Ajvar is a traditional relish, originating of the Balkans, created to preserve the peppers. The sweet and sour taste of Ajvar pairs perfectly with grilled meats and bread slices. The peppers and eggplants are roasted, then minced and cooked slowly: delicious!
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ORIGIN OF AJVAR
Ajvar is traditional relish of the Balkan area. The origin of the name is Turkish and derives from the Ottoman word Havyar, that means caviar: probably this is for the value of the Ajvar, and the texture given from the peppers, originally passed through a meat grinder and reduced to little pieces similar to the caviar.
The dispute over the creation of Ajvar is open and unresolved, and involve Serbia, North Macedonia, and Slovenia.
Ajvar is born as a relish and traditionally prepared at the end of September, during the growing spike of the Roga, the Serbian sweet red peppers.
Probably, the most famous Ajvar region is around the Serbian city of Leskovac, where the peppers are considered particularly good. Here the production of peppers is so vital that the Leskovac citizens are called with the nickname of Paprikari!
The Ajvar is commonly prepared with varying degrees of spiciness. The less spicy version is named Ljuto, while the most spicy is called Slatko.
In Leskovac,the relish is prepared just with peppers; otherwise in several other regions of Balkans the peppers are mixed with small amounts of eggplant and garlic. Besides these, the main variations of Ajvar are:
LIUTENICA – enriched with fresh tomatoes and parsley.
PINDJUR – in this case, the eggplants are particularly abundant and mixed with peppers and tomato sauce.
MELITZANO – prepared with green peppers, eggplants, and mustard.
DIP, SAUCE OR RELISH?
Originally, Ajvar is born as a relish to store the excess of peppers and used all the winter long. But, Ajvar is also delicious after a couple of days stored in the fridge and used like a dip or a sauce to season rice, meats or fish.
The most traditional pairing is with grilled Cevapcici: the traditional grilled Balkans meatballs, usually mixed with raw onions and served into the traditional flatbread called Lepinia. With Cevapcici and other grilled meats is common to use the spicier variation called Slatko.
The mild variation, called Ljuto, is also served just spread over bread slices as appetizer or snack.
Ajvar is also delicious paired with grilled fish like trouts or carps.
TIPS AND SUGGESTIONS
CHOOSING THE PEPPERS – As I said, the traditional pepper for this recipe is called Roga that means hornet in Serbian because of his shape. Unfortunately, the production of this particular pepper is limited to a few tons per year and, it is almost impossible to find outside the Balkans. So, I suggest you to use red and perfectly ripe bell peppers: it is a decent alternative to Roga.
GRILL OR OVEN? – The Ajvar has been born around a bonfire over a grill. So, If you have a grill, this a perfect options. In case, roasting the pepper into the oven, it is a decent and convenient alternative.
MIXER, MILL, OR GRINDER? – The traditional Ajvar requires a particular texture. Originally the peppers and eggplants have been passed through a meat grinder. A similar texture can be replicated with a vegetable mill. An electric mixer is a quick and easy idea, but the result will be different.
STORING – the Ajvar was born as a relish to save the excess of production of Roga into sterilized jars. In case you want to replicate the relish process, I suggest you follow the USDA home canning guidelines, to avoid any foodborne risks. Otherwise, store the Ajvar into clean jars in the fridge up to 5 days: it will be delicious as well!
- 6 red bell peppers
- 1 medium eggplant
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1.5 tbsp sugar
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1.5 tbsp white wine vinegar
- to taste chili powder
- to taste table salt
- BAKING/GRILLING THE VEGETABLES
Here, you have two different options: the oven or the BBQ grill.
BBQ GRILL - first, stabilize the BBQ grill temperature to 450 - 480° F (230-250° C), operating half of the burners. Then, place the peppers and eggplants on the half of the grill over the turned off burners (indirect grilling). Rotate of 90 degrees the vegetables every 15 minutes until soft and perfectly browned.
OVEN ROASTED - In case you prefer to use the oven, follow this step. First, pre-heat the oven to 480° F (250° C). Then, place the eggplant and peppers over a tray lined with parchment paper, and bake, rotating of 90 degrees the vegetables every 15 minutes until soft and perfectly browned.
- EGGPLANT AND PEPPERS MIXTURE
Whatever the method you choose, once ready, place the peppers as soon as possible into sealed plastic storage bags for about 15 minutes: this will simplify the peeling. Meanwhile, cut the eggplant into halves and scoop out the pulp. Now, peel the peppers and discard the seeds and the stems. Finally, chop the vegetable pulps and pass through a meat grinder or a vegetable mill.
- AJVAR SAUCE
At this point, peel and mince the cloves of garlic. Then, pour 4 tbsp of vegetable oil into a saucepan along with the sugar. Place the pan over medium heat and melt the sugar, then add the garlic and sautè a couple of minutes. At this point, add the chili powder, as much as you want your Ajvar spicy, and the ground pepper, and the vegetables pulp.
Raise the flame and add the vinegar; keep cooking on high heat for a couple of minutes. Finally, low the flame to minimum, add the rest of vegetable oil, cover with a lid, and cook slowly about 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Once ready, add salt to taste and stir well.
- STORING AND SERVING
Pour the Ajvar into jars and store in the fridge up to 5 days. Alternatively, you can sterilize the jars and store for a more extended time: in this case, I strongly recommend to follow the USDA canning rules to avoid any foodborne risks.
Serve Ajvar cold or at room temperature, along with toasted bread slice, grilled meats, or fish.
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