Since the autumn in Serbia smells like peppers, we can freely say that winter tastes like them. Serbs, and moreover the majority of Slavs, nurture the tradition of pickling and canning the freshly harvested vegetables during summer and autumn months so that they can be consumed during the winter. Among all the preserved food that fits different tastes, one surely stands out as a true delicacy and a secret favorite winter salad you have to try - traditional Serbian caviar called ajvar.
Serbian cuisine is a challenging topic, as even the greatest experts of Serbian culture and ethnology have troubles defining what’s ours, what’s original, and what’s “borrowed” from other cultures. The turbulent history has left its marks even on the cuisine - the historical influences of Byzantine, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires can be found even on our plates. However, recurring ingredients in traditional food, branded as Serbian, have been pork, cheese, and peppers!
The name ajvar comes from the Turkish word “havyar” that means caviar. That tells something about the quality of ajvar.
It’s not easy to define ajvar. It’s partly a spread, partly a sauce, partly a dip, and partly a salad. The closest to truth is to call it a creamy spread made principally of red bell peppers and oil. It could be a snack on its own - spread on the bread, or a side dish that adds flavor to everything, even those poor, loathed bean sprouts. Traditionally, it’s mostly served as a salad alongside the appetizers - cheese, smoked ham, etc.
Ajvar is usually made from roasted or cooked peppers. Depending on the region, it could be made solely from the bell peppers. There could be chili peppers added, making it piquant, or even hot. Some people like to add aubergine, or tomato, depending on the taste.
Trust me, ajvar needs to go global!
Ajvar is relatively easy to make and takes around two hours to prepare and cook. Firstly, you need to roast the whole peppers for around half an hour, making sure to see that attractive black crisp. When they’ve cooled down a little bit, it’s time to remove the roasted skin and seeds. If they are well cooked, the skin and seeds will basically slide down the pepper.
Chop the peppers roughly in the food processor and add oil and salt. The chopped peppers then go in the large saucepan and should simmer around half an hour over low-to-medium heat. After they’ve cooled down to room temperature, fill the jars, store in the refrigerator, and enjoy in your ajvar!
Every dish on the traditional Serbian plate tastes better with a little bit of ajvar. Therefore, you can find it in most of the restaurants all over the country. Best riverside restaurants on Ribarsko Island in Novi Sad, old bohemian districts of Skadarlija in Belgrade and Kazandzijsko Sokace in Nis, and of course, vegetarian restaurants all over the country, have a reserved spot for ajvar on their menus. The rumor has it that the home-made ajvar is the best, but even in the restaurants, you have to try this Serbian winter salad.
P.S. There is a good reason they call it Serbian caviar!
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