September 10, 2023 – September is almost halfway through. The summer season was short, fruitful according to some, and a disappointment according to others; Croats quite can’t make up their minds. They are all united in one, though – picking all the remaining fruits and vegetables to ensure they cook them up, jar them, and prepare for winter. And one item is a must for every half-decently stocked pantry – today, we’re sharing our best Croatian ajvar recipe.
Ajvar is one of those ubiquitously Balkan things. It transcends borders, nations, and religions. It is not controversial; there are no disputes regarding to whom it belongs or what the best version is; it enjoys the respect it deserves. Its origin might be Turkish, and the name inspired by caviar, but over the years, the phenomenon has taken over the entire eastern part of the European continent.
Outside of its philosophical being, ajvar is a type of spread or relish traditionally made of roasted peppers and eggplants. The only other ingredients include a bit of oil, salt, and some garlic for the Croatian ajvar (while the most famous Serbian recipe, for example, doesn’t use any). Now, as simple as it sounds, do keep in mind that the cooking process might test you. It requires quite a bit of patience, but trust us when we say it’s worth every single strand of gray hair.
10 kg of red peppers
5 kg of eggplants
6-8 cloves of garlic (measured by heart)
1 l of sunflower oil
3 tbsp of salt
splash of vinegar
Chili peppers to taste
The preparation phase would ideally start on the day before. Roast your peppers and eggplants in the oven. They’re done when they’re charred. Take them out and leave covered in a pot, which will help the skin peel off. Once they’ve cooled down completely, peel the vegetables and clean the seeds out. Leave overnight in a strainer so that all the excess liquid drains.
Use a meat grinder to grind your vegetables. Heat about half the oil in a large pot and add the vegetable mixture, as well as crushed garlic. If you like it spicy, grind up some chili peppers together with the rest. Stirring constantly, cook for about an hour before you add the remaining oil bit by bit. This is usually done to taste, but a litre should be about right for this amount of vegetables. Add salt and vinegar to taste; 3-4 tablespoons of salt and about 300 ml of vinegar is usually just fine.
Keep stirring and cooking until your ajvar thickens to your desired consistency – this could take up to three to four hours. Once you are happy with how it looks and your whole house smells of Croatian autumn, pour your ajvar into sterilised jars, giving them a little pat-pat so that there are no air pockets. To ensure your ajvar keeps, pour a thin layer of oil over the top before tightly closing the jars.
Serve with sandwiches, barbecue, eggs, or simply eat with a spoon. There is no right or wrong way to enjoy the delicious, indulgent Croatian ajvar.