Ajvar (Serbian Salad)
Balkan ajvar is a delectable late summer treat of roasted peppers, garlic and eggplant. Red peppers have been a common crop in Pivnica and in other villages in Vojvodina, northern Serbia since the Slovaks settled there 240 years ago. These peppers have traveled far: first introduced to Slovaks by the Turks during the Ottoman invasion, they were later brought to Leamington from Yugoslavia by Pauline and other Slovaks when they immigrated to Canada in the 1930’s. Pauline often stuffed the peppers with rice and ground meat, such as lamb, pork or beef.
Eggplants are another common vegetable found in Leamington, and at this time of year they are plentiful. I am always looking for ways to use them up, such as in eggplant parmesan, or put into tomato sauces. Lily, Pauline’s daughter, recently served a delicious, silky dip called Eggplant Caviar at a family gathering, a dip that is very similar to this one, minus the peppers.
Ajvar is a versatile recipe popular in Balkan countries such as Serbia, Macedonia and Croatia, and can be served in a number of ways. Try ajvar spread on a chunk of crusty bread and drizzled with olive oil. Ajvar can also be served with grilled meats and kebabs, as a dip for vegetables or with tortilla chips like salsa, used as a sauce on pasta, or my favorite, spread on a toasty roll and served with a grilled lamb burger, crumbled feta cheese and sautéed onions. It’s got a silky texture from the eggplant with chunky bits of of vegetable too, and can vary from a sweet and mild to a fiery hot taste if you include chili peppers in the recipe. Ajvar is an excellent sauce to can and then enjoy all winter.
- 2 sweet red peppers
- 2 chili peppers, seeded and chopped (optional)
- 2 to 3 large eggplants
- 6-8 garlic cloves (roasting optional of you prefer a milder taste)
- 1-2 tbsp wine vinegar or lemon juice
- up to 1 cup olive oil (I used about 2/3)
- Salt and pepper
- Fire up the grill
- Roast the eggplants and red peppers for 20 to 30 minutes until the skins blacken and blister, rotating them frequently
- Skin the eggplant and peppers, halve and chop the peppers
- Peel and chop the garlic
- Beat the vegetables and garlic together into a heavy puree
- Add vinegar or lemon juice
- Beat in the oil ¼ cup at a time, as much as is absorbed
- Add salt and pepper to taste
- Keeps 2-3 days in the fridge
- Bring to room temperature before serving