Ajvar - Croatian Red Pepper Spread
Originally from Serbia, Ajvar, a roasted red pepper-eggplant spread, is nowadays consumed throughout various Balkan countries. The spread is typically made in the fall when there is an abundance of Roga, a red, horn-shaped pepper that has a thick flesh. The timing of production is perfect as the spread is usually canned and consumed throughout the winter as a side dish to grilled meats or as a spread on rustic bread. While visiting Croatia recently, I learned that that the texture of red bell peppers is very similar to that of roga and therefore they are a suitable substitution in your quest to make lovely ajvar back home.
5 medium red bell peppers
1 medium eggplant
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ teaspoon dried chili flakes (optional)
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt and Pepper to taste
Light up your grill and allow it to pre-heat for about five minutes. Oil the grate and place peppers and the eggplant on the grill over medium high heat. Pierce the eggplant all over with a fork or a skewer and add it to the grill.
As each side of the peppers blackens, use tongs to turn them a quarter of way. You will want allow them to blackened all over. Transfer the peppers to a bowl and cover with aluminum foil to allow the skin to separate from the flesh for about 10-15 minutes.
While the peppers are cooling down, reduce the heat to medium low and turn the eggplant over. Roast the eggplant for an additional 15 or until the skin gets dark and wrinkled and the eggplant is soft all over. Remove eggplant from grill and set on a plate to cool down for at least 10 minutes.
While the eggplant cools down, uncover the peppers and peel the skins off. Cut the pepper open and discard the seeds and core. Set the peppers aside. Once the eggplant is cool enough to handle, cut the top off and cut lengthwise. Using a large spoon scoop out the flesh and discard the skin.
Place the roasted peppers, eggplant flesh and garlic cloves in a food processor or blender and pulse until it is roughly chopped. Add oil, vinegar, and tomato paste until the peppers are finely chopped. Transfer the sauce to medium (3 qt) saucepan and add the chili flakes.
Place the pan over medium-high heat. As soon as the sauce starts bubbling, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes. The ajvar will be ready when all the liquid has evaporated and when you you pull a spatula through it and you can see the bottom of the pan it is trail. Add the sugar and season with salt and pepper to taste. Allow it to come to room temperature and serve. Alternatively place it in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up two weeks.
PS - If you want to learn more about food from the Balkans, please check out Aida Ibisevic’s website, www.balkanlunchbox.com. She is originally from Sarajevo but lived in the United States for 20 years . Her recipe for ajvar is her mom’s and follows the traditional way of making a batch large enough to last the whole winter!
Her website is a a culinary ode to the region and the in-depth explanations around each recipe, along with stunning photography, have really allowed me to gain a better understanding not just of the Balkan cuisine but of the culture and history of this magnificent region! She also runs a Facebook page by the same name where she posts really cool videos of how to make her recipes. Here are a few that I believe you will really enjoy: