Ajvar is a traditional Serbian red capsicum preserve. It takes days to prepare, so the whole family usually works together to make it. In my opinion, it’s the king of preserves, so all the hard work mostly pays off in the end. Ajvar is usually eaten as a spread with bread, but my father remembers his grandparents using it as a delicious salad dressing with chopped garlic, oil and white vinegar. My family has been using the following recipe for generations.
- 6 kg ripe sweet red capsicums, washed
- 1 kg eggplants
- 410 ml (1⅔ cups) olive oil, plus extra, to drizzle
- salt, to season
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Resting time 2 days
Roast the capsicums on all sides over a medium stovetop flame or grill until the skin is charred. Place the capsicums in a large saucepan and cover with a lid to trap the heat. Stand overnight, then make a cut at the top of each capsicum and drain the juices. Peel and deseed the capsicums (don’t wash as it will remove all the good flavour!).
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200˚C. Roast the eggplants until very soft. Transfer to a large saucepan and cover with a lid. Stand overnight, then peel and discard skin.
Using a meat grinder or food processor, grind the capsicums and eggplants until a chunky consistency.
Cover the base of a large saucepan with oil, top with the capsicum mixture, then pour over 160 ml (⅔ cup) oil. Stir to combine. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often to prevent burning, for 2-3 hours. To test if it’s done, place a small amount on a plate. If liquid comes out when you turn the plate, continue cooking. Season with salt.
Preheat the oven to 70°C. Pour the ajvar into warm sterilised jars, then place on a wooden board to prevent jars cracking. Turn off oven, then place jars on board in the oven and stand overnight.
Heat 250 ml (1 cup) oil in a saucepan over medium-low heat until warm, then pour over ajvar in jars. Seal with a lid and store in a cool, dark, dry place for up to 3 months. Once opened, store in the fridge.
Recipe from Palachinka by Marija Petrović, with photographs by Marija Petrović.