This pile of eggplants, capsicum, chillies, garlic and a few other basic ingredients is bound to become your latest food addiction.
“I have some homework for you, before we speak next time” said the radio presenter. Cool, I like homework.
“Have you ever heard of Ajvar?” he continued. Well, actually no I hadn’t, but was a little intrigued when he said it contained “eggplant, red capsicums and stuff”.
OK, so then the hunt began. It was way too easy really, couldn’t believe it had not crossed my path. Apparently the word ‘Ajvar’ means fish roe, so how it came to be represented by this vegetarian product is a bit of a mystery.
There are apparently three versions, one with almost no eggplant, if any, some with chillies and, the most popular, with two to three times as many red capsicums as eggplant.
So, to cut a long story short, I played about with a pile of eggplants, capsicum, chillies, garlic and a few other basic ingredients and came up with the following recipe.
I had thought it would taste pretty ordinary, BUT it has become my latest food addiction. I just love it. The first evening it seemed to be screaming for warm sub-style spelt rolls, so quickly made a small batch.
I happened to have some meatball mixture ready to cook, so the end result that evening was the rolls filled with cheese, topped with the hot meatballs and then a generous slathering of the Ajvar. Oh my goodness, yum!
A few nights later, after working in the garden all day, I’d decided just to roast a chicken for dinner. Near the end of cooking time, too tired and lazy to bother to make a gravy, I spooned a cupful or so of Ajvar over the roast and baked for about 20 minutes more.
No need for a gravy then – some of the Ajvar spilled down into the base of the dish to make a sauce, and the rest sat on top and caramelised just a little to make a lovely, rich coating.
I’d made quite a large batch, and so froze the rest, but now have decided I must make a great deal more. Once again the house is filled with the tantalising aroma of roasting eggplant and capsicum.
This Ajvar is too good not to share the recipe around, so here it is. If you think it needs a little balancing of flavour in the final tasting, add a small amount of sweet chilli sauce (I did, despite the fact it’s not traditional, it just rounded the flavour out nicely, but you may not need to).
Hope you enjoy it – well worth making.
375g eggplant (aubergine)
750g red capsicums
2 long red chillies
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Juice one small lemon
3 teaspoons white or cider vinegar
½ teaspoon salt, approximately
½ teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes, optional
70ml olive oil
Cut the eggplant in half and bake on a roasting tray at 180 degrees C until the skin blisters and the flesh is soft. Set aside to cool enough to handle, the scrape out the flesh and discard the skin.
Cut the capsicums and chillies in half and remove the seeds and membranes. Place on a baking tray, skin side up and press down flat with the heel of your hand. Brush with just a little oil (or spray with cooking oil spray) and bake at 180 degrees C until the skin blisters and blackens (you may need to turn on the grill momentarily to achieve this). The aim is to have the flesh of the capsicum soft, but the skin blackened.
Place the capsicum and chillies when ready into a heatproof bowl and cover with cling wrap or a plastic bag. Set aside for ten minutes, then peel off the skin.
Place the eggplant, capsicum and chilli flesh in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Add the lemon juice, vinegar, salt and sugar (and dried chillies if using) and process until well combined, then with the motor still running, add the olive oil in a thin but steady stream.
Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.