As I type this “Doomsday Preppers” is on T.V. and I am starting to feel like one. Just a tad.
This past weekend Milena and I made our first batch of ajvar. For the legions of you that don’t know what that is, the simplest definition is “fire roasted red pepper paste”. It is popular throughout the Balkans and is a very traditional peasant type food that is simple yet highly labor intensive to make. My experience with ajvar is that is not a spread in the traditional sense. It is not used like butter, peanut butter or jams. Ajvar sits on the plate for dipping bread or whatever else you want it on, but rarely is it spread across a slice of bread. Ajvar can be bought in stores and comes in a variety of flavors, some are spicy but most are bland to my taste.
To get started Milena went to the store and bought 15 lbs. of red bell peppers, for 75 cents a pound. This part was critical, had the price of the peppers not met the approval of my Serbian accountant (and her mother) the project would have never started. She actually called her mom to verify the it was, in fact, a good price for peppers. We were permitted to proceed. I got the charcoal going before Milena got home so we could get rolling.
In addition to the bell peppers, I roasted two eggplants, a dozen jalapeno peppers and a dozen Serrano peppers. We prefer spicier foods so we decided to add the jalapeno and Serrano. The peppers stayed on the grill until they were black and soft to the touch. This makes it much easier to peel the skin off the pepper. Once they were taken off they are placed in a plastic grocery bag, the bag is tied then they are placed in a covered roasting pan. This allows the water to start draining from the peppers. Allow the peppers to sit in the bags for a few hours for two reasons; One so the water can start draining from them, and two, so they can cool and then be peeled. On a side note; it is necessary to pierce the skin of the eggplants much the way one would a potato. I learned that the hard way. Almost immediately after closing the lid on the grill I heard a soft “pop”, so I opened it back up to find the eggplant had exploded. As big and dense as they are they hold a lot of heat and pressure.
Peeling the peppers is the longest and most mind numbing task of the process but an important one. Once that is done the peppers need to go into a colander in order to further drain the water. Leaving them over night will accomplish that. The final step is to run them through a meat grinder, add a pinch of salt if you like, give it a quick stir and then portion into canning jars. I canned the ajvar so that I can keep it for a long time without having to wolf it down in a week.
The addition of the hot peppers was nice. There is a subtle, delayed spiciness to the ajvar that we enjoy. For a first try I think we did a good job, and fortunately we made enough that we shouldn’t have to do it again for several months.