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A staple of Balkan cuisine, ajvar (pronounced eye-var) is a delicious rich red pepper spread that’s perfect with fresh rustic bread, pasta, crackers, baked potatoes, etc. And best of all… it’s naturally vegan!
Autumn is traditionally the time of year to make ajvar, and it’s a great way of using up surplus peppers, plus ensuring a plentiful supply of Vitamin C throughout the winter (each 25g serving provides 43% of our daily VitC needs).
Some purists claim that ajvar should only be made with peppers – that Slovenians adulterate it with aubergine (eggplant), and that it’s actually closer to pindjur (a Bulgarian/Macedonian relish made with tomatoes, peppers, aubergine, garlic, and chilli). That may well be true but I happen to really like it with aubergine; I find it gives the ajvar an added of layer silky, smooth, creaminess, so for now, the aubergine stays!
Living the life of a wanderer, as I do, I come across this kind of attitude all the time; that such-and-such a recipe is not the ‘one true’ recipe, or that a certain nation cannot possibly make this dish or that dish as well as a certain other nation. Some particular individuals become quite vehement when sharing their opinion of what makes a dish ‘proper’ (just mention that you ate burek in Croatia or Slovenia to a Serb, and they’ll often tell you in no uncertain terms that it’s a Serbian pie… despite it actually being brought to the Balkans by the Ottomans).
But really, none of that matters – dishes travel, and over time, they evolve to suit local tastes and available ingredients. In general, Indian food in Britain, for example, is really not much like Indian food in India; it has evolved to become its own thing, and British Indian curries are loved the world over. There’s a British guy living in Chiang Mai (Thailand), who has built up a decently-sized business, selling pre-made BIR (British Indian Restaurant) curries to the expat community. There’s another in Germany, who’s done the same, and exports his curries right across Europe, as well as having a local bricks-and-mortar shop.
My point is that if the food is good, does it really matter whether it’s 100% ‘authentic’ or not? I don’t think so.
The key to a rich, creamy ajvar is to make sure that the peppers are roasted until their skins blacken, and then, after the veggies have been peeled and smooshed, simmer the spread over a very low heat. Some people swear by simmering overnight but I think a couple of hours is fine. Do be aware that you may need a diffuser if cooking on gas, otherwise your ajvar might catch.
Ajvar (Serbian Red Pepper Spread)
- rich and silky
- full of goodness
Keep a jar in your ‘fridge as a standby for those times you really can’t be bothered to cook (c’mon, it happens to all of us!); chuck a potato (sweet, or otherwise) in the oven to bake, and then when it’s done, slather over some ajvar, serve with a crisp green salad, and boom – you’re good to go!
Or cook up some pasta, and use ajvar as a quick and convenient sauce.
Or simply have it with some crackers, or fresh crusty bread, some tomatoes, olives, and your protein of choice, for a super-speedy, nutritious lunch.
Ajvar really is pretty versatile!
How would you eat your ajvar?