Ajvar – Vegetarian Caviar

In Croatia servers don’t ask, “Red or Green?” like they do in New Mexico, but if they did, your response would be the same, “Both!” If you know the Southwest, you know that one of the best things is the smell of chiles roasting along the roadsides in the fall. Now you will be happy to know that incredible smell can be found in another pepper loving part of the world – Croatia! Whereas New Mexicans make red or green chile into a spicy sauce for enchiladas, burritos or their famous Pozole, Croatians make Ajvar (pronounced eye var) to top slices of bread, roasted lamb or to eat with salad. It’s a great appetizer, and fun to share with a bottle of Croatian wine.

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What is Ajvar, you ask? Well, it is a roasted concoction of peppers and eggplant that, after roasting is simmered and stewed with oil until it thickens and develops its signature complex flavor. Red Ajvar is most commonly made with Roga – red horned pepper, but green and yellow paprike peppers can also be used to make Ajvar.

Just like in New Mexico, Croatia has a variety of peppers that lend themselves to roasting. Paprike peppers tend to have a thicker skin and flesh making them easy to fire-blister and peel. In September and October, peppers of all kinds overflow in the Croatian markets making Ajvar a great choice for canning  – a way to preserve a taste of summer for winter.

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How is Ajvar made?

In Croatia, peppers are blistered over a coal fire or in the oven. Once the skin is charred, they are placed into a covered dish allowing the steam to loosen the peel. After the peppers are cooled, the skins and seeds are removed and chopped into small pieces. While the peppers blister, the eggplant is roasted, and once soft, is added to the chopped peppers along with a few hot peppers for those who like a little zing. The vegetables (well, really fruits) are blended or processed into a fine puree and simmered with oil for hours until a rich thick paste forms. The resulting flavor is one that teases the palate first with a hint of sweet, then the smoke of the charred peppers and lastly, the perfect bit of heat to keep you wanting more.

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Serving Ajvar

Ajvar is delicious straight out of the jar, but one of the best ways to serve Ajvar is with cheese, oil and garlic. Fats of the olive oil and creaminess of the cheese contribute to Ajvar’s complexity and create a magical flavor balance. An unsalted cheese highlights the sweetness of the eggplant and gives the dip an even creamier texture, the garlic adds another depth of flavor and the olive oil brings out the counterbalance of both the pepper flavor and spice. It’s an entirely addicting combination not to be missed!

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Finding Ajvar in Croatia & A Recipe

Croatia is a must-see country for so many reasons – the land is beautiful, the people are friendly and the food is AMAZING! When you visit, you will want to plan a trip to the grocery stores just for Ajvar. Entire aisles are dedicated to this delicacy, so make it at home with Tamara Novakovic’s recipe, but know you will run out and need to visit beautiful Croatia in order to find a sampling of the many delicious varieties and combinations. Plus, you will want to pair it with Croatian’s other farm to table delicacies like wine, cheese and olive oil to experience Ajvar at its finest!

If you are curious about travel to Croatia, this post went to Epitourean where they can help you experience Ajvar in Croatia for yourself.  Explore the Edible Destinations of Croatia on the Epitourean website.

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