Ajvar Eggplant Roasted Pepper Spread is an utterly delicious smokey, garlicky red pepper and eggplant relish from the Balkans. It’s particularly associated with Serbia, but there are versions throughout the Balkan region. Let me just say out of the gate that if you’re a fan of roasted red pepper anything you’re going to love this stuff. Imagine being able to slather roasted red pepper awesomeness on literally anything. That’s what we’re dealing with here. I put some on an omelette yesterday and it made that omelette at least 50% more awesome. I’m being deadly serious here.
History of Ajvar Eggplant Roasted Pepper Spread
Traditionally throughout the Balkans, so NPR tells me, households make batches of ajvar in early autumn in the hopes that they’ve laid in a store that will last them until the coming summer. The traditional way is to roast all of the vegetables outdoors on an open fire. And if you can do that, by all means I highly recommend it. I live in a condominium in a city, so short of provoking a lawsuit from my home owner’s association that’s just not really a viable option. My version is made indoors in a conventional oven. If you want to build a fire in the backyard though, know that you have my full and enthusiastic support.
The idea that the intention is to make enough to get you through the winter of course suggests something to me: fermentation. A relish of cooked eggplant and red peppers isn’t going to last all winter long without some sort of way of preserving it. Following this very line of thinking I discovered a few recipes for fermented ajvar. One is from Natalie Lawhead, and the other from The Home Preserving Bible.
I have no idea if fermented ajvar is very common or traditional in the Balkans, but given that fermented things are good for our gut microbiome, it’s certainly an intriguing idea. In the end though I went the fresh, unfermented route, which is rather heavy on the extra virgin olive oil. The olive oil makes for a velvety rich spread, and as you all know EVOO is stupid good for you. However, I seem to recall in my limited knowledge of canning and pickling that there is some sort of association between canning oily things and the danger of botulism. I’d be embarrassing (albeit quite unique) to kill myself with a Balkan pepper spread, so until I learn a bit more about fermenting things I think I’ll abstain. If anyone can enlighten me on this oils and canning deal I’d be much obliged.
How to Use Ajvar Eggplant Roasted Pepper Spread
I think a natural question for the ajvar initiate is this: just what the heck do you put this stuff on? Good question! And let me say up front that eating it out of the jar with a spoon isn’t a bad idea. But that’s not really what the question is getting at is it?
Perhaps I could begin by noting that ajvar eggplant roasted pepper spread is a gluten free, vegan, and paleo friendly food. In that regard, spreading it on other gluten free, vegan, or paleolithic items will likely make those items taste better. Just sayin’.
Still too vague? Okay. It goes well anywhere ketchup goes (e.g., fries, burgers, hashbrowns, etc.), but I’d go further and say it goes well anywhere you’d usually reach for a tomato sauce. Think pasta sauces (if you eat pasta). Try it as a pizza sauce (whoa!). Use it as a marinade. Fortify your hummus. Bolster your soup. I can also attest to the fact that it’s great on fish and grilled vegetables. But I still stand by the idea of eating it out of the jar with a spoon.
If that’s not a good list to start with, I suggest you make friends with a Serbian, Bulgarian, or Macedonian person and then ask that person how they eat ajvar. I suspect they’ll have strong opinions on the matter.
- 8 Red Bell Peppers
- 2 Medium Eggplant
- 1 Head of Garlic
- ½ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 Teaspoons Kosher Salt
- 2 Tablespoons White Vinegar
- Cut the peppers in half and place on a large baking sheet. Cook under a broiler until the skins are black and blistered, turning occasionally to char evenly. It should take about 15 minutes. Remove the peppers and seal them in a paper bag to steam.
- Meanwhile, cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Score the interior with a knife. Coat the cut surface with two tablespoons of the olive oil. Place them under the broiler cut side up until the surface is black and charred (about 10 minutes).
- Turn off the broiler and set the oven to 375°F (190°C). Cut the top off of the head of garlic and coat the cut surfaces with a bit of olive oil. Bake the garlic and the eggplant until the eggplant is tender (about 30 minutes).
- Peel the skins off of the peppers and place in a food processor. Scoop the flesh out of the eggplants and squeeze the garlic cloves out of the head of garlic. Add both to the food processor as well as all of the remaining ingredients. Puree until fairly smooth (depending on your preference).
- Store in sterilized jars in the refrigerator.