AJVAR: Balkan Roasted Red Pepper Relish

AJVAR: Balkan Roasted Red Pepper Relish

 

Ajvar is a traditional roasted sweet red bell pepper relish from the Balkan Peninsula with many regional variations. In the south eastern Balkans roasted eggplant is also included in the ajvar. Adding dried ground red chile is customary throughout the region although more as a flavor note than adding a discernible heat. Ajvar is slathered on local flat breads or served with grilled meats, sausages, fish, or just about any other application that strikes your fancy. It is a real favorite of mine and easy to prepare. Well… that is when flame roasting peppers and eggplants has become second nature. The roasting process is really not that difficult and a ritual I quite enjoy while taking in the intoxicating aroma of roasting peppers. That little extra effort turns out beautifully sweet and smoky flavored peppers and eggplants for a multitude of applications. Ajvar is very similar to an Eastern Mediterranean roasted red pepper Muhammara with walnuts and pomegranate which you also might like to try. (See recipe here)  It’s always a big hit when served with drinks.

Imported traditional Balkan Ajvar is available at some specialty food shops and online, but why not make your own with locally grown organic peppers. It really does make a difference and you are free to veer from tradition using various other vinegars and chilies. Try using a Jerez sherry vinegar and a smoked paprika paired with grilled Spanish sausages. It’s a flavor bite you will not forget!

 

Ajvar   makes about 3 cups

Ideally, make the Ajvar a day before you plan to use it. This allows the flavors to develop.

  • 3 large vine ripe red bell peppers, roasted
  • 2 to 3 small long eggplants, roasted
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely grated (1 tablespoon)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons flaked sea salt + more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons cider vinegar
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons pure ground red chile powder

Blacken the red bell peppers and eggplant on an outdoor grill or over a gas flame on the stove top. For full instructions on flame roasting (click here) .

Once the peppers and eggplants are evenly charred and quite limp transfer them to a bowl and seal the top of the bowl with cling film and set aside.

Once the peppers and eggplants are cool enough to handle remove the charred skin and discard it.
 Note: Do not be tempted to peel off the charred skin under running water. It may seem like a good idea, but you will be rinsing away all the flavor you developed during the charring. Better to rinse your hands instead.
It is fine if there are some bits of charred skin left behind here and there. It will add a nice smoked flavor to the ajvar.

Open up the peppers and eggplants and remove the seeds and membranes and discard. This will reduce the volume of the eggplant considerably but you should still end up with about a cup of flesh.

Tear the peppers apart into bits and place them in the food processor or use a mortar and pestle if you want a truly authentic ajvar. Add the eggplant, garlic, and salt and pulse or grind until the mixture is broken down. Add the vinegar, ground pepper, and a couple tablespoons of olive oil and pulse or continue grinding until the mixture is to the texture you prefer, either coarse or quite smooth. Then stir is the ground red chile powder and pulse or mix until combined.

Taste and make any adjustments needed. Transfer the ajvar to a glass jar and add a little olive oil to just cover the surface. Seal the jar with the lid and refrigerate.

Serve chilled or at room temperature.

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