Soups & Salads
Ajvar is a traditional roasted red pepper sauce/ puree favored throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, with regional variations across Lebanon, Syria, the Balkans, Turkey, and the Middle East. Ajvar is served with grilled meats, fish, kabobs, mezze plates, or just slathered onto a warmed pita bread.
Ajvar is a simplified Muhammara (see Recipe here),either of which I like to keep on hand to jazz up those meals that beg for a flavor boost.
Ajvar is available in in Greek and Middle Eastern shops and online, through rarely found on supper market shelves. So why not prepare Ajvar at home. The ingredients are all readily available and the recipe that follows will walk you through the process. Preparing the peppers and eggplant may seem a bit tedious, but it is all well worth the effort I assure you. The slightly sweet and smoky aroma wafting throughout the kitchen will be enough to spur you onward with the tasks at hand.
Putting up a jar freshly made Ajvar is one of those cook’s moments, a raison d’etre if you will and, I have to say, what makes cookery so compelling.
So, with that thought in mind let’s get cooking!
makes 1 quart
- olive oil as needed
- 4 ripe red bell peppers
- 1 ripe red jalapeno chile
- 1 medium eggplant
- 5 large garlic cloves, skin on
- 2 tablespoons unfiltered apple cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons sea salt + more to taste
Rub the bell peppers, jalapeno, eggplant, and garlic with olive oil and place on a large baking tray.
Place the tray of vegetables under the preheated broiler and broil until the skins on the peppers, jalapeno, and eggplant blister and are are charred in spots. Turn all the vegetables and continue broiling. Remove the garlic as soon as it is lightly colored and set aside.
Continue broiling the reaming vegetables until all sides are charred and blistered.
Transfer all the broiled vegetables to a large bowl and seal tightly with cling film and set aside to cool.
When the vegetables are cool enough to handle you are going to peel away the charred skins and discard them. As tempting as it may be, do not rinse the vegetables under the tap as you work. Doing so will only wash away the flavor you have created during the broiling process.
Likewise be sure to reserve all the juices from the roasting pan as well as the juices collected as you remove the seeds from the peppers, chile, and eggplant. All these flavorsome juices will be added back into Ajvar later.
Cut the bell peppers and jalapeno in half. Remove all the seeds and membranes and discard them. Tear the bell peppers into strips lengthwise and place them in the work bowl of a food processor along with the peeled eggplant.
In a small bowl combine the jalapeno, peeled garlic, salt, and vinegar and mash together with a wooden spoon to form a paste and set aside.
Begin pulsing the peppers and eggplant in the processor until the mixture looks like a coarse puree.
Stop the machine and spoon the garlic chile mixture on top of the red pepper puree and pulse until the mixture begins to smooth out.
Place a wide nonstick fry pan over medium low heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil is hot add the Ajvar puree to the pan and stir for several minutes. Then add any reserved juices and stir them into the puree continue to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time to avoid any scorching.
Taste and add salt if needed.
Transfer the Ajvar to a sterilized jar and cool to room temperature. Add a thin layer of olive oil on top of the Ajvar and seal tightly with a lid and refrigerate.
The Ajvar will keep in the refrigerator for at least a month or more.
Serve as suggested as well as with j sandwiches, pasta, tacos or anything else that comes to mind.
This may sound like an unlikely combination, but believe me this is a vinaigrette that is going to reinvigorate your seasonal salad combinations. I have been tinkering with this recipe for a couple of months and I am finally happy with the resulting recipe that follows.
Blood oranges are native to Spain and Sicily and grown here in the US in Florid and California. The flesh is of course blood red. The juice is sweet with a slight sharpness. Blood oranges are in season and generally available in supermarkets from December through May.
Miso is a Japanese fermented soy bean paste available in most supermarkets in the international section. It is the miso’s subtle umami note, found in many Japanese dishes, that brings this unique vinaigrette to life. The fermented sweet saltiness of the miso bonds seamlessly with the zesty bitter sweet blood orange juice. This unlikely combination will brighten up all sorts of seasonal salad combinations.
As we are in the depths of winter try to gather together an assortment of hearty wintry leafy greens for your salad. To those add some Belgian endive, radicchio, mustard greens, baby arugula, some thinly sliced radishes, and julienne of carrots. Toss everything together along with the vinaigrette. Serve with a final flourish of flaked sea salt and you have a crisp dazzling winter salad to serve along with your winter meals!
For warmer weather this is a vinaigrette shines when tossed together with freshly picked garden fresh greens, cucumbers, vine ripened cherry tomatoes, fresh herbs, seasonal fruits, and edible flowers.
Blood Orange Miso Sherry Vinaigrette
makes 1 ¼ cup
- ¼ cup minced shallots
- 2 teaspoons julienne of blood orange zest
- 2 tablespoons white miso
- 6 tablespoons freshly squeezed blood orange juice
- ½ cup Jerez sherry vinegar
- ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¾ cup light olive oil
- sea salt to taste
- flaked sea salt for finishing (Maldon salt)
Combine the shallots, blood orange zest, miso, blood orange juice, Jerez sherry vinegar, and the black pepper in a medium size nonreactive bowl and whisk until well combined.
While whisking vigorously begin adding the olive oil in a slow steady stream. Continue whisking until the vinaigrette has emulsified and thickened.
Taste and add sea salt if needed to your liking and whisk to combine.
Set the vinaigrette aside until you are ready to serve the salad. Vigorously whisk the vinaigrette once again just before dressing the salad for serving.
Store the dressing in a jar with a tightly fitting lid and refrigerate. Be sure to remember to remove the vinaigrette from the refrigerator well before you are ready to serve as the oil will have coagulated once refrigerated. Shake vigorously and serve.
I used to make some stellar Thai basil pesto variations when I was living in in Thailand. But Thai basil is hard to find here in the US unless you’re lucky enough to have an Asian grocery store near by.
By all means use Thai basil if it is available for the recipe that follows. There are two varieties to look for. Thai sweet basil has pointed bright green aromatic leaves with a hint of anise and an after note e of cinnamon. Thai holly basil leaves are a deep green or sometimes reddish purple leaves with an earthy peppery flavor. Both variegates are distinctly more assertive in flavor than broad leaf Italian basil.
If Thai basil is not available, just adapt and diversify, which is how this recipe evolved. The secret to Thai food’s popularity is a cleaver one. Most Thai dishes include all five elements of taste, those being salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami (savory) flavors in one dish which is pure genius. It’s no wonder why Thai food is so loved. With that concept in mind I used readily available broad leaf Italian basil along with some hot jalapenos from south of the border, some Thai fish sauce, lime juice, cashews (abundant in Thailand) and you end up with a Thai- americano pesto!
This is a pesto you will want to add to your repertoire. A dollop added to almost any savory dish will have it bursting with all the flavors of a Thai- americano mash up.
Pictured is Thai..americano Peato served on toasted bread strips atop a salad of baby arugula, pickled beets and hard cooked eggs, and shaved aged provolone cheese.
Thai…americano Pesto Makes about 1 ½ cups
- 3 cups fresh torn broad leaf Italian basil leaves, or Thai basil if available
- 2 tablespoon minced garlic
- 3 to 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 or 2 jalapeno chiles, seeded and diced
- ½ cup chopped cashews
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce +more to taste
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- ¼ cup olive oil
- cold water as needed for thinning
Place the basil leaves, garlic, 3 tablespoons lime juice, jalapeno chiles, cashews, ¾ teaspoon of salt, fish sauce, and sugar in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients are broken down into a coarse paste.
Scrape down the sides of the work bowl. Turn the machine on and pour the olive oil into the feed tube and continue to run the machine until all the oil is incorporated.
Stop the machine and taste the pesto and add additional salt and fish sauce to taste. If the pesto needs thinning, turn the machine on and add 1 tablespoon of cold water at a time until you reach the desired consistency.
Transfer the pesto to a nonreactive container, cover, and refrigerate.
The pesto can be served chilled or at room temperature with endless applications.
Listed are additional pesto recipes that I have posted over the years to to expand your pesto repertoire for freezing for later use during the winter months.
Fresh Sweet Italian Basil Pesto (see here)
Pesto alla Siciliana & Pesto Trapanese (see here)
Spinach Pesto with Pancetta (see here)
Pomegranate Glazed Pork Loin with Pistachio Pesto (see here)
Pesto Diverso (see here)
The Japanese ingredients say a lot about this zesty salad dressing, but it is surprisingly compatible when served with non-Japanese dishes as well.
As always, shop for the very freshest organic ingredients you can find. What I do love about this dressing is how the wasabi note heightens the crisp garden fresh flavor of the assorted salad components. Perfect for late summer and fall salads!
Miso Wasabi Salad Dressing Makes 3/4 cup
- 3 tablespoons light miso
- 1 teaspoon finely grated garlic
- ¼ cup Japanese rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons Tamari soy sauce, or regular soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- ¼ cup light vegetable oil, or light olive oil
- 1 or 2 teaspoons wasabi paste
- 3 tablespoons cold water
Combine all the ingredients except the water in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake vigorously until the dressing is completely emulsified. Add the cold water and shake once again until combined. Refrigerate the dressing until well chilled for serving.
Suggestions For the Salad
- romaine lettuce, leaves cut into thirds
- baby cos leaves, halved
- radicchio leaves, torn lengthwise
- iceberg, torn
- arugula (rocket) leaves
- celery leaves
- mizuna sprigs
- julienned carrots
- julienned radishs
- snap peas, blanched and chilled
- radish sprouts
- small vine ripe tomatoes, halved
- toasted sesame seeds (see recipe here)
Place the romaine, baby cos, radicchio, iceberg, arugula, and celery leaves in a large bowl and toss. Add a couple of teaspoons of dressing and toss to coat the leaves evenly.
Plating and Serving the Salad
Fan the mizuna leaves on chilled individual salad plates and mound a handful of tossed lightly dressed salad leaves onto each plate. Scatter the top of each salad with the julienned carrots and then the julienned radishes. Tuck the snap peas and halved tomatoes into the salads and lightly drizzle a little more dressing over each salad. Garnish with a flourish of toasted sesame seeds and serve.