Ajvar (Serbian eggplant caviar)

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Ajvar, pronounced AYE-var, is a savory relish with an indescribably delicate flavor.

Ajvar is a wonderful way to use some of the summer bounty from your garden or CSA box. Make lots and preserve for gifts or holiday parties in later seasons. Freeze in quart bags, or put up in jars, if you know how to safely accomplish low-acid canning.

Also known as eggplant caviar or sweet red pepper relish, this can be made with either or a combination of these as the main ingredient. The word is etymologically related to “caviar,” so I’m supposing the eggplant version came first. On Serbian tables I’ve usually seen it as mostly or all pepper. But I’m a big eggplant fan.

I’ve noticed this bears a strong resemblance to baba ganouj, the Middle Eastern eggplant dip. The chief differences are the inclusion of paprika and red bell pepper (perhaps Europe was more influenced by New World ingredients?) and the omission of tahini, which is like peanut butter but made of sesame seeds rather than peanuts.

I’ve heard that it can be spicy hot or not, but I’ve only encountered it non-spicy in person.

Skip to the recipe for Serbian ajvar (eggplant caviar).

Serbian ajvar
Extra notes

If you make this in the summer, you can grill instead of roast the veg, and get a wonderful smoky aroma in the bargain.

Srpski Ayvar (Ajvar)
The recipe

1-2 medium eggplants
1 red bell pepper
5 to 6 cloves garlic, still in their peels
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespooon paprika
fresh lemon juice to taste — a teaspoon or two.

Equipment that bears mentioning
Food processor, blender, or immersion blender wand

In a nutshell
Roast vegetables. Peel vegetables. Blend with remaining ingredients.

In detail
Place the eggplants, pepper and garlic on a shallow baking sheet — for instance, a cookie sheet — and roast at 350 for 1 to 2 hours. Every fifteen or twenty minutes or so, turn everything over so that as much surface as possible spends some time in contact with the cookie sheet. The surface that touches the cookie sheet will caramelize, meaning that the sugars in them will break apart and reform into marvelously sweet and deeply flavorful new compounds.

The bell pepper and the garlic will certainly be done and need to come out of the over after an hour; the eggplant might take an hour or so longer. The eggplants are ready when they have totally collapsed.

Remove from oven and let cool. Placing the veg in a brown paper bag will make the peeling go easier.

When your veg is cool, peel ’em all. Discard the seeds and core of the pepper as well as its peel.

Process all this in a food processor, adding the oil, salt and pepper. Add lemon to taste. Serve as a dip.

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