Ajvar, Balkan red pepper relish
Need a quick appetizer, sauce, or soup? Buy a jar of ajvar.
This stuff has saved me more than once when I’ve needed a quick, no-work appetizer. Ajvar is a delicious Serbian relish made of roasted red peppers with eggplant, garlic, and spices, cooked down to a semi-smooth purée.The spices are mild, so the dominant flavour is straight-up roasted pepper–and that makes it a very useful base for all sorts of dishes. It’s popular throughout the Balkan peninsula–the jars I’ve seen have been imported from Croatia, Bulgaria, and Turkey.
Ajvar is in the international food aisle of my local grocery store (but I live in a neighbourhood with a lot of people from that part of the world) and it’s cheap: about $3 for a 720 ml jar. The jars a much better value, and more convenient, than those tiny bottles of roasted red peppers. If you can’t find it in your supermarket, try an Eastern European deli.
Here are 5 easy ways to use ajvar:
1. Make an instant roast pepper dip by mixing equal parts ajvar and puréed feta or strained yogurt.
2. Add a few spoons of ajvar to a bowl of hummous. Makes a great sandwich spread.
3. Serve a dollop with grilled meats. I like it with chicken.
4. Make a red pepper vodka pasta sauce by heating 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce, 1 1/2 cups ajvar, juice of 1 lemon. Stir in 1/4 cup vodka and 1 tsp horseradish.
5. Instant cream of roasted pepper soup: Heat about 1 part ajvar, 3 parts chicken stock, and 1 part cream. Season and add some chopped basil or parsley.