Many of you know that we fell in love with ajvar on our trip to the Balkans. We ate it almost daily, and it’s become a regular menu item at home. We became so enamored with the delicious spread that we vowed to make our own when we got home.
Roasted bell peppers are one of the primary ingredients, and we love roasted peppers. But we also like our peppers smoky – as in cooked-over-wood smoky. So we gathered the ingredients, fired up the grill, and this is how the experiment went:
1. Gather basic Ingredients: Bell peppers (we used assorted mini-peppers because they looked so cool and colorful), eggplant, olive oil, garlic, white vinegar, salt to taste, and if you like it hot, add some type of hot pepper. Cookingtheglobe has a good, easy recipe.
2. Cap, core, and slice the peppers, peel the garlic cloves, and peel and chop the eggplant into 1 inch cubes. Pour olive oil over peppers and eggplant cubes and stir to coat.
3. Soak the wood chips. Soak your favorite wood chips in water for at least 30 minutes and then drain. The posh crowd soaks their chips in wine, but I’d much rather save that for drinking.
4. Make wood chip packets with a double layer of aluminum foil, and poke holes with a sharp knife. Place packets directly on grill-burner covers. My gas grill takes about 8-10 minutes to get the wood smoking, but this may take some experimentation on your grill.
You want smoke rather than flames, but if you get flames don’t panic or run for the water hose. Just keep an eye on the food and turn or stir as needed. And remember, you don’t need that hair on your knuckles anyway.
5. Grill peppers until medium-charred, and eggplant until softened and slightly dark. Some recipes say to remove the pepper skins, but we just remove some of the char and leave the skins on.
6. Put all ingredients in the food processor, and go for it. Taste and tweak until its where you like it.
7. Have some nice, crusty bread and a glass of wine nearby.
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Making our own ajvar was such a fun experiment, and it turned out great. But, it’s a labor of love, and as with many new recipes, you may find yourself thinking that it’s easier to buy it off the shelf. A Bulgarian grandmother wouldn’t be caught dead eating that store-bought stuff, but I won’t tell if you won’t. Ajvar isn’t terribly common in the US and you’ll probably have to search for it. We find it in our local Mediterranean Market and it’s the real McCoy imported from Bulgaria.
If you do the roasting in an oven rather than on a gas grill with wood chips, it would be considerably easier. But then again, you’d miss the chance to stand around with a spatula in one hand and a drink in the other – a worthy endeavor by anyone’s standards. Good luck and enjoy.
James & Terri
P.S. And of course I was multi-tasking, cooking a little sausage to go with our ajvar feast. 🙂