Ajvar has been enjoyed by the Balkan nations for many years and it’s name translates into caviar. Autumn is the time to prepare Ajvar as there is an abundance of peppers and eggplants. Once prepared, it can be preserved for the winter months. It is a wonderful accompaniment to grilled meat and can be spread on bread, enjoyed in sandwiches and used in many more dishes and snacks. Families have developed their own recipes and these recipes are lovingly handed down to the next generation. Chilli can be added for a bit of zing, others may add onion, extra garlic or a little more eggplant. The main ingredient to make this dish is red peppers. There are a many varieties you can choose from. The peppers will give the Ajvar a beautiful colour and add sweetness.
1 kg medium eggplants
1.3 kg red peppers
2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
1 brown onion (finely chopped)
2 small chillies (optional)
25 ml apple cider vinegar (or vinegar of your choice)
olive oil for cooking
Salt & freshly ground Black Pepper
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes
Makes: 2 x 380 gram jars + a little extra
Preheat the oven to 200°C for 20 minutes. Wash and pat dry the peppers and eggplants. Place the peppers and eggplants on 2 lined baking trays and put in the oven for approximately 20 minutes until they are charred. You may need to turn them over to evenly cook and char on both sides. Once the peppers are charred take them out and cover the tray with foil to loosen the skin from the flesh. Leave the eggplants in the oven for an extra 5-10 minutes. Once the eggplant has finished cooking remove from the oven and cover with foil. Allow to cool for 10 minutes.
Peel the skin off the peppers, remove all the seeds, scoop the flesh out of the eggplants and place in a colander to drain the excess water for approximately 20 minutes. Place all the flesh in a blender. If you prefer the Ajvar to be a bit chunky and fleshy do not purée it too much.
Heat the olive oil in a pan over a medium heat, add the chopped onion, chilli, garlic and sauté for 7 minutes until translucent. Add the pepper and eggplant purée and allow to come to a gentle simmer. Reduce the heat and cook stirring regularly for approximately 2 hours. After the first hour of cooking add the vinegar, salt and pepper, stir well and continue to gently simmer for another hour to reduce and infuse the flavours.
Once the Ajvar has finished cooking immediately put the hot relish in clean sterilised jars and firmly seal the lid.
For the Ajvar to have a smokey flavour it is ideal to cook the peppers and eggplants over a flame of hot coals. On this occasion I used my oven and stove and I am happy with the result.
For a more chunky result you can use a potato masher, mouli grater or chop the flesh with a knife rather than a blender.
If you are planning to make a large quantity and will be storing the Ajvar for some time. Once the jars have been filled, place the sealed jars in a pot of water. Bring the water to a gentle simmer and simmer for approximately 15 minutes. Use jars that are the same size and ensure that the water covers the jar 3/4 of the way. Use tongs to remove the jars and allow to cool before storing in a cool, dark place.
Let the Ajvar settle in the jar for a few days as this will allow all the ingredients to infuse and produce a more robust flavour.