Any pepper lover is sure to adore this wonderful classic condiment, originating in the Balkan region. Some controversy exists on the exact origin of the dish, but most sources settle on the Serbian and Macedonian origins as the true source of Ajvar. The origin of the name is Turkish and derives from the Ottoman word Havyar, meaning “salted roe”, or caviar, for the pearly and smooth texture of the finely grinded pepper flesh.
The depth and height of flavor of any good Ajvar is directly linked to the quality of the peppers used to produce it and for this reason, only the best red, bull-horn shaped red peppers are traditionally chosen for this dish.
In their native land, the peppers of choice for making Ajvar are Kurtovska Kapija, also known as Ajvarski. The beauty, sweetness and flavor of this pepper is unparalleled and it’s a bonus that it happens to be one of the most productive and vigorous pepper plant we grow!
If you don’t happen to grow the traditional bull-horn pepper of Macedonia, don’t worry! You can still make delicious Ajvar with any ripe pepper, fresh from your garden, from the farmer’s market or even the grocery store. Just keep in mind that the freshest and best tasting peppers will produce the most delicious Ajvar!
But what is Ajvar? Ajvar is traditional relish of the Balkan area.
This thick, chunky relish is made by first roasting ripe, bull-horn shaped peppers over a wood fire (you can also use a grill or your oven!), peeling them, then grinding them into a rough tapenade-consistency sauce and cook it with vinegar and salt. Some recipes add garlic, herbs and other vegetables like hot peppers, onions and eggplants into the mix, but the simpler, classic version presented here is wonderful as well. The delicious taste of the roasted red ripe pepper and the tangy vinegar complete each other without any need for supplemental ingredients!
Makes about 1 quart jar of Ajvar
2 lbs. ripe Ajvarksi peppers (about a dozen peppers)
½ cup olive oil
1-2 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. white wine vinegar
Start by roasting the peppers over a wood fire, placing them on a grill evenly spaced. Turn them frequently, making sure the skin is blackened and seared all around.
If you don’t have access to a safe place to roast your peppers over an open fire, don’t let it intimidate you into not making Ajvar! Although the slight smoky taste of the wood fire imparts a nice flavor to the peppers, they certainly can be roasted on the grill as well, both gas and charcoal versions. Alternatively, you can roast them in a 450degree oven for 15-20 minutes, checking on them frequently.
When roasting peppers over a wood fire or in the oven, check on them frequently, and turn them, so they blacken evenly. Remove the ones that are done immediately from the oven. The skin should blacken and peel away, but the meat should never darken.
Once the peppers are blackened all around, remove them from the fire and place them immediately in a sealed container such as a large Ziploc bag a pot with a lid on top. The steam that is created from the heat of the peppers will loosen the skin and finish cooking the flesh.
Peel the peppers and place them in a covered pot to cool down.
Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, finely mince them then place in a large pot. Pour the oil over the peppers and leave the peppers to sit like this for 20 minutes, so they have time to soak in the oil.
While stirring constantly, bring the peppers first to a boil, then lower the temperature until only simmering. Stir frequently to prevent any color to develop on the peppers. You want an even, bright red color. Cook on low to medium heat for up to an hour. The Ajvar is done once all the liquid evaporates and you're left with a thick spread.
Once the cooking liquid from the peppers is gone, add vinegar and season with salt to taste.
Remove from heat and refrigerate.
Voila! Your delicious Ajvar is done! This wonderful relish will keep in the refrigerator up to a week.
Although the traditional recipe is intended for canning for long term preservation, we will not suggest you should use this recipe for long term storage. Always make sure to use approved recipes for all your canning need.
Look here for guidance on canning from the USDA.