The first thoughts about winter in Balkan bring us the smell of incredible food. Different tastes, perfect look and smell of homemade food brings us back into the past of this country known for its big and great history and especially food. There are foods so characteristic for this area that you can’t imagine visiting this place without trying them.
Winter is a part of the year when everything is calm in Balkan countryside. Fields are covered in snow, animals are in the bars and villagers are in their warm houses surrounded by their sons, daughters and grandchildren, resting and enjoying peace they deserve. This time is reserved for family gatherings, most beautiful holidays and the tastiest foods. Since winters in continental Balkans were once extremely cold and snowy, and there weren’t supermarkets and stores in which you could buy food throughout the entire year, people had to prepare food for winter starting from September (beginning of autumn).
This food is called winter stores or in Serbian “zimnica”. This was very important because it enabled people to survive long winters. This custom kept on living and people here still prepare the so called winter food. It simply became a part of the culture. One of the things that people here enjoy very much is called “ajvar”.
What is ajvar?
Ajvar is a sort of salad. It’s made of pepper, mostly red pepper; although it’s possible to use other types as well (the advice is to use the red one). It’s very popular in continental Balkan and carries big and important meaning for people here. It is also known as Serbian salad or Serbian caviar. It is a spicy specialty of a very pleasant taste. It’s popular in most of Balkan but especially significant for Serbian and Croatian cuisine. Depending on the quality of red pepper and how much chili pepper you add it can be mild, medium chili or extra chili. It can be used as spread for bread or as addition for foods such as grilled or baked meat or used as salad.
The original name actually comes from the Turkish word for caviar (“havyar). Translated this means salted roe. Production of caviar was very popular along the coast of the Danube before the twentieth century and ajvar was made like a substitute for caviar after the production of caviar became unsteady.
How to make it
There are many ways of how to make ajvar but one ingredient is irreplaceable and obligatory and that is the red pepper. Here you’ll find two commonest recipes explained thoroughly so you could try making your own ajvar.
Recipe one (baked pepper)
First, wash the peppers well and dry them (you can dry them by wiping them with a piece of cloth or simply wash the peppers a day before you want to bake them). Then, bake the pepper. People use a wood stove mostly but nowadays, especially for those who live in apartments is easier to use an oven or burner of the electric stove. You should bake them on each side, not too much, just enough so you could peal them.
Once peppers are baked, put them in a plastic bag or a deep dish. After you have finished baking, and when they are could, peel the peppers off (you need to remove stems, and if you wish pepper seeds as well). After this, percolate the peppers. You can do this by putting peppers in a bag with holes or in any other way. This part is important because the less water it contains the faster the preparation process will be.
When the pepper is percolated (this can last for about six hours but it’s easier to leave it overnight) you should grind it. Now put this pepper in a pan. Add oil. You add approximately half a dose of oil that you plan to use in the beginning, and the other half you add little by little while frying ajvar.
It is recommended to add eggplant. This is not obligatory but ajvar is tastier with it. Bake it in the oven. Once it’s baked, peel it and grind it as well. When ajvar is half fried, add eggplant and keep on frying. You should mix it all the time or it will get burned. Take a good care not to use strong fire but mild or it will get burned and spatter. It should be fried until the moment there is no more water in it (the bubbles don’t contain water anymore and the mass is thick). Add preservative and fry for ten more minutes. Add salt as much as you like. Once it’s fried, remove it from fire and add acetic acid. Stir well.
While your ajvar is getting cold (be careful, not too much) warm the jags in the oven and pour warm ajvar into them. Close the jars hard (you can also bake it a bit before you close the jars).
Twenty kilos of pepper
Two liters of oil (Sunflower oil)
Three kilos of eggplant
Three to four preservatives
Table spoon of acetic acid
Recommendation: You can add garlic during the process of frying if you like it. It improves taste.
Recipe two (boiled pepper)
Wash the pepper and remove stems and seeds. Peppers should be boiled in a special mixture until they soften.
Mixture: water, apple cider vinegar, salt, sugar and oil.
Once you boil the peppers put them to percolate. Grind the peppers and put them in a big pot. Add again (like in the first recipe) half a dose of oil. Mix all the time. The rest of oil should be added during frying. Add eggplant (baked in the oven, peeled and grinded). Like in the first recipe you should fry ajvar until water disappears. Again add preservative and fry ten to fifteen more minutes. Remove from the fire and add acetic acid. Warm the jars and put warm, not too hot but again not cold ajvar into the jars and seal them well.
Forty kilos of peppers
Three to four liters of Sunflower oil
Six kilos of eggplant
Seven to eight preservatives
Two table spoons of acetic acid
Mixture for boiling pepper:
Six liters of water
Four hundred grams of apple cider vinegar
Two table spoons of sugar and two of salt
Four hundred milliliters of oil (oil should be added gradually)
Ajvar is produced in many Balkan countries but is especially important for Serbian people. It is exported but that part is still not developed enough and could be improved.
Independent on this, ajvar is important part of Serbian culture and inevitable part of every meal during long winter days.