Wednesday, September 6, 2006


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What I made for lunch the other day-- I call them "Mediterranean Quesadillas". I had some grilled eggplant and zucchini, and some wholewheat tortillas, leftover from dinner the night before. I cut one tortilla in half and spread one half with Ajvar, a Balkan red pepper and eggplant spread (see more about this and a recipe below), and the other half with vegan mayonnaise (my low-fat version). Then I added the grilled veggies, plus roasted green peppers (you could use red ones) thin slices of smoked tofu, and fresh basil leaves.

I put it together and cooked over medium heat in a nonstick pan until golden and crispy on both sides.  Cut into wedges with a sharp knife. This will serve 1-2, depending on appetite. Have napkins handy!

ABOUT AJVAR (pronounced Eye-vahr):  
This delicious condiment is originally from Macedonia, Croatia, and Serbia, but is popular also in Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary, Turkey, etc., and all over the Middle East now, it seems. It is sometimes called "vegetable caviar", and  there is hot ajvar and mild ajvar. In some areas they use roasted green peppers.

Commercial versions are inexpensive in Middle Eastern stores and many brands are available from Trader Joe's sells it but they don't call it ajvar on the label. They call it Trader Joe's Red Pepper Spread with Eggplant and Garlic. I understand that Whole Foods sells an organic version with "Ajvar" on the label.


I use it on all kinds of wraps, panini, and sandwiches:

Panini made with my homemade ajvar and vegan white "cheese", recipe in my book "World Vegan Feast".

It also makes a great cracker spread or a dip. Serve it as an appetizer to spread on thick slices of country-style bread or flatbread such as pita or lavosh, or use it as a side dish. Or just use it like salsa. You can use it 0nrice or potatoes, or as a quick pasta sauce; or mix it in with hummous and other dips. It's used on grilled meats, so why not on grilled seitan or tofu? Or on some big Tofurkey or Field Roast veggie sausages? Or  how about with white beans, veggie "meatloaf", "cheese" toast, or bruschetta? Spice Island Vegan used it with my tofu fritatta from "Nonna's Italian Kitchen" and it would be good on scrambled tofu, or vegan omelets, too .

Many Balkan families can their own supplies of it every year, but I can't find anything specific about canning it. I read that green beans and unripe tomatoes are sometimes mixed in with the ajvar before canning. All the canning sites I consulted warn against canning any pureed vegetables because of the problem of getting the temperature up high enough in the center of a jar of pureed food without commercial equipment. Perhaps if you made it very chunky you could pressure can it in small jars (1/2 pint) and then puree it after opening. I did read that you can freeze it, too.


Printable Recipe

Makes 3 1/2 cups
Pronounced Eye-vahr, this is a name of Turkish origin given to a popular Balkan spread or relish made of roasted peppers and eggplant (and sometimes other vegetables, too). Fresh ajvar is always made during the late summer and early autumn, just after the pepper harvest, when many Balkan households also can or bottle their own ajvar for use throughout the year. You can make it as mild or spicy as you like!

I can get this in my area in jars, fairly cheaply (about $4.00 Cnd a jar), but I like the idea of doing my own seasoning, and it’s very easy to make!

NOTE: My husband didn’t care for the what-I-would-call-“silky” texture of this ajvar, but then, he doesn’t really like eggplant. I have noted below that you can use more pepper and less eggplant if you like, but see also the zucchini variation below, which he preferred.

3 medium red bell peppers
(NOTE: If you prefer a chunkier texture and redder color, use another pepper and a smaller eggplant)
OPTIONAL: 1 large mildly hot pepper (such as a Hungarian yellow banana pepper)
(NOTE: use more hot peppers instead of adding hot sauce, if you prefer)
1 medium eggplant
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tsp. salt
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
3 T. red wine vinegar
juice of one medium lemon
1/2 tsp. liquid red hot sauce, or more to taste
freshly-ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place the peppers on a baking sheet and the eggplant on another. Poke the vegetables in a few places with a large fork. Roast the vegetables until they are somewhat charred on the outside and soft inside—the peppers will, of course, soften faster than the eggplant. Place the veggies inside a closed paper bag for 10 minutes or so— this will help loosen the skins.

This is a messy job, but quick—the skins should just peel away—it’s okay if a bit of pepper skin gets left behind. Remove the stems, and the seeds of the peppers. Rinse the peppers. Chop everything coarsely and then pulse in a food processor to the texture you like. Set aside.

On a small plate, mash the garlic with the salt with the back of a spoon til it is paste-like. In a large skillet, heat the oil a bit, then add the veggies, the salt and garlic, vinegar, lemon juice, hot sauce and fresh pepper to taste. Simmer the mixture until it has thickened a bit (it will thicken in the jar, too, so don’t cook it down too much). Taste for salt, pepper and hot sauce.
If serving immediately, serve it in a bowl drizzled with olive oil, or pack into 2 sterilized pint jars, drizzle a bit of olive oil on top, seal and refrigerate— it will keep for several weeks, although you’ll probably find many uses for it! (i have read that you can freeze it, too, but have not tried that myself.)

ZUCCHINI AJVAR: Omit the eggplant and use a chunk of large zucchini (this is a good way to use those overgrown ones!) about the size of a medium eggplant. (NOTE: you can use 4 red peppers and a slightly smaller chunk of zucchini if you prefer—it will be redder in color that way.) Otherwise, proceed as for the recipe above. I found that it needed about 1/2 tsp. more salt when using the zucchini, for some reason.


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spiceislandvegan said...

Hhhhmmmmm....ajvar....I love it! It is addicting and good with everything actually. Thanks for telling me that Trader Joe's sells it. So is Whole Foods! I didn't know and never check their shelves for it. I always buys the Zergut brand which is bright red or Indo European.

I haven't tried your recipe since it is so easy for me to buy it. I should have to save money. The quesadilla is a good idea and looks so good.


Anonymous said...

So far I've eaten it with corn chips, on a adzuki bean 'n rice burger, and plain. This stuff is really good. I made two other sauces this weekend (one pumpkin and the other yelloe pepper based ... this one tops!

I'll be buying another eggplant today so I can make some more.

Bakehouse Dori

Bryanna Clark Grogan said...

Don't forget the zucchini version, Dori!

Crystal said...

What a great use for all the eggplant and zucchini I seem to have around the kitchen!


Anonymous said...

Mmmmm...Non-subscribers, you are lucky to get this recipe!!! Copy and save it, ASAP, and guard it with your life -- it's awesome. :D.
Guaranteed you'll find a way you like to use it!

Harmonia said...

Genius! Thank you for this idea! I have been trying to put my Quesadilla Maker to work without dairy (since switching from lacto/lacto-ovo to aspiring vegan)

You're a lifesaver!

Anonymous said...

WoW Thanks, Very nice recipe, I am defently going to try it.

progressivegrannie said...

This looks so good! My friend from Bosnia got me hooked on Ajvar, and I sent this recipe to her. We are fortunate enough to have a local store that has Ajvar and other really yummy things like the pickled peppers stuffed with cabbage.

progressivegrannie said...

FYI, in San Antonio, Tx you can get this at Ali Baba on Wurzbach and IH 10.

Anonymous said...

This is NOT the way to make ajvar. What follows is the authentic recipe.

After grilling and peeling, Ajvar vegetables are minced and cooked in a pot with lots of oil, which is added incrementally. The vegetables release water, which is slowly mixed in with more and more oil. After 2-3 hours, all the water evaporates and it becomes a smooth emulsion (creamy water-oil mixture) with bits of vegetables. You must stir and cook until the liquid evaporates.

To preserve wash the jars in a dishwasher and fill them still piping hot, adding a little hot oil on the top to seal from air. They will not spoil.

Garlic is added serving time, as it will spoil the ajvar.

Balkan Boy

Bryanna Clark Grogan said...

Well, Balkan Boy, I try not to use "lots of oil", so this is my method, which is adapted from many recipes I researched in books and websites on Balkan cooking. Everyone has their own way of making traditional recipes, as I know from being part Italian! It tastes delicious and I have not had any complaints from ajvar users!

I'm also aware that you can water-bath can it, but I usually make it in small batches, so I just refrigerate it.

Adding garlic to the mixture certainly does not "spoil" the mixture (at least, not for short-term storage), but it would certainly be more garlicky to add it before serving, so that's a good tip!

Anonymous said...

You are not quite right. Ajvar is originally from Serbia (NOT from Macedonia or Croatia) , and is also known as "Serbian salad" or "Serbian vegetable caviar"

Montenegro boy