9:58 AM EST
Ajvar | Serbian Roasted Red Pepper, Eggplant and Garlic Spread
A quick geography lesson. Serbia was part of the former Yugoslavia. It boarders Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Albania, making it a sort of cross-roads of East-Central Europe. This is reflected in the food of Serbia which has characteristics of Balkan, Mediterranean, Turkish, Austrian and Hungarian cuisines. When you taste Ajvar, a delicious spread of roasted red peppers, eggplant, garlic and peppers is at once familiar and unusual. In essence, it is Serbian.
Ajvar can be used as a salsa with chips or crackers, as an accompaniment to cheese, as a topping for bruschetta, as a sauce for pasta (it transforms mac n’ cheese beautifully), as a dressing for baked meat or fish…you get the idea. And it is quite simple and fast to make. I use a broiler but you can char the peppers and eggplants on the grill, too. Don’t like spice? Simply substitute an additional red pepper for the Hungarian peppers and maybe take away a few garlic cloves.
• 10 red bell peppers
• 3 Hungarian peppers*
• 2 small eggplants
• 8 cloves garlic, smashed
• Olive oil
• White vinegar
Prepare the Vegetables
Cut the peppers in half, removing seeds, stems and any large pieces of membrane. Cut the eggplants in half, brushing olive oil on the cut surface. Sprinkle each cut eggplant surface with a pinch of salt.
Broil the Vegetables
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place as many peppers on it as will fit, cut side down. Broil the peppers until they are approximately 75% charred (don’t worry – we’ll be removing the skins later). When they sufficiently charred, transfer the peppers and their juices to a large pot. Place a lid on the pot and allow the peppers to cool until you can handle them comfortably. Char the remaining peppers in batches.
Broil the eggplants cut side up (i.e., facing the flame). Remove when browned and soft. Allow to cool.
Prepare the Ajvar
Remove and discard the skins from the peppers and transfer the roasted peppers to a bowl. Scoop out the soft flesh of the eggplants and add it to the bowl. Remove as many large clusters of eggplant seeds as possible. Add the garlic, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Blend until smooth with an immersion blender or, alternatively, create a loose paste using a blender or food processor. Taste and add more olive oil and/or vinegar to your liking.
Salt? I don’t add salt to my ajvar since it give me more flexibility for using it later. However, straight up ajvar will benefit with the addition of salt so after creating the paste I recommend adding salt quarter teaspoon by quarter teaspoon until you like the way it tastes.
*Not all Hungarian peppers are created equally. Some cultivars are hotter than others and I think the hotter ones are great in this recipe. I also look for red Hungarian peppers to maintain an intense red color in the ajvar.