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!
The recipe yields 8 – 9 large 900 g jars.
SOURCE: friend’s mum’s recipe
PREPARATION TIME: 30 min
COOKING TIME (inside the lamb): 3 h 30 min
- 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
- 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!).
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!
Update 28 September 2007
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!