One could hardly imagine that something so simple can be so delicious. Even a person armed with a rich English vocabulary would be challenged to describe it. Delectable, lip-smacking,toothsome, appetising – lyutenitsa is all of that and even more.
Lyutenitsa, ljutenica, or lutenica (Bulgarian: лютеница) can be described as a vegetable relish, paste, spread or chutney. It can be consumed as a snack food or as an appetiser on toast, crisp bread or crackers. It is also eaten with different kinds of meat, kebapcheta or meatballs.
The ingredients of lyutenitsa may vary by region but generally, it is composed of (bell) peppers, tomatoes, onion, garlic, vegetable oil, and condiments such as sugar, salt, and black pepper. Here you can find a recipe.
A Drop of History
When August meets September and when the sun has become less scorching, it is time to prepare the winter supplies. One of the most important home-made products in Bulgaria is lyutenitsa. The tradition of its making can be traced back to the last century.
Lyutenitsa, which is prepared only with natural products, is not only delicious but also carries with it the nostalgia attributed to the end of the summer. It reminds of a rural fireplace and the comfort of a home. There is nothing compared to spreading freshly made lyutenitsa on a warm slice of bread.
Home-made lyutenitsa is a unique Bulgarian product and is considered one of the country’s national symbols, at least in the culinary sphere. Gastronomic peculiarities in different cuisines almost always reveal contrasts in the mentality of individual nations.
Lyutenitsa is not only an appetiser or a side dish. It is an essential part of the Bulgarian mentality – coarse homemade lyutenitsa is something sustainable, primordial. In times of crisis, there is nothing more uplifting than opening a jar of home-made lyutenitsa.
The word lyutenitsa calls in many people’s minds the images of plump housewives who, in late September, wander around smouldering fires and frequently stir the red mixture with wooden spoons, while discussing the new TV shows.
Three decades ago, this picture could be observed in the early autumn not only in villages but also in districts of major cities. Boiling the red relish bore an essential part of the specific atmosphere of the moderate wellbeing of the 70s and 80s. At the time, the stores were selling only one kind of lyutenitsa – “Horo”.
With the fall of the Iron Curtain, the market was over flooded with dozens of variations, but their taste was different. In the last several years, however, more and more “home-made” varieties have been introduced which very closely match the good ol’ taste.
The stores nowadays also offer the distant cousins of lyutenitsa – Pinjur, Ajvar, and Kyopolou. They are part of the culinary traditions of other Balkan countries – Macedonia, Serbia, Turkey – but their composition, method of preparation, and taste cannot be compared to the Bulgarian chutney.
A Salvation in the Crisis
In its familiar form, lyutenitsa appeared during the economic crisis in the first decades of the last century. Around 1930, Bulgaria embarked upon an intensive production of tomatoes and red peppers for the canning industry – both for domestic consumption and for export. During the Second World War, the government started producing lyutenitsa en masse and, as a result, it quickly gained popularity.
Industrial production began in the early 50s of the 20th century. The Bulgarian State Standard for lyutenitsa appeared soon after that. It stipulated that the relish should be made only with tomato and pepper paste, onion, salt, sugar, and oil. The release of this standard and the presence of industrial technology made lyutenitsa a product for mass consumption.
Health Benefits of Lyutenitsa
There is a general belief among Bulgarians that lyutenitsa, in its classic unadulterated form, has a very high health index with nutritional and dietary properties. Many of the elements therein are essential for the proper development, maintenance and restoration of the human body. The fruit sugars, acids, vitamins, mineral salts, trace elements, and other substances, found in the relish, are easily digested and are a great source of energy. It is also believed to help metabolism and to lead harmful substances out of the body.
Lyutenitsa’s main health benefits can be found in the tomato lycopene, which increases its amount when tomatoes are processed – that is how the relish is made. Lycopene is a non-provitamin A carotenoid that can be blamed for the red/pink colours of tomatoes, pink grapefruit, and other foods. Studies suggest that the consumption of foods, containing lycopene, may be beneficial for the treatment of cancer or cardiovascular disease.
“This food is like a narcotic: it is so delicious that after trying it once, one gets addicted and cannot stop eating and wanting it“
* The historical part was paraphrased from the following article.
Have you tried this magical, Bulgarian relish? Did you become addicted?