I first discovered avjar in Ljubjlana, Slovenia. Vendors at the Christmas markets slathered sausages with this spicy red pepper sauce and from the first bite, I was in love. We all loved it so much that we visited the market day for lunch and huddled at a cold table eating sausages and avjar washed down with hot cups of mulled wine. Perhaps it was because that holiday season was our first one overseas but it was by far our most memorable one to date and I chalk it up to the food (and wine). My son thought it was ketchup and as I later found out, avjar is to the Balkans what ketchup is in America. Whereas the American sauce is ketchup based, the Balkan version is a combination of roasted red peppers and roasted eggplant. Each Balkan country puts their own twist on this traditional condiment and I have yet to taste one I didn’t adore.
This recipe is adapted from Martha Rose Shulman’s Mediterranean Harvest and tastes just like the avjar I ate in Ljubjlana. I prefer mine to be on the spicy side but feel free to add more of less chili peppers depending upon your preferences. You can serve the dip with sausages or roasted meat, as a dip with vegetables or my favorite way, on a slice of French bread accompanied by a milk sheep’s milk cheese. Yum!
ROASTED RED PEPPER & EGGPLANT SPREAD
1 pound red bell peppers, roasted
1 pound purple eggplant, roasted
3 hot chili peppers
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 /4 cup water
3 garlic cloves, crushed
4 tablespoons olive oil
- Preheat a grill to high heat. When the grill is hot place the red peppers and chili peppers over the direct heat. Turning occasionally, grill until the outside of the peppers are charred and smoky smelling. Remove from the heat and set aside until they are cooled.
- Preheat an oven to 450 degrees. Oil a large rimmed baking sheet. Trim the eggplant and slice in half lengthwise. Score the skin side of the eggplant and place cut side down on the prepared baking sheet. Roast for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
- Peel and seed the roasted peppers and chili peppers. (You may need to wear protective gloves if the chili peppers are especially hot). Transfer the peppers and any reserved juices to the bowl of a large food processor.
- Remove the seeds and skin from the eggplants and coarsely chop. Add to the pepper mixture.
- Add the tomato paste and 1 teaspoon of the salt to the peppers and eggplant. Process until finely chopped.
- With the machine running, add the vinegar and water to the mixture and puree until smooth.
- Place the garlic and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a mortar and pestle along with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Mash the mixture until you have a smooth puree.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet set over medium heat. Add the garlic puree. Cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant.
- Stir in the pepper and eggplant puree and stirring constantly, bring to a simmer. Continue to cook until the mixture is thick. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and adjust the salt if necessary.
- Remove from the heat, cool and transfer to a jar. Place a thin film of olive oil over the top of the mixture.
The puree can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Yields: 1 cup