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ahh……finally ajvar

March 3rd, 2010 | 13 Comments »

What’s that, you say? Ajvar? Is it AHJ-VAR? AGG-VAR? How do you say it?? And what the heck is it?!?

It’s delicious, delightful, piquant, sweet and when spread on a toasted pita, a tiny slice of food heaven. The origin is Balkan in nature, and it shares it’s etymology with caviar, although there is no fish roe involved.

And it’s pronounced EYE-VAR. As with most foods that pass through this little blog of mine, it has a story. A pricey one. And it goes like this.

I love ethnic foods, and the more eclectic and unique the ethnicity is, the better I like it. I’m happy to browse any manner of unusual food market I come across, my eyes trailing the shelves, fingering the ingredients found there and trying to determine if I know what is is, first and foremost, and if I can take it home and use it. I am so blessed to live in a very culturally diverse city, and within many channels and pockets of the population one can find amazing stores full of ingredients that will elevate simple home dining. In the middle eastern market that I frequent in Columbia Heights, where the pita bread is often so fresh that the bags are still warm, I came across a jar of a bright red condiment that caught my eye. Roasted red peppers, roasted eggplant, garlic, oil. Oh my, what’s not to love? Despite the hefty price tag, I took one home. Big mistake.

I toasted some of that wonderful pita bread and slipped it through the bowl of bright red Ajvar in front of me, lifting it to my mouth. I was lost. I fell hard and fast for this sweet, somewhat spicy and cool relish. Mixed with a bit of plain yogurt, I could eat it night or day. And I did. I made pilgrimages back to that market for more bread, for more Ajvar. The price always got me, but I forged on. I loved the stuff. But like all good things, bested as they can be by economic downturn, I had to suspend my tastebuds desire for it and stop driving back to that store to buy another jar.

But I didn’t forget. There would be a day to enjoy it again. I was certain of it.

Like for many, that economic downturn hasn’t really let up it’s grip on us, and being the case, I’ve yanked up the bootstraps and found ways to further stretch the dollars and yet not go without some of the foods I really love. But it took coming across a superbly simple recipe for Ajvar to prompt me into actually making this at home.

What could be simpler than roasting vegetables to a nice rich blackened state and running my big knife over them? Because, you know, when looking at this, I yet again get that feeling that I wish I hadn’t waited so long.

recipe source unknown (somewhere in Internet land)

1 large eggplant, sliced in half the long way
2 red bell peppers, split in half and de-seeded
2-4 garlic cloves (optional)

Preheat oven to 450° and adjust one rack to the lowest level in your oven. Cover a baking sheet with foil and spray the foil with cooking spray. Place the vegetables cut side down on the sheet and lightly mist the tops with cooking spray. This is optional, but I find it helps with the charring.

Roast the vegetables on the lowest rack until the tops of the peppers are black and wrinkly, and the eggplant has softened. Depending on your oven, this could take anywhere from 15-30 minutes, or maybe more. Check regularly to monitor. If your house is like mine, you may need to de-activate your smoke detector. This is a fragrant and hot process.

Remove the sheet when the veggies are ready and allow to cool completely. At this point, you can either place them in a food processor to blend, or simply mince them on a cutting board. I used the cutting board and my big chef’s knife. It took me about 2 minutes. Place minced veggies in a bowl, add about 1/4 cup of good quality olive oil, and then season to taste with salt and pepper. If you want it spicy, feel free to add crushed red pepper, or if you can find it,  ground szechuan peppercorns would be amazing in this. I prefer mine on the mild side. It can be served room temperature, but the flavor will develop after a day or two in the fridge.

Eat it with toasted pita, carrots, or spread on hearty crackers. It tastes wonderful when mixed with a little plain yogurt too. I also think it would be delicious served over pasta.

13 responses to “ahh……finally ajvar”

  1. I think you have a great page here… today was my first time coming here.. I just happened to find it doing a google search. anyway, good post.. I’ll be bookmarking this page for sure.

  2. I’ve read some posts and i like your blog.I’m just starting up my own and only hope that i can write as well , thanks!.

  3. This is a Balkan Recipe and my husband’s mother still makes is on her outside stove every summer. Deadly delish. I have seen it made all over the country side in the fall in the Balkans. Their peppers taste much better. They are meatier, and drier. The Ajvar with them is more intense. Nothing like it.

  4. haha i read your blog quite a lot you should check out mine <3 i love your posts.

  5. rafael says:

    Traditional ajvar contains more bell peppers than eggplant plus some hot peppers (to taste), olive oil and lemon juice or white wine vinegar. If you don’t want to stir the pot for several hours to gently reduce the sauce into a relish, throw some roasted butternut squash into the mix and bump up the acid to cut through the sweetness. Alternatively, add pureed chickpeas to create a twist on hummus.

    Ajvar isn’t just a spread, though. Add a little white wine or vegetable stock and strain that through a sieve using the back of a ladle. Pour over spinach fettucine and layer some sauteed portabello slices on top. Finish with a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar and some chopped basil.

  6. kate says:

    Hmmm….. That is amazingly like the Escalivada we love…/ (not the stuff you see in American cook books, the real stuff)
    Roasted red peppers and eggplant, drizzled with olive oil…. Yup, same thing. For breakfast on tomato bread, for lunch on tomatoe bread, for dinner…
    Did I mention that I like it, too?
    Escalivada is in strips, though, not miced. I believe I’ll try this next. Time to expand my horizons.

  7. I’ve never heard of this. I’m asking myself why–it has some of my favorite things in it. It sounds like it’s easy enough to make, if you have a little time. Me, I have time. I have fresh veggies. Now I’m off to the market to find eggplant and peppers.


  8. yam says:

    In the fall I can tomatoes, salsas and this. The smell of fire-roasted eggplant and peppers is strong enough to shake off even the most snow-laden depression loose, if not for but a moment or two…

  9. Thanks for sharing this one!

  10. Brie says:

    Thanks for this, Kate! I traveled to Croatia late last year and have been desperately yearning for some ajvar ever since. We ate it nearly every day with breakfast, lunch and dinner- goes great with scrambled eggs and a huge chunk of rustic bread.

  11. Really nice page you got there. Some of your article really amazed me. I will definitely visit your blog again!

  12. kat says:

    Oh that does sound so good. I can’t understand why something so simple would be so expensive in the store.

  13. Katie says:

    Oooh that sounds delicious! I love the process of blackening capsicums and then pulling the skin off, revealing the juicy flesh underneath – yum! A couple chilis in there would go down a treat – deseeded of course! 😛