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‘Zacusca’ – A Traditional Nightshade Spread Made Lectin-Light

‘Zacusca’ is a traditional Romanian spread made of onions, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, that I used to love and I never thought I’d be able to eat again after starting a low-lectin diet. But, never say never, because I managed to make a lectin-light version yesterday and I loved it. BONUS RECIPE: cassava tortillas / flatbreads.

‘Zacusca’ is a Eastern European way of preserving vegetables for the winter, in a form of a delicious vegetable stew, canned and eaten as a cold spread. For those who landed here whithout being familiar with the Plant Paradox program or a low lectin diet, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are part of the nightshade family and are very high in lectins, proteins found in plants that are trouble for a number of people. I used to love ‘zacusca’, however I would always get terrible hearburn after eating it. I complelty surrendered to the idea that I’ll never eat it again, until I realized there is a way to make it low-lectin. I tried and I had absolutely no reaction to it. Other than being problematic for those sensitive to lectins and nightshades in general, eggplant and tomatoes are also high in histamine, so double trouble. On the other side, onions and peppers contain quercetin, which might conteract the high histamine levels. For this reason, I will stick to the fresh version, and eventually freeze leftovers, instead of canning.

This is a great way to eat nightshades if you have them in your garden and during their season, in late summer. But we are all different and you will have to try and see if it’s ok for you. I gradually tried tomatoes and peppers until I knew I was ok eating them, and yesterday was the first time trying eggplant after three years.

How to remove lectins and replace non-compliant ingredients

Roasting peppers and eggplant makes it easier to remove their skins, and even seeds. I was under the impression that eggplant seeds are difficult to remove, but it was actually very easy. There are many ways to roast them, depending on what facilities you have. The best way is on an open fire, but grill works well, a gas stove or even oven if no other option.

HOW TO ROAST PEPPERS AND EGGPLANT. I tried to take as many photos of the process, as the roasting will depend on the method available to you (grill, stove, oven, open fire). The important thing is to roast them on all sides until the skins blister. Then you add them to a bowl, sprinkle with salt and cover them for about 15 minutes. The steam will release the skins even more. After you peel them, open them and remove all the seeds. You can use water in the process. Let the liquids drain a little bit before using them. For ‘zacusca’ you have to chop them small. We like to use a wooden spoon to chop the eggplant, instead of a knife.

As per tomatoes, my parents have a variety – Liguria – that is very meaty, and easy to peel and deseed. If you have a different variety, immersing the tomatoes in boiling water for a few seconds makes the skin easy to remove. Preferably use fresh heirloom tomatoes, always organic.

Liguria tomatoes, very meaty, easy to peel and deseed.

Fortunately there is one ingredient that doesn’t need any modification: onions. Use them generously, as they give a great taste to your ‘zacusca’.

The oil used in Romania is moslty sunflower, and I repleced it with extra virgin olive oil. There is no need for spices other than salt and pepper, as everything is already very flavorful.

How to serve it

Since this is a spread, you need a piece of bread next to it. I made cassava tortillas / flat bread and it paired perfectly with the spread. You can use a brand ready made, like Siete, if you are lucky to live in a place where they are available. Even compliant chips would work and you can serve it as a dip. Perfect for summer parties in the garden.

HOW TO MAKE CASSAVA TORTILLAS / FLATBREAD. It’s the easiest thing to make, but it takes a little time if you cook them one by one. If you have a tortilla press it will probably make the whole process faster, but I use a rolling pin and two sheets of parchement paper. FOR 8 (8in) TORTILLAS YOU NEED: 200 grams of cassava flour, 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil / avocado oil, a pinch of salt and some lukewarm water. HOW TO MAKE THEM: Add the cassava, olive oil and salt to a bowl. Start adding water and mix with your hands until you get a dough that sticks together (it will be crumbly at first). Portion the dough in eight balls, and roll them in between two sheets of parchment paper. I cook them one by one so I roll one while the other one is cooking. Use a safe non-stick pan like a cast iron or ceramic coated and make sure is hot enough. I use a bowl to cut them in round shapes, if you use a tortilla press it will be easier. They need a few minutes on each side. Transfer them to a plate and cover with a towel.

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'Zacusca' - A Traditional Nightshade Spread Made Lectin-Light

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By Claudia Curici Serves: 4-6
Prep Time: 10 minutes Cooking Time: 1 hour

A delicious and low lectin way to eat those tomatoes, peppers and eggplants that are everywhere during summer.

Ingredients

  • extra virgin olive oil, to generously cover the pan
  • 3 medium yellow / sweet onions, finely chopped
  • 1 big tomato, peeled and deseeded, finely chopped
  • 4 eggplants, roasted, peeled and deseeded, chopped with a wooden spoon
  • 5 sweet red peppers, roasted, peeled and deseeded, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

1

Add the oil to a sauteeing / stew pot and sautee the onions on low to medium heat for about 30 minutes. If they get too brown too quickly lower the heat.

2

When the onions are translucent, fragrant and start to brown, add the chopped tomato, stir and continue cooking for about 10 mintes.

3

Add the eggplant and the peppers and cook on low heat for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently.

4

Add salt and pepper to taste.

5

It's better served ar room temperature or cold.

Notes

I didn't add the roasting time for the eggplant and peppers to the preparation / cooking time. That will take about one hour from start to finish, including setting up and peeling and deseeding. Read the entire post for details. If you are a fan of canning, you can make a bigger quantity and can the stew, or freeze the leftovers like I did.

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    maison
    August 6, 2020 at 8:02 am

    Thank you for adapting the zacuscă recipe. It has been my favourite food from childhood; it’s so convenient to open a zacuscă jar during winter. My mother uses cooked shredded carrots (optionally some parsnips or celeriac) probably more than the other vegetables. Some Romanians add mushrooms or beans, as each family has their variation and each family likes their best and better than the commercial ones. Bay laurel leaves can also be used for flavour while cooking the mix. Also, Serbia has a similar zacuscă called ajvar.

    • Reply
      Claudia
      August 29, 2020 at 1:02 am

      My favorite too! So good. Yes, each family has their own, that’s why I didn’t bother to follow any specific recipe, and made my own. I love those with mushrooms too, so tasty! I love the idea of carrots and parsnip, never heard of this one before. xx

  • Reply
    Abbie
    September 8, 2020 at 2:36 pm

    I love seeing your recipes! I do have a question about the cassava flour though: I read the nutritional facts and saw that it is pretty high in carbs (about 23g per 1/4 cup). Are carbs not a big deal in the plant paradox diet?

    • Reply
      Claudia
      September 9, 2020 at 1:22 pm

      Hi Abbie, there is no macro counting in the Plant Paradox. Following the general rules (lots of healthy fats, lots of vegetables, starches in moderation, low animal protein) is important and then adapting the macros to your own needs (we all have different needs depending on our current health, weight loss or gain targets, physical activity, age, sex, etc). From my epxerience following PP is very easy to become matabolically flexible, if intermittent fasting is a daily practice. From Dr. G’s point of view, limiting protein is actually more important than limiting carbs, however the carbs allowed in PP are only the approved vegetables, grains and approved resistant starches and fruits (in moderation). Again, is very personal how many cassava tortillas one can eat and how often without negativeley affecting their insulin sensitivity. For someone who is diabetic and obese is different that another person who is healthy and and very phyisically active. I hope it makes sense.

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