The beginning of autumn, especially the month of September, means in most Balkan countries the harvest of red peppers and with it, the season of the making of ajvar (one of the reasons why autumn is my favorite season). Presentation of this relish that capsized the hearts of many foodies including the British Chef Jamie Olivers.
Ajvar is a condiment made from red peppers which is find mainly in the northern region of the Balkan peninsula, especially in mountainous regions of Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania. Its preparation and its different appellations vary from one region to another: Zacuscă in Romania, Pinđur in Bulgaria and Lyutenica are among its many variants. Sometimes spicy, sometimes with onions or eggplants, the common point of these different preparations is the significant amount of red peppers and their texture.
Short history of Ajvar
One of the singularities of Ajvar lies in its name. Indeed, the word ajvar (pronounced AYvar) derives from Turkish « Havyar », which means salted fish eggs, that is to say caviar. To understand this name we must go back in time.
During the 19th century, there was a significant production of caviar in Belgrade, thanks to sturgeons that went up the Danube from the Black Sea. Many Belgrade residents, such as restaurateurs, were making homemade caviar under the name ajvar. However, production stopped at the end of the 19th century because of social conflicts. As sturgeon caviar was lacking, the pepper condiment was replaced by the name « red caviar ».
The best recipe of ajvar :
There are various recipes to make ajvar and each family will obviously tell you that its recipe is the best. The ajvar is often prepared in large quantities (we speak of 10-30 kg peppers) and requires the assistance of the whole family. Peppers are first roasted (this is what differentiates the homemade ajvar from the industrial ajvar that cooks the peppers) and then peeled and seeds are removed. They are then mixed and cooked with different ingredients: garlic, onions, eggplant, tomatoes, or peppers. Then when the texture becomes creamy the ajvar is directly put in pots saddled.
In villages that produce large amounts of ajvar, all the neighbors get together for the red caviar preparation ritual. There are even competitions of the best ajvar between different neighborhoods or villages (yes, ajvar is something very serious in the Balkan). Ajvar is one of the traditional « winter » confections, such as dried meat, pickled vegetables or trahana, which is perpetuated by mountain dwellers who are used to isolation and storing food.
How to eat ajvar ?
Without a doubt, the purists will answer that the only way to enjoy ajvar is on bread (fresh or grilled) with fresh feta cheese. But its use can adapt to any type of cuisine, it can be served as a sauce, with pasta or risotto. In a hamburger or simply spread on bread as a snack. British chef Jamie Oliver, a fan of Balkan cuisine, incorporates ajvar into a Gyros sandwich with meatballs. Finally it can be a good alternative to the so-called « irreplaceable » nutella for the breakfast. (Believe the words of an old nutelladdict).
Have you ever tried ajvar? If yes, how do you eat it?