Leyla is a beauty and one of the most nurturing and interesting women I have ever met. She lives in a huge Bohemian apartment on the top of a quietly crumbling building with views of the Bosphorus and the Dolmabahçe mosque beneath. Books – and there are hundreds of them – are piled high upon ornate sedirs upholstered with fraying silk woven by the Ottomans in Bursa. Her old wooden floors are layered with Persian carpets and her collection of babouches (terlik), the colourful and decorative slippers worn by Turkish women at home. Her dresses, most of which are fading embroidered relics from the Ottoman empire, line the walls alongside shimmering Orthodox icons and sepia photographs of her Bulgarian ancestors. Although she is a woman of Istanbul, Leyla is Bulgarian in her heart and the food she makes reflects that: tart white cheeses marinated with herbs, tangy yoghurt-based soups, spinach-filled börek and lyutenitsa, a spicy red pepper and tomato spread beloved by all. We made it together one day as August slowly danced with autumn. She said, ‘When you can smell the aroma of roasting peppers emanating from balconies throughout the country in autumn, you know homemade lyutenitsa season is soon to be upon you’. So here we are, it’s time.
6 sweet red peppers
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced in half
1 stick of celery
45g flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
120g of tomato paste
2-4 dried red chillies, to your taste
45ml extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste
A splash of red wine vinegar (optional)
How we make it
Wash the peppers and remove the stems and seeds, leave them whole. Grill them in batches until charred on all sides. Place them in a plastic bag, tie and set aside.
Place the carrots and celery in a medium pan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Turn town the heat and simmer until the vegetables are soft, around 10-15 minutes. Drain the water and set aside to cool down.
Meanwhile, remove the skin from the peppers and remove the remaining seeds and membranes. Place them in a food processor with the dried chillies and roughly blend (I like mine quite chunky). Transfer to a large bowl.
Then blend the carrot and celery into a smooth paste. Add to the pepper paste.
Add all the remaining ingredients to the bowl and mix with a large spoon. Season to taste and add the red wine vinegar if using.
Transfer the paste to sterilised jars and close tightly with a lid.
Fill a large pan with cold water and carefully submerge the covered jars in making sure that they don’t touch each other. Bring the water to the boil and then simmer for 20 minutes.
Carefully remove jars from the pot, place them on a kitchen towel and allow them to cool. Store in a cool, dark cupboard. When opened, store in the fridge and eat within five days.
Use as you wish but this is really lovely as part of a mezze spread, or served alongside a tangy white cheese such as feta. Mostly. I spread it on freshly baked Turkish bread still warm from the oven; or, for breakfast, try it on granary toast piled over the top of a smear of my rocket and walnut pesto.