Citizens, the proud country of Serbia is the original home to two great and honorable friends of mine, Lazar and Nikola. In addition, one of the greatest scientists the world has ever known was Serbian – the incomparable Nikola Tesla.
One of the most beloved of Serbian recipes is Ajvar (Serbian Cyrillic is Ајвар – pronounced aye-var), which is a type of relish made principally from red bell peppers with garlic. It may also contain eggplant and chili peppers.
Original homemade ajvar is made of roasted peppers and depending on the capsaicin content in the bell peppers and the amount of added chili peppers, it can be sweet (traditional), piquant (the most common), or very hot. The ajvar can be consumed as a bread spread or as a side dish.
Ajvar originated in Serbian cuisine before spreading throughout the Balkan region, and was therefore long known as “Serbian salad” or “Serbian vegetable caviar”.
The name ajvar comes from the Turkish word havyar, which means “salted roe, caviar” and shares an etymology with caviar. Prior to the 20th century, there was a significant local production of caviar on the Danube river, with sturgeon swimming from the Black Sea up to Belgrade.
Domestic ajvar, meaning caviar, used to be a very popular dish in Belgrade homes and restaurants. However, the domestic production of ajvar/caviar was not steady starting in the 1890s because of labor disputes.
Eventually a special pepper salad was offered as a substitute in Belgrade restaurants under the name “red ajvar” or “Serbian ajvar”, due to a strong sense of irony by local Serbs who could no longer obtain true caviar.
My recipe is quite traditional with the exception of using Turkish Urfa Biber pepper flakes for heat and Spanish smoked paprika to simulate the roasting of the peppers over an open fire. You can use regular chili flakes and regular paprika if these rare spices are unavailable.
Ajvar is utterly delicious served with meat, crackers or any food you think might benefit from its complex flavors.
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