All About Ajvar

I spent a lot of time trying the good recipe for Cevapi — an unpackaged grilled Balkan sausage finden.es it would have been a shame to serve it with a below—average Ajvar – the traditional side dish of roasted pepper sauce. So, while I was already at the barbecue, I tried to make Ajvar in different ways to find the one who could proudly sit next to these delicious sausages on the plate.

All about Ajvar

Ajvar traditionally originated in Serbia. Unlike Cevapi, which comes in many variations depending on the location, Ajvar seems to be more standardized, with fewer differences from one recipe to another.

Ajvar is usually prepared in the fall, taking advantage of the abundant harvest of red peppers charred on a fire, peeled and combined with roasted eggplants, garlic, oil and vinegar to form a sauce that can be canned and consumed the rest of the year. It is usually served with grilled meat, but can also be enjoyed on its own or as a spread.

While researching recipes and trying a few Ajvars, I noticed that they all have a relatively standardized list of ingredients and a similar flavor. But even if it wasn’t too difficult to find a basic recipe, there were some differences in the preparation that I wanted to explore.

Grilling or roasting on the stove

First of all, it was a question of whether to use the grill or not. In many of my barbecue recipes, I often receive comments asking if the dish can be cooked in the oven or on the stove instead. My default answer is yes, but you will lose that smoky flavor. For Ajvar, a little smoke seems to be a pretty desirable feature, so I was wondering why so many recipes don’t mention a barbecue at all.

I set out to prepare two different batches of Sauce, one where the peppers were roasted on my gas burners and the eggplants baked in the oven, and the other where the peppers and eggplants were roasted over a hot charcoal fire. Both ways produced sauces with identical textures – it depended on the taste.

To simmer or not to simmer

The second problem I experienced was that none of the recipes recommended cooking Ajvar. Traditionally, once all the ingredients have been transformed into a sauce, everything is reduced on the stove. I was wondering how important this step was — did the extra time and effort spent cooking the Sauce produce a sufficiently superior Ajvar to justify the work? To find out, I cooked half of each of the Ajvar recipes that I prepared.

A fantastic Ajvar

I ended up with four different Ajvars, all with the same basic ingredients. For each, the balance of red pepper, eggplant and garlic was correct, so it depended on the nuances of each preparation.

 

As I expected, the one prepared on the grill had a light but distinct smoke that gave the Sauce a unique depth. If you didn’t try the two side by side, the unroasted Ajvar would look great, so I can see how easy it is to leave out the grill, especially since not everyone has one. Yet you would be doing yourself and your Ajvar a disservice if you didn’t try to cook it over a live wood fire.

Letting the Sauce simmer gave a slightly more surprising result. I assumed that cooking would thicken it up a bit, with little effect on the flavor. However, in practice, the texture of the cooked Sauce was quite comparable to the uncooked one. What has finally changed is the balance of taste and sweetness. The cooked versions had a sweeter character with a slightly brighter and more intense flavor of red pepper. This reduced some of the hardness created by the white vinegar, resulting in a more pleasant and balanced flavor profile.

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