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Addictions Aren’t All Bad

Have you ever tried something new and realized that you were a goner? I was introduced to this amazing concoction from my dear friend Vitali, who is my foodie soul-mate. When he gave me some to try he said, “You will love this!” He was 100% correct. I love it and put it on everything from toast to chicken, lamb, fish and the closest spoon.

What is this concoction you ask? It’s a Serbian spread called Ajvar. Ajvar is a condiment made principally from sweet bell peppers and eggplants. The relish became a popular side dish throughout Yugoslavia after World War II and is popular in Southeast Europe. Homemade ajvar is traditionally made with just four ingredients: roasted peppers, sunflower oil, garlic and vinegar. Many countries that call it their own may add: eggplant and/or chilies. It can be mild or hot depending on your personal preference. Although there are many good commercial brands, I absolutely love making it from scratch. In late summer and early fall when Carmen sweet peppers and eggplant are in their peak, is the time to make jars of it to use throughout the winter months (if it lasts that long!!).

AJVAR (SERBIAN ROASTED RED PEPPER SAUCE

INGREDIENTS:

  1. 2 pounds red bell peppers (about 5 medium peppers)

  2. 1 medium eggplant (about 1 pound)

  3. 5-6 medium cloves of garlic, minced

  4. 1/4 cup sunflower or extra virgin olive oil

  5. 1 tablespoon white vinegar

  6. 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

  7. Freshly ground black pepper to taste

  8. 1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Preheat a gas grill to 500 or a charcoal grill using one side of the grill. Heat charcoal until it is covered with gray ash. Clean and oil grilling grate. Place peppers on hot side of grill and cook until blackened all over, 10-15 minutes. Transfer charred peppers to a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes. Remove charred skin, seeds, and cores from peppers.

  2. While the peppers are cooling pierce skin of eggplant with a sharp knife all over. Place eggplant on cool side of grill. Cover and cook until skin darkens and wrinkles and eggplant is uniformly soft when pressed with tongs, about 30 minutes, turning halfway though for even cooking. Remove eggplant from grill and let sit until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes. Trim top of eggplant and split in half lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out flesh of eggplant and discard skin.

  3. Place roasted red peppers, eggplant pulp, garlic and red pepper flakes in food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse until roughly chopped. Add in oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and pulse until incorporated and peppers are finely chopped.

  4. Transfer sauce to a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add more salt, pepper or vinegar to taste. Fill 1/2 pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace and process in water bath canner for 30 minutes. If eating right away, let cool to room temperature. or store in airtight container in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Yields 3-4 half pint jars

Everyone appreciates good food! –Michael Seibel
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