Apart from Bulgaria lutenica is popular in Macedonia, Serbia, Greece, and even in Turkey thanks to their geography, climate and historical ties between these countries. The main ingredient of this chutney is capsicum - a sweet pepper, also known as bell pepper, well growing in Balkan region. Lutenica comes in many varieties, is available in any store and is served either as a relish or as a side to main courses in all local restaurants.
As for texture lutenica can be smooth (“finosmlyana”/финосмляна) or grainy (“edrosmlyana”/едросмляна), according to Bulgarian words “fino/фино” (“fine”) and “edro/едро” (“big”, “course”). This treat is traditionally enjoyed with chips or is spread on breads. It also can be served with grated cheese sprinkled on it, and is spotted to come as ketchup for European dishes.
In autumn most Bulgarian families traditionally cook and preserve plenty jars of lyutenitsa. Together made, together eaten. Some bake it in the oven others cook it on the fire. By the way, some Bulgarians make it on an industrial scale and then sell through online stores (www.olx.bg) cheaper than in supermarkets.
There’s even a special device for baking home canned peppers – chushkopek (literally from Bulgarian: “pepper-roaster”). It roasts from one to three peppers at once depending on its configuration and does it swiftly. It was Velizar Stoylov, who came up with this device and was awarded National Order of Labor for his marvelous invention. Chushkopek is also used as a small kiln for example in jewelry manufacturing, but this will be highlighted in our next article.
As mentioned above, this appetizer is made of peppers. The recipe is a piece of cake, which is so typical for Bulgarian cuisine. Just wash peppers out of seeds before baking and peel them after. Chop eggplants, tomatoes, carrots and onion and puree them in blender to your perfect texture. Then fry all the ingredients on a pan with oil and spices.
Cumin, garlic and hot pepper are a must, the rest spices adjust to your own taste. Some recipes include apples, potatoes and walnuts. Despite the root word “ljut/лют” in “ljutenica” means spicy, hot chili pepper in traditional recipe is added in tiny quantities. If you’re up to give it spice your appetizer is called Ljutivka.
Which ljutenica to choose?
Bulgarian supermarkets offer ljutenica in a wide variety, mostly by local producers. Bulgarian trademark “Deroni” specializes in cans and makes ljutenica since 1996. Production facilities and fields are located in Stara Zagora and Khaskovo regions. An interesting thing is Deroni also produces pesto (its Bulgarian version based on ljutenica), but unfortunately with no basil, no cheese and with potatoes instead of pine nuts. Brands “Todorka/Тодорка”, “Petel/Петел”, “Tsarica/Царица”, “Velika/Велика” are also manufactured by “Deroni” trademark for giving an illusion of diversity to their buyers.
Grainy ljutenica (“edrosmlyana”/едросмляна)
Their big competitor “Olineza” also pours ljutenica into jars since 1996. The name of the trademark comes from their first two products produced – “olio” (sunflower oil) and mayonnaise. Olineza provides diversity of ljutenica –“Family/Семейна”, “Traditional/Традиционна”, “Grandmother’s/Бабина”, “Kid’s” and “Delicatessen/Деликатесна”. However, as for the ingredients it’s all the same and only spice’s proportion slightly differs.
Brand “Selce” again belongs to Olineza. It contains palm oil which is mentioned on their website. It does make sense for a producer to cut down the self-cost by using a cheaper oil. But they don’t care here that palm oil emits harmful substances when heated up to 33° that increase cholesterol in consumer’s blood.
Trademark “Harmonica” has eco-friendly production and pricier goods. It’s been making ljutenica only since 2017. Against marketing the producer named three kinds of ljutenica after his three best friends (Simeonov, Ilievi, Khadjiev). And if you feel like tasting a Greek version, pick the “Palliria”.
The one, who’s once tried a home-made ljutenica by locals, knows its taste has nothing to do with industrial manufactured jars. Also mind the starch and preservatives extending the shelf life. In other words, it’s reasonable to cook it yourself now when you see how easy it is.
Sorts of ljutenica
- Kiopoolu/Кьопоолу. Comes from Turkish, literally: “rascal”. An eggplant pepper spread with tomatoes, spices, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and chopped walnuts. Has a chunky texture.
- Ljutivka/Лютивка. A spicy ljutenica containing hot pepper. It goes in small jars.
- Apetitka/Апетитка. Nearly the same as ljutenica but with spring onions and rougher diced.
- Aivar/Айвар. Turkish for “caviar” though came from Serbia. A big hit in Bulgaria.
- Imam Bayildi/Имамбаялдъ. Eggplants stuffed with ljutenica, carrots and onions. Turkish origin, literally: “the imam fainted” (supposedly in delight).