Ajvar. Rhymes with cavyar, which is caviar in English and havyar in Turkish but everyone in the eastern Mediterranean knows it as an appetizer starring red pepper and eggplant. The supporting cast includes garlic, lemon juice and hot peppers. I think the “caviar” attribution comes from its ability to be spread on toast or pita like caviar but without the expense of caviar, making it the poor man’s vegetarian version.
The fact that it’s healthy should not deter you from indulging because it tastes very good and is somewhat addictive which is why the recipe can easily be multiplied for groups larger than four. And how can you not like it? After all, it’s fire engine red and hot as that little car you saved up for back in high school, so enjoy!
Roasting the Peppers
The only challenge presented by Avyar is getting the peppers cooked so that they’re easy to peel. Some people will just tell you to cut them in half, lie them face down, and put them under the broiler. However, I’ve found that they cook faster and better if they’re quartered. That way the inner part is mostly touching the cookie sheet and absorbing its heat. The other advantage is that with the skin side being flatter to the pan the peppers will char more evenly. Once they’re soft you need to put them in a bowl and cover them with a rag or plastic. Don’t skip this step. Steam coming off the cooling peppers will make them easy to peel.
Prepping the Eggplant
The eggplant can be sliced in half lengthwise and broiled in the oven. I’ve found, however, that if you peel and slice it into chunks, then cover it with foil it will cook in the same amount of time it takes the peppers. The foil will trap the steam coming off the eggplant which will speed the cooking process.
Processing your Ajvar
If you’re using the roasted garlic instead of the raw, just hold it by the papery outside and gently squeeze the cooked cloves into the eggplant before pureeing.
The rest is just a trip to Cuisinart land or some vigorous smashing with a potato ricer. If you do use the Cuisinart go easy on it. Two or three quick pulses should render a satisfyingly chunky texture. Think appetizer, not Gerber’s Strained Ajvar. You don’t want to experience what happened to me when I attempted to make this on vacation at a friend’s house. She didn’t have a Cuisinart so we decided to make it in her brand new Vitamix. The result was basically grey sludge. Interestingly, it didn’t even taste quite the same which illustrates the importance of texture.
So, when you’re done (however you did it) it’s great just eaten off your fingers, but best on toast or pita as shown above.
- 2 lbs. red peppers
- 1 lb. eggplant
- 1 small head of garlic, top cut off & drizzled with oil
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- dash of red vinegar
- salt and pepper to taste
- red pepper flakes to taste
- Cut peppers in quarters, remove seeds and white inner membrane.
- Turn the broiler to 500 degrees.
- Toss peppers in olive oil, coating all sides, then put on a cookie sheet cut side down, and run under the broiler till the skin starts to blacken and bubble. Watch them carefully. Ovens are variable in their heating capacity and you don't want them to burn.
- Peel the eggplant, toss in a little oil then place on a cookie sheet or grill pan and put in the oven with the peppers. Slice the top off the garlic head, drizzle with oil, and place on the pan with the eggplant. Cover with foil.
- When peppers are done remove them to a bowl, cover them with plastic, and let them cool, then remove the skin. Covering them creates steam and will make it easier to remove the skin.
- Put peeled red peppers in a food processor and puree. Remove and set aside.
- Put cooked eggplant and garlic in the food processor and pulse several times.
- Add seasonings to taste, garnish with parsley and serve with french bread or pita.
If you use raw garlic instead of roasted, reduce the amount to 2 small cloves which you should mince, and then smash with the side of the knife. You want to avoid biting down on a hard piece of it.
I usually double this recipe because it goes fast.