Ajvar (pronounced “eye-var”) is an addictively delicious Balkan roasted bell pepper and eggplant spread or relish. You can use it as part of an appetizer, antipasto, or meze table. It is good on crostini or as a dip with pita bread or pita chips. It is a tasty addition to a sandwich as it pairs well with ham, prosciutto and cheese. It can accompany grilled meat or fish. It is delicious with vegetables like broccoli or roasted potatoes. I could go on and on. You can buy jarred ajvar in Mediterranean or Middle Eastern markets. I have also seen a version in Trader Joe’s. It can be mild or hot, but I think it is best when made fresh at home. Red bell peppers and eggplant are in season and inexpensive right now. We harvested some of the last of the Quadrato Rosso red bell peppers from the garden this week. They are huge, weighing 3/4 lb. each. We also had a dozen eggplant from the yard, as well as a few in my CSA bag from La Nay Ferme. Ajvar does take some time to make (about 2 hours start to finish) because both the peppers and eggplant need to be roasted, skinned, and then puréed. But you can roast the vegetables one day and make the purée another if you don’t have a lot of time. I also find it easier to peel and slice the eggplant for roasting, rather than roasting it whole or halved. Ajvar keeps for a week in the refrigerator, but also freezes well, topped with a coating of olive oil.
Ajvar (Balkan Roasted Red Pepper and Eggplant Spread)
5 large red bell peppers, seeded and sliced into quarters (to yield 2 cups roasted pepper slices)
2 medium eggplant, peeled and sliced (1/2 inch thickness) (to yield 1 cup roasted eggplant)
6 Tbsp. + 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Set oven to high broil setting. Line two baking sheets with foil. Place bell pepper quarters on the sheets. Broil peppers for 5 minutes. Rotate pan and broil for 4-5 more minutes until peppers are blackened. Remove from oven and fold foil around peppers to make a sealed package and let rest for 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place eggplant slices on two baking sheets. Drizzle eggplant on each sheet with 3 Tbsp. olive oil and sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt. Roast eggplant for 30 minutes until the slices are soft and tender when poked with a fork. Remove from oven and let cool. Peel skin off peppers and measure out 2 cups of roasted peppers. Measure out I cup of eggplant slices. You will have extra eggplant. Save it for another use. Place peppers and eggplant in the bowl of a food processor. Add 1/4 c. olive oil and garlic and pulse to form a chunky relish. Add vinegar, parsley, paprika, salt and pepper. Pulse to combine. Taste and adjust garlic, parsley, and spices to your liking. Ajvar will keep in the refrigerator for 1 week or freeze in 1-2 cup containers topped with a coating of olive oil to keep spread from turning brown. Makes 2-1/2 cups.