Ajvar: Making the Real McCoy Right at Home


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 the basic ingredients.

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

Prepare the peppers, garlic, and eggplant.

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 …

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.

… and make wood chip packets for the grill.

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. 

4. Place the packets on the 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 the peppers, garlic, and eggplant.

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. Place all ingredients in the food processor and blend to taste.

6. Put all ingredients in the food processor, and go for it. Taste and tweak until its where you like it.

7. Enjoy!

7. Have some nice, crusty bread and a glass of wine nearby.

* * * * *

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.

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

P.S. And of course I was multi-tasking, cooking a little sausage to go with our ajvar feast. 🙂


Author: gallivance.net

We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at gallivance.net.

45 thoughts

  1. Quite interesting to see how you create smoke on a gas grill. But what I’m thinking is why not just do it on a fire? Isn’t it allowed over there? Or does different smoke create different taste?

    1. Vilma, having fires is no problem. In fact, I have a fire pit in my backyard. But I’ve camped quite a lot and cooked over an open fire, and it’s pretty tough to do it well. Managing the heat, all the cooking gear, and not burning the food is tough. Cooking a steak works great but lots of small, chopped-up bits, not so much. ~James

    1. Peggy, the great thing about a gas grill is being able to control the heat. I’ve cooked over wood and had a charcoal grill for years, and I can’t count the times I’ve burned the hair off my knuckles:). ~James

    1. Laura, given your new RV lifestyle, you’re about to be in wood-fire cooked nirvana. It’s a challenge cooking over wood, but the results can be fantastic. And everything tastes better outdoors. ~James

  2. We have all the fresh ingredients here in Portugal (including great sausage) to try making our own Ajvar and plan to buy a tabletop grill now that Spring is here. Your recipe sounds great and your cooking demonstration makes your experiment look like fun! We’ll be trying this soon. 🙂 Anita

    1. Anita, ajvar is really tasty and the good news is that the ingredients are all healthy. Flames add flavor and even though the recipe is simple, there’s lots of room for personal tweaks. Let me know how it goes. ~ James

  3. What a great international dish and directions for making it! And now you don’t ever have to worry about getting caught eating that ol’ store bought stuff! Thanks for another culinary delight!

  4. Enjoyed the story and pictures very much! Yum! When we got back from Iceland we decided to make chocolate molten cake. It was much easier. 🙂

  5. Eggplant, pepper and garlic, some of my favorite ingredients. Ajvar isn’t terribly common in the US, but it’s practically unknown in Indonesia. I wonder if Indonesians would love it since we do love our chili peppers!

    1. Bama, in my experience, when Indonesians say hot peppers they’re not joking. The hot version of ajvar served in the Balkans isn’t super hot, but it seems medium to my palate. But I’m sure these basic ingredients would work in Indonesia just as well. ~James

      1. Sure we’re not. 🙂 If someone ever tries to make ajvar here, I believe it will taste significantly hotter than the original version.

  6. My first quiet day at home for over two months, and now I’m ready to dash the short distance to the market, buy peppers and eggplant, then let them roast via the easy method…… there’s a bakery even closer, so the crusty bread will be easy to obtain as well. Oh my, and there’s even wine left over from a weekend outing to a research station — what a lovely way to start the new week and the march equinox!

    Thank you for this!

    1. It’s good to hear from you Lisa, and I’m glad to see you safely back home. It sounds like you have all the ingredients so there’s no reason not to give it a go. It really is a tasty and healthy recipe and roasting the ingredients will work just as well. We’ve been roasting lots veggies lately, and they make a great leftover. ~James

    1. Curt, I’ve never been a believer in huge campfires, but when it’s burned down to embers and is so hot you could weld with it, that’s when the knuckle hair seems to go. And yes I freely admit to tipping a couple during the cooking process. I usually tell Terri that the grill takes very close scrutiny. That way I can order drinks from the kitchen. 😊~James

    1. I agree on the pepper price Joanne. The price out of season can be what I consider unreasonable, and there aren’t really too many substitutes. For some reason, the small sweet peppers we used for our recipe have been showing up in our markets and they work fine. ~James

    1. Thanks Lexie. This was a fun experiment that was tasty as well. I hesitated getting a gas grill, and for years only cooked over charcoal for a smoky flavor. Now that I’ve worked out the wood chip technique, I wish I had made the change log ago. ~James

  7. Love reading your posts! Ajvar and pinjur were my favorite staples in Macedonia. Trader Joe’s has a red pepper and an eggplant spread that are similar, but making it on the grill looks like more fun.

    1. Thanks for the comment Gail and for dropping by the blog. I didn’t know pinjur and the recipe I found online basically said it was Macedonian baba ganoush – and I really love baba ganoush. Unfortunately, we didn’t try it in Macedonia. When we lived in Sudan one of our staff members was Ethiopian, and she made to-die-for baba ganoush. The eggplant was grilled over charcoal and it was smoky and fabulous. We have a decent Mediterranean grocery store in Lexington, so I’ll look for it. ~James

    1. Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. The discovery of grilled peppers was one of the best things about our trips to the Balkans. It truly made us converts and they’re a routine part of our diets now. If you haven’t had ajvar, I’m sure that you can find it in Chicago. And with your enthusiastic gardening, it’s only a matter of time before you can make your own. Best of luck with your peppers this growing season. ~James

    1. Elaine, we fell in love with ajvar in Eastern Europe and eat it to this day. It’s a labor of love for sure, and mostly we buy the prepared variety, but it’s wonderful in all it’s iterations. ~James

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