The magical ingredient of traditional dining, loyal follower of every festivity, homemade ajvar makes every meal a feast in no time.
In early autumn when Serbia echoes with winemakers’ song, and when the whole country ripens with buxom fruits and vegetables, Leskovac area is covered with red carpets of “šilja”, juicy, fragrant, bright red pepper. It is not known how, but is certain that people from Leskovac know best the secret moment when this red treasure should be harvested, so the ajvar for the next winter would be the tastiest there is.
Without any exaggeration at all could be said that the whole Serbia, nearly every household, patiently awaits for Leskovac’s pepper to bring redness to its markets, because for their ajvar they only want the best.
But, it is a whole procedure to fill the pantry shelves with orange jars of favorite spread. Namely, in order to get that fragrant little pleasure-in-a-jar, a lot of time and nimble hands of the housewives are required. And the preparation of ajvar creates a special atmosphere because it is approached in somewhat festive manner.
Everything begins with roasting the peppers. The dust is cleaned from the old wood stoves which have been resting since springtime, because peppers are still the tastiest when they are prepared that way. So from every yard, street or nearby meadow, smell of wood and peppers starts to fill the air. If the man of the house is present, it is known that friends will gather and enjoy a glass of wine or rakija (Serbian brandy).
But this is where the “fun” part of preparing ajvar ends, because what follows next requires true commitment. After the peppers were left to stand for a while, they need to be peeled, washed and dried, and then grinded. That grinded mass is then cooked on low heat with added oil and salt. Then you start filling the jars which are slightly baked in the oven so they could stay closed and kept in cold place for longer period of time.
And so jars full of heavenly relish are placed in a row, one after another, and housewives seem to think there is never enough, because just the thought of the winter without ajvar makes each and every one shiver. Our folks say that “health enters through our mouth”, so is there anything better and tastier than a jar full of red earthy treasure?! This vitamin bomb guards our health and vitality, and some even say that peppers, especially the red hot ones are a powerful aphrodisiac.
It is hard to say what ajvar is for sure, it is considered to be a type of salad, side dish, seasoning, spread. There is no translation for word ajvar, nor one is necessary because guests in Serbia know in advance what is good and what they need to try, and certainly on that list is also this authentic product which has been made here on the Balkans for centuries thanks to the good old tested recipe.
Basics of preparation are all the same everywhere, while everyone prepares it according to their own wishes and taste, so ajvar can be a bit sweeter and milder, as well as hot or extra hot. If it is extremely hot and made pure out of chili peppers, it is called “Ljutenica”. Next to ajvar and ljutenica, there is also a “pinđur”, which is prepared the same way as ajvar, just instead of peppers you use eggplants, and after you add hot pepper, onions and lots of spices.
You can eat ajvar during the whole year, but it is best in the winter. It goes along with every savory dish, particularly those traditional delicacies like pies, corn bread, prosciutto, roasts and barbeques, and nothing tastes better than a slice of cheese along with it, and some wine from our rich winemaking areas.
So, If you find yourself in Serbia during the autumn, do not miss out ordering this freshly prepared delicacy in some of the restaurants of the national cuisine or taverns. But if you happen to try ajvar in somebody’s house, we should warn you, please do compliment the lady of the house, because all housewives in Serbia are extremely proud of their ajvars and, to tell you in confidence, they believe theirs is the best.
Text copied from www.serbia.com