What Is It?
Ajvar, pronounced “EYE-var,” is a Balkan pepper relish brimming with fire-roasted peppers and eggplant, along with a touch of garlic and a vinegary kick to round it out. Less about heat and more about sweet, ajvar is an autumnal tradition on the Balkan Peninsula, where it’s made from the September harvest of roga peppers – although similar to red bell peppers, roga peppers have a more complex flavor profile. Different regions add additional ingredients such as sautéed onions or tomatoes, but the bare-bones version will always be my favorite.
What Do I Do With It?
Although it’s thought of as a relish and perfectly at home when perched on top of a thick slice of bread, there’s a lot of other ways to enjoy ajvar. It has a thick texture, which makes for a great concentrated flavor base for tomato sauces and soups. Swirl it into pasta adorned with Feta and briny chopped olives; stir it into risotto or couscous; or simmer eggs in it. By all means, use it as a spread or dip too – I like it on meat-laden sandwiches and as a dip for fresh or blanched vegetables and pita.
Can you buy jarred ajvar? Yes, at international markets as well as large grocery stores – it’s that versatile and easy to love. That said, making it is the far tastier option, especially in early fall when you’re trying to keep your grill going for as long as you can.
This relish is bright, velvety and thick thanks to the smoky eggplant in the background. For a little heat, roast a Fresno chile alongside the red bell pepper and chop it into the sauce prior to blending.
Yields | approximately 2 cups |
- 1 medium eggplant
- 3 red bell peppers
- 3 to 4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1½ tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
| Preparation | Clean and prepare grill for medium high heat. With a fork, pierce eggplant all over. Oil grill grates and place eggplant on coolest part of grill; turning every 10 to 15 minutes, grill until eggplant is wrinkled and very tender, 30 to 40 minutes. While eggplant is cooking, set peppers on hottest part of grill; rotating frequently, grill until skin is blackened. Transfer both eggplant and peppers to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to steam and cool.
Once cooled, slice eggplant in half and scoop out flesh, removing any large seeds. Place flesh in the bowl of a food processor; discard skin. Peel skin off roasted peppers and discard; remove stems and seeds and discard. Add peppers and garlic to food processor; pulse to chop. Add olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper; blend until smooth. Transfer mixture to a large saucepan and heat to a low simmer, stirring occasionally. Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture has reached desired consistency (it should be very thick), 40 minutes to 1 hour. Transfer ajvar to jars and seal tightly. Store in refrigerator.