Ajvar (pronounced “aye-var”) is a roasted red pepper spread (or “relish”), extremely popular in Balkan countries, but apparently with Serbian origins. The simplest version of ajvar contains only peppers and garlic, but many people add aubergines and this is what I did. The Turkish biber salçası and Romanian zacuscă are similar spreads, although the latter contains a smaller proportion of peppers.
A couple of years ago I bought a jar of ajvar in a nearby shop. It was inedible. When Ping (from Ping’s Pickings) proudly presented her home-made ajvar, I realised I had probably been unlucky with the low-quality commercial brand. From what I know Ping doesn’t have Balkan origins and doesn’t even live in Europe, so her enthusiastic comments were even more convincing. Then Mr. Three-Cookies (Three Cookies and Easily Good Eats blogs) prepared it too and his successful results were more than enough to make me dream of home-made ajvar. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to prepare it last year, but I have never forgotten about it (I keep on seeing the hated commercial jars quite often!).
A couple of days ago I stumbled upon very cheap Hungarian (read: the best) long red peppers, the perfect variety to prepare ajvar. I have bought three kilos and embarked on the ajvar adventure too. I will not lie. Even though ajvar is not difficult, the whole process is long, requires a lot of work and the yield is low. Apart from these “details”, this spread (or relish) is totally worth all the hassle. It tastes like nothing I have ever eaten, is versatile, addictive and amazingly good. It’s a fantastic bread spread for toasts, sandwiches, wraps, tortillas and it can also be served as a dip with snacks or sauce with grilled meat. Look out for cheap peppers and prepare it. I promise you will not regret the efforts.
My recipe is a mixture of what I found on Ping’s blog, Mr. Three-Cookies’s blog and a Serbian blog called Palachinka. Thank you so much, Ping and Mr. Three-Cookies, for the inspiration and for emboldening me to prepare this unique, wonderful dish. Thank you, Marija, for the extremely helpful photos and useful tips!)
TIPS: I wanted my ajvar a bit spicy, hence the chili peppers, but mild version is probably more popular.
Apparently the best texture is obtained with a meat grinder, but since I don’t have one, I quickly mixed everything in a food processor.
This is a short-term, fridge preserve. The author of Palachinka advises covering with hot oil and adding sodium benzoate (which I even happen to have), but since my yield was only about one litre and since it quickly “melts” every day, I thought I will not bother with it. If you want to keep the jars in the pantry, check how to do it on her blog.
Preparation: 2 days
Ingredients (yields about 1 litre):
3 kg (about 6,6 lbs) red long sweet peppers (at worst you can use bell peppers; they have a
thicker skin, so the yield will be higher, but they are less aromatic)
500 g (about 1,1 lb) aubergines
5 big garlic cloves, peeled
4 tablespoons oil
about 1 flat tablespoon salt (or more/less to taste)
Wash the peppers, grill them whole either on a grill or (like me) under the broiler until the skin is charred and starts showing “blisters”. Turn them to roast the other side and wait until the skin is charred too.
Put the still hot peppers in a well closed plastic bag or in a big pan, tightly covered with a lid, and leave overnight.
Proceed the same way with aubergines and chilies.
The following day, put on the gloves (otherwise your fingers and nails will be red for many days), peel the peppers and chilies, discarding the stems and removing all the seeds (the seeds you see on the photo come from the aubergine).
Peel the aubergines and remove the stalks.
Grind the aubergines, the peppers, the chilies and the garlic in a meat grinder or mix in a food processor. (Do not insist too much, the mixture should be slightly coarse).
Put everything into a pan, add half of the salt, all the oil and simmer on a very low heat for about two hours, constantly stirring (it burns easily) until there is no liquid separated from the ground vegetables. Taste after two hours and add more salt if needed. Simmer for 15 more minutes until the salt is completely dissolved.
Keep in a closed container or jars, in a colder part of the fridge for at least a month.