Ajvar – red pepper and aubergine relish

At the end of the summer, sometime at the end of August / beginning of September, red peppers and aubergine are in abundance and very cheap at markets in Croatia. This is the perfect time to make ajvar, a gorgeous thick relish, made of red peppers and aubergine, and flavoured with garlic and chili pepper. “Depending on capsaicin content in bell peppers and the amount of added chili peppers, it can be sweet, piquant (the most common), or very hot”. (Wikipedia)

The vegetables are then bought by the sack, and the zimnica project begins! Zimnica (pronounced ‘zeemneetsa’, with the accent on the first syllable) means ‘winter food’, and it consists of jams, syrups, different types of pickled vegetables (e.g. peppers, beetroot, tomatoes), and – ajvar! My mum also roasts peppers and makes tomato sauce (recipe to come) and freezes them. Vegetables are thus preserved to be eaten during the winter months, and liven up the winter fare. There’s a lot of cleaning, peeling, roasting, cooking and pickling involved, making it quite an undertaking! I will post some pickle recipes in the future; this post however, is reserved solely for ajvar, my favourite part of zimnica.

Ajvar is hugely popular in the South Eastern region. According to Wikipedia, 640 tons of ajvar are produced only in Serbia every year! I know it is made everywhere in the former Yugoslavia, and in Bulgaria. I’d also be interested to know where else it is made, so please let me know in the comments section. I found out on Wikipedia that the name ajvar comes from the Turkish word havyar, which means “salted roe,” and interestingly, it shares an etymology with caviar.

The ajvar you see in the photo above is produced by a Slovenian company, Droga Kolinska, and it’s the best I managed to find in England so far. However, nothing compares to home made ajvar! Again, the recipe differs from region to region, and from cook to cook. I will speak only about Croatia now, because this is where I’m most familiar with. In Croatia, the Northerners like their ajvar burning hot, while the Southerners prefer their ajvar mild, with very little or no chili at all. Some cooks roast or bake their vegetables before grinding it to a paste, while others boil them in a mixture of water and white vinegar. The proportions of ingredients vary, too.

The recipe here comes from my roommate’s mum. I’m totally addicted to this ajvar! When I was a student, my roommate and I used to live of this stuff, and we’ve been known to eat 500 g per day, or more! Especially alongside some fried eggs, and with some crusty bread! yum! Other than that, this delicious relish is most often eaten as an accompaniment to grilled or roast meat, especially cevapcici (a type of small garlicky beef and pork kebab). Ajvar is also used as a spread in sandwiches and burgers.

Here’s the recipe. It takes a long time to make, but it’s definitely worth every minute of it! Also, it doesn’t need constant attention, especially if using non-stick pans.

I haven’t written how much ajvar the recipe yields. I will check it with mum tomorrow and let you know. She will be making zimnica soon. The tomatoes are amazing at the moment, so we’re making tomato sauce first! Can’t wait!

Here’s an idea for you too! I’m sure many of you will be doing this, but I hope this post will inspire some more. Preserve some of your favourite summer fruit or vegetables by making jams, relishes, pickles. Enjoy them during gloomy winter months, to remind you of summer, and sunny days to come!

Update

The recipe yields 8 – 9 large 900 g jars.

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Ajvar

 

SOURCE: friend’s mum’s recipe

PREPARATION TIME: 30 min

COOKING TIME (inside the lamb):  3 h 30 min

CUISINE: Croatian

 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 kg red bell peppers
  • 1 kg aubergines
  • 4 l water
  • 1 l white vinegar (9% alcohol)
  • 1 l vegetable oil
  • chopped garlic
  • sugar to taste
  • chili peppers to taste
  • salt

METHOD:

  •  Wash and chop the vegetables.
  • Boil them to soften them in the mixture of water and vinegar.
  • Drain the vegetables well and put them in a food processor. You need to end up with a roughly chopped mass (not completely smooth).
  • Transfer the mixture to a pan and simmer for 3 hours. Stir occasionally, making sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.
  • In the end, add chopped garlic, a little salt, sugar to taste, and chili. Adjust the quantities to your taste.
  • Simmer the mixture for a few more minutes.
  • In the meantime, preheat glass jars.
  • Transfer the ajvar to the glass jars, and then place the jars back into the oven. Bake until a thin crust is created at the top.
  • Remove from the oven, and add pour some vegetable oil on top. Seal well.

The ajvar is now ready for use. Store in a cool place. The good news are that it is not necessary to keep it in the fridge, and it normally keeps for a few months (if kept away from greedy people like me!).

Suggestion

Why not play with various spices, e.g. Indian, and make a tadka to temper the ajvar at the end of the cooking, or give it a Middle-Eastern twist? Different types of tadkas could be made, to get different types of ajvar! – Indeed, why not? I may do this next time!

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 Update 28 September 2007

Buttonwaiter0907_red

Johanna, at  thepassionatecook, is hosting another round of Waiter, There’s Something in My… (WTSIM), and this time, it’s time for … savoury preserves! I’m submitting this recipe for my favourite relish to Johanna! 

For a host of excellent recipes for pickles, chutneys, preserves and sauces, check out the round-up at Johanna’s! 

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24 thoughts on “Ajvar – red pepper and aubergine relish

  1. I would like to make a small sample of this since it sounds delicious! Do you think if I roasted two large eggplant, added one jar of roasted red peppers, added chili peppers and processed in a food processor, that i would get a product close to yours? Thank you = Paul

  2. Orchidea,
    I look forward to hearing what you think!

    Paul,
    this depends on the proportions of vegetables you are using (how heavy are the aubergines, and how big the jar of peppers). Other than that, I think you should be ok. Some cooks roast the peppers and the aubergine, some boil them in water in vinegar, like in the above recipe. Both versions are delicious! Don’t forget garlic, pls, if eat garlic! Also, sugar helps balance the sourness of the vinegar. Please let me know what you think about it when you make it. Enjoy! :)

  3. this sounds great! i love spicy preserves! i would never have thought of having this with eggs, but willing to give it a try! after all, i love my huevos rancheros in their spicy tomato sauce, i bet this isn’t very far removed. thanks for contributing this to WTSIM!

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  6. This sounds yummy, especially since aubergines are my favourite vegetable, and red peppers a close second. Will try a small quantity and tell you how it turned out.
    Meanwhile, I guess you can link in to my blog from this post for Indian recipes – I’m priyagayatri on the foodie blogroll but I don’t know where my details are in the roll.

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  8. I’m thrilled to have this recipe since I just finished the jar of ajvar I brought back from Croatia last summer. YUM YUM!

    How many red peppers are represented in (6 kg)? And how large is the aubergine (1k) in this recipe, please? Like most Americans, I don’t know the metric system. Any further details with the other measurements in the recipe will be helpful, too.

    Thanks so much. I can’t wait to try this and relive sitting by the sea in one of Croatia’s many walled cities, sipping delicious white wine and munching on crusty bread covered with a slatter of ajvar. Heaven ….oh, my!

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  10. I never heard of boiling the vegetables. We roast the peppers and eggplant until the skin is blistered and black, skin them, making sure to save the juice, chop them and simmer them them slowly in olive oil with plenty of chopped garlic. Finally add some vinegar and adjust salt at the end. It’s a lot of work, but worth it. We don’t always include eggplant.

    One approach is to roast, skin and then freeze the peppers as they ripen. Then when you have enough saved up, go ahead and make the ajvar.

    I always associate the smell of roasting peppers with September.

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  12. I just landed on this recipe of yours and I love it!!!!! We have similar relishes in Lebanese cuisine but what I love about this one is the combination of red peppers, smoked eggplants, garlic and chili!
    Yum! can’t wait to set aside an afternoon and experiment with it!

  13. there are plenty of eggplant and pepper recipes but this one is unique and something I have not heard of before.
    6 kg of peppers? woa! think I will scale back the recipe a bit. Thank your Mom for sharing the recipe!

  14. Hi Maninas,
    A Croatian friend gave me a jar of mild ajvar, but we finished it too quickly!
    Can you give me an idea of how much garlic you normally use (a couple of heads?) and is the oil only used for pouring over the baked ajvar before putting the lids on the jars, or do you use some of it for the cooking too?
    Thank you!

  15. NANCY, sorry about the delay in replying! And glad to hear you’ve enjoyed your stay in Croatia.

    As for the measurements, the number of peppers and aubergines will depend on the size of the vegetables, so it’s difficult to say. Our peppers, for example, tend to be smaller and lighter to the ones I usually find here in the UK. Sorry about that. But I can point you to a useful website that helps with converting the measures and weights: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/converter_index.shtml.
    As for the garlic, try with one medium head of garlic, and add more if you fancy it. Again, this will depend on the pungency of the garlic. Ours is tiny, but mighty!

    OSTRC, There are many variations of this recipe. I know some people roast their veg, but we don’t. Ours is more a form of pickling, I guess. That’s very nice, too. Where are you from, if I may ask?

    TASTE OF BEIRUT, glad you like the recipe! Let me know how it goes.

    SARAH, nice to see you here! The above IS the scaled down recipe! :))) We make tons of it! But of course, you can scale it down further.

    Ajvar is hugely popular all around the former Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria. I thought it was of Turkish origin, but I’m not entirely sure.

    LUCY, Hi! And welcome to my blog!
    We use about a head or two of garlic, but you can vary it according to taste, of course. I’d say start with a head of garlic for the above amount of peppers, and then add more if you fancy it.
    The oil is used only at the end. Pouring it on top of the ajvar in the jar helps the sauce keep for longer.

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  17. the recipes which come from our mothers are simply the best. i love ajvar. thanks for sharing your recipe with us- i shall be buying those 6kg of peppers! x shayma

    • My mum is a great cook, so a fantastic person to learn from. Sadly, I’m not at home so much. :D Great!
      You can, of course, customise it, too, to give it your special spicy touch! :)

  18. I like this a lot; sometimes I prepare my own variation – a bit like in Provence, using French, local herbs….which probably has nothing to do with your genuine recipe, but it is tasty as well. In Poland, you can buy Ajvar in jars.

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