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Ajvar (Balkan Red Pepper Relish)

On our travels in May and June, we ate this red pepper+eggplant condiment in almost every restaurant from Lubljana, Slovenia to Dubrovnik, Croatia. Each chef’s version was different, ranging from spicy to sweet and varying the ratio of red pepper to eggplant. All of them were tangy and luxurious.

When I got home, I started working on my own version, and I think this one is The Keeper. It combines both roasted garlic (for a “soft,” rich garlic undertone) and a little bit of fresh garlic at the end, for a piquant bite. I like using lemon juice instead of vinegar — although you should feel free to use red wine vinegar, if you prefer — and I think this ratio of peppers to eggplant, which favors the peppers, is just right. But have fun playing around with it yourself!

hr_brown1

ajvar

Ajvar

PREP 5 min | COOK 45 min | SERVES 6-8

Ingredients:
5-6 large red bell peppers
1 medium eggplant (about 1 pound)
6 cloves garlic, unpeeled and wrapped in a piece of aluminum foil
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
juice of half a lemon
1/2 teaspoon aleppo pepper (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:

1. Roast the peppers, eggplant, and garlic.
On a gas grill: Heat the grill on high, with the lid closed, for about 10-15 minutes. Place the eggplant, peppers, and foil packet of garlic directly on the grates and roast until the skins of the peppers and eggplant are blackened and blistered. (It took mine about 5-7 minutes per side, for a total roasting time of roughly 25 minutes.) It seems scary, but you want the skins to be uniformly blackened; watch this video for a good demonstration.

In the oven: Preheat the oven to 475F. Cover a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, then place the peppers, eggplant, and foil packet of garlic on the sheet. Roast until blackened and soft, about 30 minutes.

2. When the vegetables are roasted, set the garlic packet aside and place the peppers and eggplant in a large glass bowl, then cover tightly with plastic wrap and let the vegetables steam for 15 minutes.

3. Remove the garlic from the foil, peel off the skin, and place the roasted garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Carefully remove the skin of the eggplant, use a spoon to scoop out the seeds, and place the flesh in the food processor with the garlic. Blend until just puréed, then remove to a large mixing bowl.

4. Remove the skins, stems, and seeds from the red bell peppers. Place in the food processor and pulse until chopped, but not puréed; you want it to have a bit of texture. I pulsed mine about 5 times. Add the red peppers to the bowl with the eggplant.

5. To the veggies in the bowl, add the minced raw garlic clove, olive oil, lemon juice, aleppo pepper, and cayenne pepper. Mix well with a wooden spoon or rubber scraper, then taste. Add salt and pepper, mix well, and taste again. Adjust seasonings to your liking, then place in a covered container in the refrigerator to allow flavors to meld. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Serve with grilled chicken, pork, or fish — or roll some ćevapčići.

cevapcici

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30 Responses to “Ajvar (Balkan Red Pepper Relish)”

  1. Faith says:

    Ajvar! I love this…thank you for coming up with a recipe for this :)

    • Mel says:

      I fell in love with ajvar on our trip, and I’m pretty excited with how this came out. The roasted + fresh garlic really makes it. Hope you like it!

      • Irina says:

        The real ajvar is made in the south of the Balkans, famouse for its red peppers, especialy Macedonia. Unfortenatelly the slovenians took the name but as i can see they put it on a wrong recipe. Your recipe is actually a pindjur, and ajvar is a made only with red peppers and it takes at least one entire day to make it.

      • Faith says:

        I’m amazed. I made this and had it with eggs for breakfast this morning. When I had a sip of my coffee, the flavours of the ajvar created a fuller and smoother flavour for my everyday coffee – it’s almost a miracle :)

  2. Renee says:

    I happened to have all the ingredients for this which I took as a sign that I should make it immediately. So different from anything I’ve had before and so delicious that I’ve been eating it straight from the jar. I just hope I have some left when I get around to making the meat cigar thingys.

    • Mel says:

      It’s really good as a like a sorta of salad, right?! Also, this is my favorite description of cevapcici: “meat cigar thingys.”

      Enjoy!

  3. Tess says:

    Wow, just what I’ve been longing for, I love ajvar but the stuff we get in the supermarket dont seem very healthy so I have been avoiding it thinking it would be to complicated to make from scratch.

    But now I can, yeay!! How long will this keep in a tight lid glass jar in the fridge do you think?

  4. Rachel says:

    Hi Melissa,
    I completed my first Whole 30 at the end of July with a lot of help from your fab cookbook and blog. Since then, I’ve decided to try to transition to a Paleo lifestyle. I just wanted to say thank you for helping me to try new recipes and worldwide cuisine. I love your simple, easy-to-follow recipes, and the amazing flavors you create! I also just love reading your blog posts – you are too funny! Anyway, I’m going to try and make this ajvar and the cevi things today. Excited to try something else new! One question – how do you pronounce these words? I’m a language teacher, so I have a thing for getting pronunciation right. :-)

    • Mel says:

      Congratulations on joining the paleo/Whole30 club! YAY!

      I’m really glad to know my recipes helped you make the transition. Eating should be fun. WOOT!

      Ajvar… “j” sounds like “y”, so it’s pronounced “eye-var” (like eye-car with a “v,” accent on the first syllable

      ćevapčići… the accents over the “c” means they’re pronounced like “ch”, so it’s “chuh-vap-chee-chee”… accent on the second syllable

  5. Rachel says:

    Thanks! Going to start the avjar right now… :-) It will be good to be able to tell my hubby what we’re eating!

  6. Oh do I love Ajvar. I’ve been using a recipe from DIY Delicious, but there is always room in my repertoire for twists on a standby :) I also love the similar Turkish Acılı – which my dad makes and then I steal from my parents house.

  7. Catherine G says:

    We’ve been obsessed with this stuff since our trip to Croatia in ’11. Can’t WAIT to try your recipe.

  8. Vicky says:

    Pinned this and the cevaps so I know where to find the recipe! Thanks.

    Vicky

  9. EDINA X says:

    FLAWLESS recipe !! thanks from a bosnian faaaar far away from home. #sugarfree ajvar whaaaat

  10. Emily says:

    Omg. I just made this and can’t stop eating it…with a spoon! Delicious!!! I am making the sausages tomorrow so I really ought to save some, but it’s just sooooo yummy!

  11. Brye says:

    This may be silly but can yellow or orange peppers be used. Thats what I have in my garden. Thanks!! So excited to make this.

    • Lena says:

      Yep! Just the colour will be a little bit different, not so rich, but the flavour is equally great. I grew up in Yugoslavia and this is one national dish that crossed borders. it makes me laugh to read that so many former Yugoslavians claim that only their region makes it right. Enjoy the great way to preserve peppers!

  12. Tamara says:

    Hi! I’m from Serbia and I can guarantee everyone that there’s nothing better than a home-made ajvar. It’s so delicious! Everyone makes it differently, but that’s what makes it special. Keep up the good work and stop by Serbia to try more of our food.
    :)

  13. […] Balkan Red Pepper Relish […]

  14. Mishelle says:

    I am Macedonian! Ajvar is a lifeline these days. My mom sent me home (from Buffalo, NY to Atlanta, GA) with six jars of Ajvar. We are down to two and I’m asking her to send me more. Or I just have to bite the bullet and make it myself. Mama’s is just so much better!

    Prijatno!

  15. liese says:

    So glad i found this!
    So in your travels, did you eat any Sarma [Cabbage Rolls]?
    The reason i am asking, is that i used to live in Astoria, Oregon.
    There was a Bosnian restaurant there that made a Sarma to die for! [and wont share the recipe] This was pre-paleo for me.
    All i could get out of them was that their recipe had no Tomato sauce at all.
    These Sarma’s i still crave 6yrs later after leaving.

    So, i’m wondering… would ajvar be used as a base liquid? I remember the liquid having a red/orangish tint.

    FYI, I hated my mother’s [tomato based] Stuffed Cabbage growing up. I drug her to this restaurant to prove that their’s was better…lol

    • Mel says:

      I’m not familiar with Sarma, so I did a Google search. All of the recipes I found use tomatoes except this one:

      http://www.food.com/recipe/sarma-croatian-sauerkraut-rolls-255049

      I don’t know about using Ajvar. You could certainly give it a try!

    • My mother got her recipe from my Hungarian grandmother. It had tomato in it but this is how she did it– she took a few whole, peeled canned tomatoes, slit them with a kitchen knife to drain the juice out over the sink, then “smooshed” (her word) them with her hands into the meat mixture, which was pork, beef and rice. I’ve not made them since I’ve gone paleo but that’s how the Hungarian ones get the tomato in them. Experiment.

  16. Barb says:

    Hi Lies,

    my grandmother learned how to make Sarma many years ago when she lived in Bosnia for a few years. No tomato in our recipe (although you could add some tomato paste to the cabbage stuffing). The red color is a roux made from minced onion, butter/oil, flour and Hungarian paprika seasoning, and liquid from the pot with the Sarma rolls, leftover chopped up cabbage at the bottom, and some pieces of slab bacon. Make the roux after the Sarma pot has been gently bubbling away for an hour or so, stir back unto the pot very carefully and continue to simmer for another two hours.
    One of my all time favorites – main thing is to make sure to find the proper sour whole cabbage heads for it, best from Turkish grocers.
    Good luck!

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