One among my first introductions to Bulgarian cooking was lyutenitsa, the nation’s ubiquitous roasted purple pepper and tomato unfold, which is served always of day with every thing from toast to rice to meat. I used to be 19 and falling in love with plenty of issues without delay: the one who would turn into my husband, the capital metropolis of Sofia that might turn into my residence, the Bulgarian meals like lyutenitsa that might turn into my favorites. However it wasn’t till a decade later, once we made the transfer to Sofia, that I acquired a chushkopek (Чушкопек), the pepper roaster essential to make lyutenitsa, amongst different nationwide dishes that function roasted purple peppers.
The chushkopek is a straightforward, unadorned countertop machine, not a lot taller than the peppers it roasts. However the first time I plugged it in, I used to be terrified by the sunshine of embers emanating from a peephole within the lid. My worry didn’t subside after I burned a fabric serviette whereas making an attempt to elevate up the lid, in addition to the countertop the place I set it down. After dropping in a pepper, I listened to it hiss and pop, then used the accompanying tongs to take away the lid and pull out a very blackened pepper, its stem barely aflame. I strongly thought of unplugging the machine for worry of burning down the condominium, however carried on.
I quickly realized that slipping off that blackened shell revealed a divine roasted pepper, with a smokiness that no oven can obtain. That arduous-won taste is the idea of lyutenitsa, offering a smoldering framework for tomato, salt, pepper, and sugar. By the point I reached pepper No. 4, I had perfected the blackened char with out combustion — and the chushkopek had secured a everlasting spot in my arsenal.
What it’s:
The chushkopek, actually “pepper roaster,” was invented within the ’70s in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria’s previous capital, and its design hasn’t modified a lot since. It’s a sturdy steel cylinder with two small handles and slightly lid on high that reveals an inside ceramic chamber. There are two commonplace sizes: the one pepper mannequin and the triple-pepper mannequin, referred to as “the Mercedes” as a result of the steel divider that retains the peppers aside makes the roasting chamber appear like the automobile brand.
There are not any buttons, switches, or dials. It begins warming as quickly as you plug it in, and takes practically an hour to totally warmth up. However as soon as it reaches inferno-level temperatures, the chushkopek is able to blast recent peppers into stunning roasted oblivion in minutes flat. I purchased my roaster, a speckled deep-blue mannequin, at a ironmongery shop, the place they’re generally bought, for 32 leva (about $20). It got here with a pair of slim tongs, which I now know to make use of each for eradicating the recent lid and retrieving completed greens.
The chushkopek can be utilized to prepare dinner any cylindrical vegetable like corn or potatoes, eaten merely as-is, nevertheless it’s extra generally used for eggplant and peppers, that are included into nationwide dishes. Roasted peppers might be loved in salads, mixed with roasted eggplant within the condiment often known as ajvar, or blended with chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, a wholesome crumble of sirene (white brined cheese), and parsley to make basic Bulgarian shopska salata. The chushkopek’s highest calling, although, is lyutenitsa. To embark on the complete expertise from scratch, the roasted peppers are coarsely floor and cooked right into a do-it-yourself tomato paste with salt, pepper, and slightly sugar.
The place it’s used:
Chushkopeks are utilized in cities and villages throughout Bulgaria, however are principally unheard of outdoor of the nation.
Bulgaria has an extended historical past of pickling and preserving. Within the fall, village residents would historically construct huge bonfires to roast peppers and make lyutenitsa to retailer for the winter. Within the Fifties, Bulgaria’s communist management launched a large industrialization and urbanization marketing campaign, spurring villagers to maneuver to cities, away from producing their very own meals and towards counting on industrially packaged objects. However the state’s personal meals manufacturing strains couldn’t sustain. So, out of necessity, new metropolis residents continued the late summer time ritual of roasting and preserving peppers and different greens, recreating their communal fires within the grassy areas generally discovered between prefab communist-era blocs.
The chushkopek introduced the roasting from street-level fires into flats and onto balconies. It wasn’t a direct hit as a consequence of mistrust in Bulgarian manufacturing and the communist authorities’s marketing campaign to discourage residence cooking, promote industrial manufacturing, and encourage ladies to affix the workforce. However within the years after the autumn of communism in Bulgaria, individuals got here to depend on the chushkopek to make lyutenitsa and different dishes at residence, and nationwide pleasure grew across the roaster as an authentic Bulgarian product. Whereas many of us nonetheless return to their residence villages to make a day of communal roasting, the chushkopek has turn into a beloved equipment. A Bulgarian Nationwide Tv survey ranked it the “Family Revolution of the twentieth Century,” beating out electrical energy and cell telephones. In the present day, some Bulgarians will disparage a restaurant by saying their peppers are baked in an oven, which doesn’t lend the identical smokiness to the greens.
Why all of us want it:
Past its nationwide significance, the chushkopek is one of the simplest ways to arrange greens, fingers down. There’s a sure badassery that I really feel working it, a pleasure in my fiery dominion. Earlier than the chushkopek, I not often cooked with such excessive warmth, however now I really like watching a recent purple pepper deflate below blistering temperatures. It emerges blackened and mushy, persevering with to shapeshift because it sits on the counter. Its charred exterior slips off easily, like shedding pores and skin.
It’s additionally nice for entertaining. Like its smoky high-heat cousin, the grill, the chushkopek is a social software. Each jiffy, a charred pepper comes out and a recent one goes in. The method is easy with out being completely passive, making it simple for individuals to talk because the cooking progresses. In a post-pandemic world, I can’t wait to set it up on our balcony and entertain pals over beers and fresh-roasted peppers.
The chushkopek has earned a coveted spot on our valuable kitchen countertop, the one machine we have now apart from a microwave. I’m normally not a fan of home equipment and devices when a stovetop or oven will work simply nice, however when you’ve had greens from the chushkopek, there’s no going again. It’s a single-use software, nevertheless it’s so good at what it does it’s simply exhausting to argue. I discover myself utilizing it much more than the oven, and I don’t restrict myself to the seasonal harvest, both.
It takes time and confidence to get the hold of utilizing a chushkopek. It would blow a fuse. It would depart a lingering burning scent in your kitchen. It’s simply tremendous intense, okay? However all that energy, warmth, and energy yields a pepper with taste and texture that’s in any other case not possible to attain and not using a raging bonfire. It delivers the expertise of the communal Bulgarian vegetable roast in a small, apartment-friendly bundle.
The chushkopek has turn into a little bit of a touchstone for my life in Bulgaria, and once we’re in Sofia, I roast away to my coronary heart’s content material. As a foreigner, my love of the roaster is a option to join with my adopted nation, its tradition, and its individuals. Practically everybody has a fond reminiscence of a late summer time day spent making lyutenitsa from scratch — normally following a mom’s or grandmother’s recipe they’ll swear is infinitely superior to the grocery store jars. After loads of apply with the chushkopek, I now have fond recollections of my very own to share, too.
The best way to get one:
It’s principally not possible to purchase a chushkopek within the U.S., not even at Bulgarian meals shops. There was an Indiegogo marketing campaign in 2014 to convey the chushkopek to the world, however the effort went unfunded. Like Bulgaria’s doorless elevators, the machine most likely wouldn’t go an American security inspection.
Probably the most surefire option to get a chushkopek is to make a journey to Bulgaria with some room in your suitcase. Get pleasure from your self, eat some lyutenitsa, and lug your individual roaster residence.
Ashira Morris is a contract author, editor, and artwork director primarily based between Tallahassee and Sofia, Bulgaria.