What Is Ajvar?

A. Leverkuhn
A. Leverkuhn

Ajvar is a dish made with peppers, eggplant, garlic and other mostly vegetable ingredients. Many people believe that this dish originated in parts of Eastern Europe, specifically in Serbia, and other parts of the Balkans area previously known as Yugoslavia. This food is commonly served as a spread with bread and other elements.

Some cooks in the region where ajvar is considered a traditional food refer to it as ‘vegetable caviar.’ In terms of the etymology of the name, ajvar comes from the Turkish word havyar or caviar, the more commonly familiar dish made from fish roe. Caviar is a luxury food in many countries around the world, but the Serbian salad known as ajvar is caviar in name only. While it does resemble the presentation of some types of caviar, this food is a common harvest dish made with the produce of a garden.

In the harvest season, ajvar has long been popular with people living in the communities around the Danube river. In centuries past, cooks would take the harvested peppers and make them into a spreadable paste along with some of the above-mentioned ingredients. While the popular use of this food in the regions around Belgrade and other nearby cities has been well documented, the actual origin of this food is under some debate.

In terms of preparation, this food takes a lot of work to make. Cooks have to first cook, then peel the peppers and eggplant, get rid of burned or blackened items, and scoop out seeds, while cutting off the tops or other inedible parts of the vegetables. They then commonly mash the remaining cooked pepper mix into a paste, adding elements like lemon or garlic.

Along with garlic, which provides a strong flavor for this dish, and lemon juice with helps with balancing acidity, some cooks also use more exotic products in making ajvar. Some common additions are sugar and cinnamon, two elements that give the the dish a sweeter flavor.

This spread may also be served along with other popular foods, where it complements the flavors of non-vegetable products. Some of these include prosciutto or other types of cured ham, as well as a variety of cheeses. Ajvar may also be served with legume products like hummus, or greens, like lettuce or spinach.

In today’s global culinary world, ajvar has its place, although it may not be mentioned by name. Some modern supermarkets contain prepared foods that are quite similar to this pepper and eggplant mix, but may go by simpler names like "pepper sauce" or "pepper and eggplant salsa". It’s only in looking into the origins of the dish that people understand its specific relation to Eastern Europe. Other societies have their own versions of vegetable salads and similar foods.

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