Ajvar, a popular Serbian roasted pepper and eggplant sauce.

The peppers used are called the Gogosari pepper (variety of Capsicum annuum), characterized by their large, round pods that are deep red in color. The pepper walls are thick and fleshy, and sweet in taste. They’ve been grown in Romania for the last hundred years. 

You can use red bell peppers, as I have done for this recipe, though large paprika peppers are great as well. You can make zacusca with any thicker-walled red peppers of any level of heat, so choose according to your preference and pepper availability.

Zacusca is usually in large batches after abundant harvests, then canned or jarred for preserving, allowing families to enjoy it all year long.

Let’s talk about how we make zacusca, shall we?

Thick Zacusca in a bowl, ready to serve

Ingredients Needed to Make Zacusca

Here is what you’ll need to make zacusca at home:

  • 2 medium eggplants (aka aubergines)
  • 4 large red bell peppers
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped
  • 2 jalapeno peppers (optional, or use a serrano pepper or 2 for a spicier version)
  • 1 pound fresh tomatoes, diced (canned tomatoes are good, too, or even tomato sauce)
  • ½ cup sunflower oil (you can use olive oil or other vegetable oil)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon honey (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste (I use about 1 teaspoon each)

How to Make Zacusca – the Recipe Method

First, poke the eggplant flesh in several places with a knife (this allows steam to escape when cooking). Remove the stems from the peppers and core them. Slice them in half lengthwise.

FOR GRILLING: Heat the grill to medium heat and lightly oil the grates. Set the eggplant and red peppers (skin sides up) onto the grates and close the lid. Grill 20 minutes, or until the red pepper skins bubble up and char.

Roasted red peppers and eggplants on the grill

Remove them. Continue to grill the eggplant, flipping every few minutes to get an even char on the skins and the flesh is softened up, another 20 minutes or so. You can see how the eggplant skin has darkened and is ready to come off the grill.

Roasted eggplants and red bell peppers on the grill, just about done cooking

Remove from heat.

FOR BAKING: Set the eggplant and red peppers onto a large foil-lined baking sheet. Heat oven to 400 degrees F. and bake the egglplant and peppers for 20 minutes, until the pepper skins char and bubble up. Remove the peppers and flip the eggplants. Continue to roast until the eggplants soften and blacken, another 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat.

When the peppers and eggplant are done, remove the pepper skins and discard them. Set them aside for now, covered. Scoop out the eggplant flesh and discard the skins. Place the eggplant flesh into a strainer and sprinkle with salt. Let the liquids drain out for 1 hour.

Ingredients for zacusa in a food processor, ready to process

Add the drained eggplant and chili peppers to a blender or food processor and process until chunky.

Zacusca processed in a food processor, ready to cook

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large pan and add the onion and jalapeno peppers (and/or serrano peppers, if you’re using them). Cook for 5 minutes, stirring, until everything softens up.

Add the processed eggplant and red peppers, fresh or canned tomatoes, sunflower oil, honey (if using), and salt and pepper. Bring to a quick boil, then reduce the heat. Simmer for at least 30 minutes, or until everything breaks down and combines into a thicker spread to your preferred thickness. I like to simmer 60-90 minutes to develop more flavor. If it dries out too much, add in a few tablespoons of water.

Remove the bay leaf and adjust for salt and pepper.

Zacusca simmering in a pan

You can serve up your zacusca right away or let is cool a bit and store it in sealed containers in the refrigerator. The flavors meld and develop over time, so it is usually better to wait.

This is a popular recipe for canning.

Zacusca spread on bread and in a bowl

Makes about 1.5 quarts.

Recipe Tips

  • Honey. Some people report that zacusca has a slightly bitter taste. This is usually from the eggplant. You can offset this by incorporating a tablespoon or two of honey during the simmering process.
  • Grilling vs. Baking or Roasting. I enjoy grilling my red peppers and eggplant, as it is more convenient for me to fire up the grill on many nights. However, you’ll get similar results with oven roasting, unless you are looking for a smoky element from the grill, so either method is fine for this recipe. Use what is easiest for you. 
  • Other Peppers. Local Romanian sweet red peppers are traditional for this dish, but in the unlikely scenario that you can find them in your area, use red bell peppers or any other sweet peppers you’d like, such as Italian sweets.
  • Heat Factor. Zacusca isn’t meant to be a “hot” or “spicy” spread or sauce, though it is big on flavor. If you’re looking to up that heat factor, toss in a jalapeno or two, or a couple of serrano peppers. That is what I do and the resulting flavor is wonderful.

How to Serve Zacusca

Zacusca is traditionally serves as a spread with bread, but it’s also great warmed and tossed with cooked noodles. It puts a unique and flavorful spin on your favorite pasta dish.

I’ve also served it with crunchy bagel chips at a party and people enjoyed it. Try it out spooned over grilled meats, or as a topping for your burgers, sausages or sandwiches.

It’s an excellent vegetarian choice.

Zacusca spread on bread

Try Some of Other Popular Sauce Recipes

Thick and delicious Zacusca (roasted red pepper and eggplant spread) on a charred piece of bread

Got any questions? Ask away! I’m happy to help. If you enjoy this recipe, I hope you’ll leave a comment with some STARS. Also, please share it on social media. Don’t forget to tag us at #ChiliPepperMadness. I’ll be sure to share! Thanks! — Mike H.

5 from 1 vote
Zacusca Recipe (Romanian Roasted Egglplant and Red Pepper Spread)
Zacusca Recipe – Romanian Roasted Eggplant and Red Pepper Spread
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
2 hrs 15 mins
 
Zacusca is a Romanian vegetable spread made primarily from roasted eggplant and red peppers. It is popularly served as a spread on bread, but also as a relish for meats. Learn how to make it with Chili Pepper Madness.
Course: Appetizer, Main Course, sauce
Cuisine: American, Middle Eastern
Keyword: bell peppers, eggplant, red pepper, roasted peppers, Romanian, spread
Servings: 24
Calories: 69 kcal
Author: Mike Hultquist
Ingredients
  • 2 medium eggplants aka aubergines
  • 4 large red bell peppers
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium white onion chopped
  • 2 jalapeno peppers optional, or use a serrano pepper or 2 for a spicier version
  • 1 pound fresh tomatoes diced (canned tomatoes are good, too, or even tomato sauce)
  • ½ cup sunflower oil you can use olive oil or other vegetable oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon honey optional
  • Salt and pepper to taste I use about 1 teaspoon each
Instructions
  1. Poke the eggplant flesh in several places with a knife (this allows steam to escape when cooking).
  2. Remove the stems from the peppers and core them. Slice them in half lengthwise.
  3. FOR GRILLING: Heat the grill to medium heat and lightly oil the grates. Set the eggplant and red peppers (skin sides uonto the grates and close the lid. Grill 20 minutes, or until the red pepper skins bubble up and char. Remove them. Continue to grill the eggplant, flipping every few minutes to get an even char on the skins and the flesh is softened up, another 20 minutes or so. Remove from heat.
  4. FOR BAKING: Set the eggplant and red peppers onto a large foil-lined baking sheet.
  5. Heat oven to 400 degrees and bake the egglplant and peppers for 20 minutes, until the pepper skins char and bubble up. Remove the peppers and flip the eggplants. Continue to roast until the eggplants soften and blacken, another 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat.
  6. When the peppers and eggplant are done, remove the pepper skins and discard them. Set them aside for now, covered.
  7. Scoop out the eggplant flesh and discard the skins. Place the eggplant flesh into a strainer and sprinkle with salt. Let the liquids drain out for 1 hour.
  8. Add the drained eggplant and chili peppers to a blender or food processor and process until chunky.
  9. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large pan and add the onion and jalapeno peppers (and/or serrano peppers, if you’re using them). Cook for 5 minutes, stirring, until everything softens up.
  10. Add the processed eggplant and red peppers, fresh or canned tomatoes, sunflower oil, honey (if using), and salt and pepper. Bring to a quick boil, then reduce the heat. Simmer for at least 30 minutes, or until everything breaks down and combines into a thicker spread to your preferred thickness. I like to simmer 60-90 minutes to develop more flavor. If it dries out too much, add in a few tablespoons of water.
  11. Remove the bay leaf and adjust for salt and pepper.
Recipe Notes

Can be enjoyed right away or cooled and stores in sealed containers in the refrigerator. The flavors meld and develop over time. This is a popular recipe for canning.

Makes about 1.5 quarts.

HONEY: Zacusca can have a slightly bitter flavor, which can be offset with a bit of honey, if desired.

Nutrition Facts
Zacusca Recipe – Romanian Roasted Eggplant and Red Pepper Spread
Amount Per Serving (0.25 cup)
Calories 69 Calories from Fat 45
% Daily Value*
Fat 5g8%
Saturated Fat 1g5%
Sodium 3mg0%
Potassium 184mg5%
Carbohydrates 5g2%
Fiber 2g8%
Sugar 4g4%
Protein 1g2%
Vitamin A 800IU16%
Vitamin C 30mg36%
Calcium 8mg1%
Iron 1mg6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Thick and delicious zacusca in a serving bowl with some bread

Zacusca Recipe: Romanian Roasted Eggplant and Red Pepper Spread - Zacusca is a Romanian vegetable spread made primarily from roasted eggplant and red peppers. It is popularly served as a spread on bread, but also as a relish for meats. #Romanian #Spread #RoastedRedPepper

2 comments

  1. 5 stars
    Pretty much my favorite go-to pepper spread. I used to get something similar from Trader Joe’s. Now I can make my own. Thank you!

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Excellent, Kort! So great when you can make it at home for sure. Enjoy.

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