Ajvar (or Ljutenica) is one of my favourite store-bought condiments. It is a relish made from sweet red peppers, eggplant and tomatoes. Some brands are spicy and some are not. It is a beautiful bright orange-red color. It makes simple, cheap food taste thrillingly gourmet and it is astonishingly inexpensive, which is why I always refer to it as cheap thrill sauce. I really like to eat it on poached eggs with simple swiss chard. Side note. I recently started making my poached eggs following these directions from the lovely food blog Spontaneous Tomato. Such a good technique! Plus the greek yogurt hollandaise is genius.
Okay back to Ajvar. This ambrosial stuff is from the Balkans. The brand that I get here in New York is from Bulgaria. This sauce is inexpensive, so you may be wondering why a person would bother making it from scratch. Maybe your local grocery market does not carry Ajvar and you don’t like to order things on-line. When I saw my Aunty Mona this summer, she told me that she had been lobbying her local grocery to carry the stuff without success. Maybe you have a glorious garden with a bunch of red peppers and few straggling eggplants and tomatoes waiting to be harvested. Maybe you just want your kitchen to smell like a Bulgarian Village in the Autumn.
My husband and I travelled in Bulgaria years ago and the food was really wonderful. We went twice, both times in the Autumn. In the villages, the crisp air was filled with the smell of peppers being roasted on open fires. We did not actually eat any of these peppers in these villages. I imagine that they were being put up in the form of this sauce to make pepper sauce, so that the taste of harvest could be enjoyed through the winter. We were, however, given ridiculously ripe figs by a group of little old ladies who had more than they needed from their trees. When Autumn rolls around I consistently want to roast red peppers and eat figs (figs in moussaka, figs with mint on top of marzipan cake, figs in chia seed pudding).
The recipe below makes about one pint jar of Ajvar. It’s an amount you can keep in your fridge and use up without having to properly can with a pressure canner. If you have a huge garden amount of peppers just multiply it! I think that it would freeze well if you are not up for pressure canning. To be honest, this is going to be good even if you disregard the exact measurements. It just needs to be mostly peppers. The tomatoes add a bit of zip and the eggplant adds a nice smooth rich texture. The bit of hot pepper is crucial for me, but might not be for you. It’s a condiment, so don’t be shy about seasoning it well with salt and sugar.
- 1 and 1/2 pound sweet red peppers
- 1 fresh hot pepper (I had a jalapeno, so that is what I used)
- 3/4 pound eggplant
- 3/4 pound fresh, ripe tomatoes
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
- 1/2 Tablespoon sugar (more to taste)
- Turn your broiler on.
- Core the red peppers and rinse all of their seeds out. Cut the stem off of the hot pepper. Lay the peppers in a single layer on the baking sheet and place them under the broiler until they begin to blacken The timing will vary depending on your broiler. I give it about 5 minutes on each side. Flip the peppers over and blacken them the same way on all sides. Set the peppers aside to cool.
- Turn the oven down to 400. Pierce the eggplant with a few fork pricks and place it whole in the oven to bake until it is very soft. I was using a very small eggplant so it did not take very long.
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cut a shallow x on the stem ends of each tomato. When the water begins to boil drop the tomatoes in. Pull them out after less than a minute. The skin should have started to loosen. Set the tomatoes aside to cool.
- When the peppers and tomatoes have cooled remove and discard their skins (except for the hot chili…just leave that skin on). Place the tomatoes and peppers, along with all of their juices in a blender or food processor (I use a big bowl and a submersion blender or a ricer).
- Scoop out all of the cooked eggplant flesh and discard the stem and skin. Add the eggplant to the tomatoes and peppers and puree the mixture.
- Heat the oil in a large heavy bottomed pot over medium low. Add the vegetable mixture and allow it to cook on medium low until it is softly boiling.
- Once it is boiling, add the salt and sugar. Stir and scrape the mixture often until it is quite thick. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
- Allow it to cool and store in a glass jar in the fridge. If you eat gluten I encourage you to make Swiss Chard Stem and Feta Phylo Triangles and eat them Ajvar on my behalf!