Thursday, November 10, 2011

Balkan Ajvar {Roasted Red Pepper & Eggplant Spread}

The last of this years' gorgeous autumn days are behind us. Here in the Czech Republic the trees put on one heck of a show this year. Temperatures were warm, and the sun was golden. It went on for weeks and weeks and weeks. It was the kind of fall made for walking the dog and pondering this that and the other thing. My leaf-crunch addiction has certainly been satisfied for some time to come.

Not surprisingly, Saffi, my incredibly fearful Shiba Inu pup, turns out to also be terrified by the leaf-crunch. Well, I admit to being an avid cruncher and kicker-upper of fallen leaves, so I just might have contributed a wee bit. (Insert guilty feeling here.)

This morning there were early signs of frost on the window panes. While waiting for the tram, the wind blowing up the back of my skirt crossed the line into thigh-biting territory. And that nostalgic twinge is starting to settle in of another upcoming Thanksgiving spent abroad with no one to share in my turkey enthusiasm. The perks of this, though, are not to be pushed aside. Weekends in Vienna, Bratislava, or Prague easily keep me from throwing my own private pity party, to be sure.

While I've yet to make it down to any of the Balkan states (requires a bit more than a weekend I am told), I am familiar with a popular, and regionally widespread, roasted red pepper-eggplant dish called Ajvar. There's a great write up of Ajvar in Serbia over at the NPR website.

If you are looking for an exciting alternative to hummus to bring to the next bookclub meeting, or other cozy get-together, this could be good way to go.

Smoky flavours of home-roasted red peppers mashed together with roasted eggplant and garlic - with a dash of paprika - spread on some rustic bread and spritzed with lemon make for one great snack to share. Or even just a light dinner. The prep work is a bit arduous, to be honest, but if you make a bunch it will keep for 2-3 days, and is easily disappears anyways.

And since this is such a fantastically healthy snack, I may as well mention that this weekend I'll be doing a body detox. Cumin in the Cupboard readers will (hopefully) benefit next week by seeing what methods/recipes are created to make tasty veggie dishes sans salt/oil. Stay tuned!

Continue to Recipe... 
Recipe: Ajvar
Serves 6 (appetizer)
Time 1 hour

4 red peppers
2 eggplants
1/8 cup olive oil
1/4 tsp dried red chili flakes  
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp smoked paprika


1) Turn oven on to broil (or in the case your oven doesn't broil, like mine, heat to 200°C/400°F.

2) Slice the peppers in half and put face down on a oiled and/or aluminum covered baking tray.

3) Cut eggplants in half the long way, and make shallow criss-cross incisions along the surface. Brush on some olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and the red chili flakes. Place on a baking tray and put in the middle/lower oven rack. Put the peppers in the upper portion. After 15 minutes, toss in the 2 garlic cloves onto one of the pans to roast as well (snip of the tip of each clove, so when it's done the garlic can be easily squeezed out of the paper skins.)

4) Allow peppers to roast until the skin is quite blackened. 20-35 minutes, depending on the oven. 
The eggplant should cook until it looks quite soft and mushy. Mine was about 35-40 minutes.

5) Take peppers out and put into a brown paper bag and roll shut. This allows them to steam loose their skins. Wait 5-10 mins. Taking out one at a time, lie flat on a cutting board, and using a spoon and knife, scrap the skins off. You will get the hang of it, just practice with the spoon and knife until you find your rhythm. 

6) Scoop out the flesh of the eggplant, and squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins. Put everything in a large food processor, add the paprika, salt/pepper to taste, and blitz away!

7) Garnish with parsley and lemon, and eat on hearty bread wedges.

Dobrou Chut'/ Enjoy.
-- Jo.


  1. yum. I love making babaghanoush and I love grilled pepper. my mum buys ajvar in a jar. I'll give this a go.
    PS thanks for posting these photos of Prague, nice to see those familiar places again!

  2. A past experience with ajvar in a jar is exactly why I tried making it! Seattle Trader Joes had a version many years back, but haven't seen it in the Czech part of the world. Making it was quite easy, just slow going with all the roasting.
    Glad you liked the Prague pics :)


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