One among my first introductions to Bulgarian cooking was lyutenitsa, the nation’s ubiquitous roasted pink pepper and tomato unfold, which is served always of day with all the pieces from toast to rice to meat. I used to be 19 and falling in love with loads of issues without delay: the one that would grow to be my husband, the capital metropolis of Sofia that will grow to be my residence, the Bulgarian meals like lyutenitsa that will grow to be 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 characteristic roasted pink peppers.
The chushkopek is a straightforward, unadorned countertop gadget, 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 once I burned a material 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 gadget for worry of burning down the condominium, however carried on.
I quickly discovered that slipping off that blackened shell revealed a divine roasted pepper, with a smokiness that no oven can obtain. That onerous-won taste is the premise 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.
The chushkopek, actually “pepper roaster,” was invented within the ’70s in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria’s outdated capital, and its design hasn’t modified a lot since. It’s a sturdy metallic cylinder with two small handles and somewhat lid on high that reveals an inside ceramic chamber. There are two customary sizes: the only pepper mannequin and the triple-pepper mannequin, known as “the Mercedes” as a result of the metallic divider that retains the peppers aside makes the roasting chamber appear to be the automotive emblem.
There aren’t any buttons, switches, or dials. It begins warming as quickly as you plug it in, and takes almost an hour to totally warmth up. However as soon as it reaches inferno-level temperatures, the chushkopek is able to blast recent peppers into lovely roasted oblivion in minutes flat. I purchased my roaster, a speckled deep-blue mannequin, at a ironmongery store, the place they’re generally offered, 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, however it’s extra generally used for eggplant and peppers, that are integrated into nationwide dishes. Roasted peppers will be loved in salads, mixed with roasted eggplant within the condiment referred to as ajvar, or combined 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 total expertise from scratch, the roasted peppers are coarsely floor and cooked right into a selfmade tomato paste with salt, pepper, and somewhat sugar.
The place it’s used:
Chushkopeks are utilized in cities and villages throughout Bulgaria, however are principally unheard of out of doors 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 gadgets. However the state’s personal meals manufacturing traces couldn’t sustain. So, out of necessity, new metropolis residents continued the late summer season 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 right away hit attributable to mistrust in Bulgarian manufacturing and the communist authorities’s marketing campaign to discourage residence cooking, promote industrial manufacturing, and encourage girls to hitch 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 delight grew across the roaster as an unique Bulgarian product. Whereas many of us nonetheless return to their residence villages to make a day of communal roasting, the chushkopek has grow to be a beloved equipment. A Bulgarian Nationwide Tv survey ranked it the “Family Revolution of the twentieth Century,” beating out electrical energy and cell telephones. Right now, 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 the easiest way to organize greens, arms down. There’s a sure badassery that I really feel working it, a delight in my fiery dominion. Earlier than the chushkopek, I not often cooked with such excessive warmth, however now I like watching a recent pink pepper deflate beneath blistering temperatures. It emerges blackened and tender, 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 device. 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 speak because the cooking progresses. In a post-pandemic world, I can’t wait to set it up on our balcony and entertain buddies over beers and fresh-roasted peppers.
The chushkopek has earned a coveted spot on our treasured kitchen countertop, the one gadget we have now moreover a microwave. I’m often not a fan of home equipment and devices when a stovetop or oven will work simply high quality, however when you’ve had greens from the chushkopek, there’s no going again. It’s a single-use device, however 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 cling of utilizing a chushkopek. It’d blow a fuse. It’d depart a lingering burning odor 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 realize 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 grow to be 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 strategy to join with my adopted nation, its tradition, and its individuals. Practically everybody has a fond reminiscence of a late summer season day spent making lyutenitsa from scratch — often following a mom’s or grandmother’s recipe they’ll swear is infinitely superior to the grocery store jars. After loads of follow with the chushkopek, I now have fond recollections of my very own to share, too.
The 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 campaign in 2014 to carry the chushkopek to the world, however the effort went unfunded. Like Bulgaria’s doorless elevators, the gadget in all probability wouldn’t cross an American security inspection.
Probably the most surefire strategy to get a chushkopek is to make a journey to Bulgaria with some room in your suitcase. Take pleasure in your self, eat some lyutenitsa, and lug your personal roaster residence.
Ashira Morris is a contract author, editor, and artwork director primarily based between Tallahassee and Sofia, Bulgaria.