Ajvar: The Pepper Caviar

August 12, 2013
2 Ratings
  • Makes two to three 13oz jars
Author Notes

Ajvar (pronounced Ayvar) is a magnificent red pepper spread from the Balkans. I will not attempt to attach its origin to any of the sub-cuisines of the peninsula, as there are many heated debates and disputes over who created it first, the most notable one between the Macedonians and the Serbs. But the name, derived from the Turkish word for caviar (havyar) tells volumes about this dish. In Serbia, where I grew up, late summer and early autumn, when red peppers are at their sweetest, were the Ajvar-making season. Making of the Ajvar is not just making of the dish, it is a ritual. Entire villages would gather over open fire to roast the piles of peppers, peel them, blend with salt, garlic, sunflower oil and sometimes eggplant and vinegar, simmer the paste in a gigantic pot over low heat, and then carefully preserve in jars for the long winter. In the city, we would do it in our backyards and our courtyards, together with a block party. My mother and grandmother had an Ajvar-dedicated weekend, two full days spent on Ajvar making and preservation activities. Sadly, these traditions have almost disappeared, having been replaced with the industrially produced Ajvar, which is only a pale version of the real stuff. To get the distinctive taste of the authentic Ajvar, you will have to make it from scratch. And it is not such a big deal. So here it goes… —QueenSashy

What You'll Need
  • 4 pounds red peppers
  • 4 large poblano peppers (optional, Ajvar can be mild, spicy or very hot, so add your hot peppers accordingly, I like poblanos as they add extra smokiness to the blend)
  • 1 large eggplant (about 1 1/2lb)
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2-3/4 cups of your best sunflower oil
  • Salt
  1. Preheat the broiler. Place washed peppers and the eggplant on a baking sheet and roast, turning occasionally, until their skins blister and turn black (and I mean black, not just charred). Make sure to roast all sides and the tops and bottoms. (If you own grill, or can burn fires in your backyard, definitely go for it. Your ajvar will be even better.)
  2. Place the roasted vegetables in a bowl. Cover and let the vegetables cool. This will allow the flesh to separate from the skin.
  3. Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them with your fingers carefully and remove seeds. (Keep a large bowl of water to rinse your hands as you peel the peppers. Do not rinse the peppers, it will also rinse the flavor away!)
  4. Using a tablespoon or an ice-cream scoop, remove the pulp of the eggplant. Discard the seeds and the skin.
  5. Using a meat grinder, grind the vegetables coarsely. (Ajvars can vary in their chunkiness, and you can also chop the vegetables by hand, or grind them into a smoother pure. Try to avoid over-processing)
  6. Transfer the mush into a large pot. Add the smashed garlic, oil, and season with salt. Place the pot over low heat and simmer for about an hour (or longer for larger quantities), until the liquids are gone and the mush is reduced into a thick spread. Long simmer is how all the flavors come together, so do not cut corners.
  7. Let the spread cool and let it rest for a day before eating. Store in a glass jars, covered in the fridge for about a week. (Ajvar also freezes beautifully.)

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • empirical_kitchen
  • HRH
  • aargersi
  • Violeta
  • susan g
    susan g
Aleksandra aka QueenSashy is a scientist by day, and cook, photographer and doodler by night. When she is not writing code and formulas, she blogs about food, life and everything in between on her blog, Three Little Halves. Three Little Halves was nominated for 2015 James Beard Awards and the finalist for 2014 Saveur Best Food Blog Awards. Aleksandra lives in New York City with her other two halves, Miss Pain and Dr. V.

18 Reviews

empirical_kitchen March 19, 2015
You're right!
Homemade ajvar is immensely better than 99% of the stuff you can buy - especially when you emigrate :(
I also really love pindjur - my mom gave me her recipe recently, so I'm actively looking for volunteers to help me out with the peeling :D
QueenSashy March 19, 2015
oh my! you will need a lot of volunteers! but no doubt you (and them) will be handsomely rewarded, becasue pindjur rules!!!
empirical_kitchen March 19, 2015
it's a weekend project :D
we're still debating whether we should give homemade jufka a go or not...
HRH January 14, 2015
this sounds fantastic! have you ever tried canning it?
QueenSashy January 14, 2015
Yes, I grew up canning it... My mom had entire pantry filled with ajvar. These days, I prefer to freeze it. But making large quantities of it is a little bit of a project :)
HRH January 14, 2015
I'd like to try both methods this summer. Would you do anything differently in preparation for canning? And i'm assuming it would have to be high pressure, not water bath?
QueenSashy January 14, 2015
Yes, definitely high pressure. But I would still can without oil and garlic, and add them later. We used to heat the pulp (salted) until it begins to bubble, simmer for another fifteen, twenty minutes or so, (no oil and garlic) and can at this stage. Once you open the jar, you can finish by proceeding with step 6.
HRH January 14, 2015
thank you so much for the tips! oh, and the story that goes along with the recipe is priceless. i wish we had more of that kind of community in our lives.
Alfredo R. September 9, 2020
for canning should i water bath them and for how long and how long can it be persevered for ,i would like to make a large amount but i'm not sure how long it will preserve HELPPPPPPPP
QueenSashy September 9, 2020
To be FDA approved you would want to pressure-can for about 35 minutes. Do not use water bath. Because there is no sugar and acid, you really need to be very careful to how to process it, as there is a lot of room for it to go wrong. Here is the old method that is used in Serbia and Macedonia for generations, but I have to emphasize that it is not the FDA approved way. (Also in this case, do not use garlic.)

Wash the jars and lids with soap.
Sterilize the jars and lids in boiling water. Make sure that they are dry before proceeding.
Keep the jars in hot oven (100C, 220F) until you are ready to use.
Working with one jar at time, pour the boiling ajvar (straight from the stove) into the jars.
Fill the jars almost to the top, so that there is no air left. (You are minimizing the opportunity for ajvar to come in contact with air.)
Place the open jars in a 200C oven, for 10 minutes.
Take one jar at the time and immediately put the lid on tightly.
Proceed with the rest.
Turn the oven off and open the oven door for a minute so that the temperature reduces to about 200F. Place all jars back to the oven, and leave overnight to completely cool. Do not open the oven door, as you want jars slowly to come to room temperature. (Instead of the oven, the old way was to wrap the jars in a couple of blankets for a day or so).
Once cool, store them in a cold and dark place, where they can keep for about 6 months.
Alfredo R. September 9, 2020
so its like canning tomato sauce we call that the sleeping sauce
thank you
QueenSashy September 9, 2020
One more thing... I am not sure how much you are planning to make, but for large quantities (say 10 or 20 pounds, or more), the cooking time will have to be 2 hours, sometimes more. You are basically looking at the point when peppers are beginning to melt, but not quite so.
aargersi September 10, 2013
I will be making this at my earliest opportunity! Yum factor high!
QueenSashy September 10, 2013
go for it! and go for it with the very best peppers you can find, that's all that matters in ajvar making...
Violeta August 13, 2013
I grew up in Bosnia and naturally I have our family ajvar recipe. Every year I bring red pepper seeds from there, grow them here in France, and make ajvar in September. Everybody loves it! :)
QueenSashy August 13, 2013
Wow! I am green with envy over your peppers :)
susan G. August 12, 2013
I have bought those industrial jars. Not knowing the real thing, I thought it was great! Must try making it. Thanks for the recipe, the lesson, and the family visit.
QueenSashy August 13, 2013
Thank you susan g!