March 23, 2010
A couple years ago when i was back in indiana for a visit, my grandma's polish caretaker offered me a snack. Hungry as usual, and eager to tap into my polish roots through some authentically prepared wonder, i delightfully accepted. Rather than whip up the best pierogis i'd ever had, she removed a jar from the refrigerator filled with some sort of chunky, red relish. This relish turned out to be ajvar, which is a pureed roasted eggplant and red pepper spread, slightly piquant, just a bit of tang - delicious! Maggie assured me this was a staple in her own, and most polish people's, refrigerators.
Thrilled with this simple, yet novel concoction, i set about wanting to make it myself, as surely a homemade version would be even better than the store bought one i had previously indulged in. I googled "ajvar" and learned that not only is this condiment popular in poland, but all of eastern europe, particularly the balkans. Traditionally it is made by households everywhere, after each annual pepper harvest. Often it is jarred and given as gifts, as well as kept in the pantry for year-round enjoyment, long after the cold winters have frozen over the paprika plants. The main ingredients are eggplant and red peppers (both roasted), garlic, spicy pepper, olive oil, and vinegar or lemon juice. Slight variations exist depending where you look, but the main difference i have come across is whether to use lemon or vinegar. Ajvar is often served as an accompaniment to grilled meats or eaten simply with bread, but you can also spread it on a sandwich, add it to a cheese plate or mezze platter, or anything else that pleases you.
The standard seems to be a higher pepper to eggplant ratio, but whenever i make it, it seems to be more of an equal balance between the two, which is causing no complaints here. This may be a good time for a brief explanation of my method of cooking and recipe sharing. While i regularly reference and peruse recipes, I rarely follow them to the letter, except for in baking, and therefore rarely measure anything. I enjoy thinking about how the components of a recipe exist on there own and then how they combine into a perfect medley in the end. Like some sort of detective, I pick apart the flavors when i eat something, so that i can try to put them back together in my own kitchen, like a little puzzle. So when relaying a recipe, generally i will list the ingredients i use, sometimes give a rough estimate for amounts, and let you take it from there. I give instructions, but not always full blown details every step of the way. At the risk of sounding silly, i think of recipes as sort of a travel book, giving you ideas of where your taste buds can go, even giving tips to get there, but ultimately leaving it up to you to determine the exact route and the final destination. Not only does this allow for more creativity and involvement with your meal, but also, it allows for more expression of your individual taste preferences. While i enjoy the adventure, i recognize some people prefer a more specific guide, they dont revel in the trial and error like me, so please feel free to give me your input on this as my recipes unfold.
red bell pepper
red pepper flakes or minced chili pepper
good dash of vinegar (white or red wine) or lemon juice
salt and pepper
pinch of oregano or fresh parsley (optional)
Roast the eggplant in the oven or on a grill until very soft. Do the same with the bell peppers, until skin is charred. I usually use one eggplant and 1-2 peppers, but tradition may dictate more peppers. After cooled, remove pepper skins and scoop out eggplant flesh. You can puree everything together in a food processor, but i like to just chop the eggplant and pepper, put it in a bowl, add the rest of the ingredients and mix it all up with a fork. You could also just smash everything in a giant mortar and pestle if you have one. You want a decent pour of olive oil, but not so much that it totally separates out from the mix. It is the intention of this dish to be a bit spicy and rather garlicky, and apparently it is often even garnished with a fresh sprinkling of garlic at the end. Taste and adjust to your liking!
Posted by dzahler at 9:38 AM