If you visit Belgrade during the autumn season, you will notice the smoky smell of roasted peppers which fills the air. Amidst the fallen leaves which create a beautiful kaleidoscope of colours over the city, that overpowering smell can only mean one thing: it’s ajvar season.
Ajvar is a savoury relish made from roasted red peppers across the Balkans during the peak harvest season. Markets are overflowing with pyramids of red peppers, bursting with colour and flavour. Traditionally, ajvar is prepared in large quantities as part of “zimnica” (winter foods), to keep the taste of summer bottled up during the long winter days – however, as a personal favourite, I have it all year round in my fridge.
My friend Jasmin fell in love with ajvar during her recent visit to Belgrade and was inspired to prepare it herself back in Germany, however, as all truly great things take time – making ajvar is a rather difficult and lengthy process, which is why usually the entire family helps to prepare this dish.
The first step is to roast the robust (horned) red peppers whole, on a hotplate on an open fire. The peppers are then arranged in a large cooking pot, tightly covered, and left overnight, allowing the steam to penetrate the skin.
The next day, the skin is peeled off, seeds removed, and chopped in wide pieces in order to allow all liquid to drain away. The peppers are then placed in a mill and are ground to a mushy consistency.
The next step is to place the consistency in a large cooking pot and add sunflower oil, garlic and salt, allowing it to stew for a few hours with regular stirring to prevent burns. Once the liquid consistency is solidified, the ajvar is ready to be placed in pre-heated glass jars and sealed immediately.
Recipes are passed down from generation to the next, so methods may vary such as adding roasted aubergines with the roasted peppers and adding chili peppers which result in a very piquant flavour. Having tried almost every type of ajvar, I firmly believe my grandfather makes the best one – a tradition he maintains every year. Ajvar can be eaten as a relish on bread, as a garnish enhancement to grilled meat, or paired with a salad – the options are simply endless.
To the Balkan countries, ajvar is a part of our national heritage, however, it is only a matter of time when the rest of the world discovers this gastronomic treasure. If you wish to make your own ajvar, here is a great recipe and has beautiful photos documenting each step: www.palachinkablog.com/ajvar
Good luck and prijatno! 🙂