Introduction: Traditional Serbian Ajvar

There's nothing like a taste of an exotic yet homemade cuisine!

This is my first project on Instructables and I am going to try to demonstrate how to make a traditional Serbian preservable delicacy called ajvar (pronounced I-varr)!

Most people prepare their peppers in the oven or on a tin plane but I am going to show you a more unique way of preparing, tailored for every genuine gourmet! I love all kinds of ajvar, but this one with grilled peppers tops them all, because it gets that delicious smokey BBQ taste.

Without further ado, let's move on to the step one and start making some ajvar!

Step 1: Ingredients

The ratio is: 3kg (6 lbs) of fresh peppers ≈ 1kg (2.2 lbs) of ajvar

Here I listed the ingredients necessary for making ajvar out of 10kg (22 lbs) of fresh peppers (if you are going for smaller or larger quantities just scale it up or down).

  • 10 kg (22 lbs) of fresh red bell peppers
  • 7 dl (23.66 oz) of cooking oil
  • 2-3 soup spoons of distilled white vinegar
  • 1-2 tea spoons of sugar
  • Add salt to taste
  • Optionally - chili peppers (if you don't like spicy food don't add chili peppers)

Step 2: Buying the Right Peppers

Be sure to always look for the biggest, beefiest and healthiest looking red bell peppers. Don't be reluctant to set some free time aside and seek for the best looking ones - the worst thing you can do is just randomly buy peppers from the first vendor you meet or even worse - to opt for the closest supermarket.

It would be ideal to buy the peppers from farmers who sell their own grown veggies or if you're really hardcore, you should plant and grow your own! No matter what, it's really important that they are fresh and tasty.

Step 3: Preparing the Peppers for Grilling

You need to wash every pepper thoroughly and remove any squishy or moldy part, otherwise those bits could make the final product bitter and downgrade all your hard work. If you decide to go for a larger quantities of peppers like I did this year (bought 160 kg - a bit of an overkill, but hey, once you taste it you will run out of ajvar much faster than you thought), you'll inevitably end up with some peppers that got damaged during transport or harvest or for any other reason. It's easy to dismiss them and throw away the complete pepper, but the best thing to do is to simply cut out the bad parts (as shown in the images above). It can be tricky and tedious, but it's worth in the end.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not remove stems, because they keep the vapor inside the pepper during the grilling process and help cooking it from the inside. Don't worry, stems come out at later stages of the ajvar making process.

Step 4: Preparing the Grill and Grilling the Peppers

Make a miniature camp fire inside your designated grilling space and wait for it to burn out a bit. When all parts of firewood are nicely caught with fire, even the embers out with a poker and put a grill over it. Before you start grilling the peppers make sure that you have all the equipment next to you (as shown in the first picture above - No.1 Clean peppers ready for grilling; No.2 A pot where the grilled peppers will be stored). Also make sure you have grill pliers or a similar tool for turning the peppers (unless you want to risk serious burns by doing it with your bare hands)

And now, the main part, the grilling process!

Once the grill is heated enough, put as many peppers as you can fit onto it. You have to turn them over constantly so they don't burn up completely. Once a pepper is nicely charred from all sides, it's done! Once you are finished with grilling all the peppers, you should let them cool (preferably over night if you are making large quantities).

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are grilling large quantities of peppers, make sure that the fire is constantly super hot by adding charcoal or more firewood (I used willow firewood because we have it here in abundance and it creates a very intense fire - the hotter the fire, the better the ajvar will be). Additionally if you are going for a spicy version of ajvar also grill one or two chili peppers to be added later in the frying process.

Step 5: Peeling the Grilled Peppers, and Percolation

Please pay attention, we're approaching the most important step!

Once again, before you start make sure you have all the equipment next to you so you can peel quicker and more efficient.

As seen in the first picture, you will need:

  1. A bowl of water for washing your fingers from the charcoal bits that get stuck on your fingers (you don't want them transferred to a clean peeled pepper).
  2. A bowl of water used for removing the seeds from the inside of the peeled pepper.
  3. A colander for draining the peppers of extra water.
  4. A dish to collect the water from the colander.

Alright, with all the above mentioned components around us, let's move on to the peeling process!

Step 1. As you can see in the picture above, we peel the pepper from the stem to bottom until we remove all the charred parts of the pepper's skin layer.

Step 2. We remove the stem and wash the pepper to remove seeds. It doesn't matter if some seeds remain, small quantities won't make any difference in the taste of the final product.

Step 3. Once the pepper is nice and clean, it's ready to go into the colander to dry.

Repeat all the above steps until all the peppers are clean and then move on to the next step.

IMPORTANT NOTE: It is very important that the clean peppers aren't soaked too much before frying, because the ajvar will be watery otherwise. If you have a lot of peppers you should get a netted sack for percolation of the soaked peeled peppers or if you are a fisherman a good alternative would be a fishing net (needless to say, if you go for a fishing net make sure to wash it properly to get the smell of fish out of it). Also, be sure not to over-dry peppers because we want them to stay succulent yet not soaked.

Extra advice: If you have a garden you can dispose the burned skin, seeds, stems and liquid leftover directly onto the soil where you grow your veggies or flowers. It's all organic material and will act as a compost. And, hey, you may even get a few red bell pepper sprouts! :)

Step 6: Cutting the Grilled and Peeled Peppers for Frying

This is a pretty simple step compared to the previous one :)

You only need a big sharp knife or a butcher knife to slice more peppers simultaneously and a cutting board. You can cut them into smaller or bigger chunks or strips, it's totally up to you. Remember you cant' go wrong here, we'll leave it up to your creativity!

Once you cut all the peppers put them into the pot designated for frying and move onto the next step.

Step 7: Frying the Peppers

  • Preheat the stove to medium hot (if the stove regulator has 6 levels turn it on 4). Add oil to the pot with the peppers inside, add sugar and then add salt to your liking. As we said earlier, you may spice it up with chopped chili peppers. When everything is prepared, put the pot on the stove.
  • When it starts to boil stir frequently so it doesn't burn to a crisp and continue doing so for the next 2 hours.
  • Right before the very end of frying add vinegar and stir it vigorously.

When you're done with this crucial phase, only one step separates you from tasting delicious homemade ajvar!

Advice: The ideal dish for frying ajvar should be similar to the pot from the pictures from the previous step (wide and semi-deep). If you don't have one like that, you can also use a deeper one but don't fill it up to the top because the peppers will get cooked and not fried as intended. If you are going for smaller quantities, you can also use a deep pan (like the one shown in the picture above and images in the next step).

Step 8: Pouring Ajvar Into the Jars

First of all a few important things about this step:

  • The jars and lids must be properly washed.
  • The jars must be preheated in the oven (they just need to be warm, so adjust the temperature to around 100 degrees Celsius and let them heat for a few minutes - be careful not to overheat them or they can break).
  • Pour ajvar while it's still hot.

For this step you'll need a soup ladle and a rag.

When the jars are warm start pouring ajvar using a soup ladle. After every pour pound the bottom of the jar a few times so the extra air comes out. When you filled the jar to about 1-2 cm from the top put a lid and tighten it as hard as you can. Use a kitchen rag for a better grip. After you have sealed the jar turn it upside down.This way all the extra air is pushed down by the weight of the ajvar. Repeat until you have all the jars filled, tightly sealed and turned upside down. Leave the jars turned upside down over night so that ajvar can cool down.

Ajvar is a great both for instant consummation and storage, since it stays fresh and delicious for up to a few years.

Serving recommendations:

It goes great as a side dish for any kind of meat (my absolute favourite is with turkey), you can add it to sandwiches, make pies with it, the options are endless, simply let your culinary creativity run wild! Or if you just want a quick snack just spread it over a piece of bread and enjoy the pure ajvary goodness :)

Give it a try and be sure to share your impressions with everyone! We know you'll be thrilled!

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