One of the beautiful things about growing your own vegetables is that you’re able to grow so many more varieties than what you can find at the supermarket. Farmer’s markets offer a better variety than the stores but even then, your selection can be limited. One of my favorite places to discover new vegetables is Bakers Creek Heirloom Seeds. They always have an incredible variety of heirloom veggies and I’ve had very good results with most of their seeds.
This year, I discovered ajvarski peppers which, after a bit of online searching, appear to be bulls horn peppers, a variety of peppers traditionally used in making ajvar (pronounced AY-vahr).
Ajvar is a Serbian roasted red pepper sauce (I read where some call it Serbian Salsa). Basically, it’s a roasted red pepper sauce with eggplant, garlic, vinegar, and oil added. It’s great on fresh bread, toasted bread and crackers, so it’s an easy appetizer recipe to make.
I started my peppers inside in February and they were about 10-inch tall plants when they went into my garden in early May. They’ve done well in my home garden, taking a while to turn red as most colored peppers do but they’re reaching their stride here in zone 5 in September. I currently have multiple peppers turning red on my plants, even though they were a bit slow-going at first.
These are gorgeous peppers with a thick skin and fragrant smell, especially when roasting. I’m not exaggerating on this – these are really, really fragrant peppers.
If you want to speed up the ripening of colored peppers, simply put them in a paper bag with a few ripe tomatoes and seal the bag with a clip. Leave at room temperature until fully ripened. Ideally, the peppers should be starting to turn already and then they’ll take anywhere from 3 to 7 days to ripen. Never refrigerate them until they’re ripe – refrigeration will stop the ripening process immediately. I have great luck with quick-ripening my peppers this way. If you’re a home gardener, you know how long it can take (and how much plant energy it takes) to ripen peppers on the plant.
I admit my ajvar here is a small batch recipe, as I only had 3 peppers to start and make this with. As it turned out though, 3 peppers were just enough to make a good-sized appetizer plate for Sunday football for two. This recipe made enough ajvar to fully pack one ramekin and help us devour a small loaf of French bread. 🙂 In all, this makes about 1 healthy cup of ajvar.
homemade ajvar recipe
- 3 red bullhorn or bell peppers
- 1/3 large eggplant, cut in half
- 2 medium garlic cloves, gently smashed
- 2 teaspoons white vinegar
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil + 1 tablespoon for brushing eggplant
- 4 oz. feta cheese
- 1 small loaf French bread, sliced (I toasted mine)
Preheat broiler. Place peppers and eggplant on a baking sheet or roasting pan. Brush the eggplant on both sides with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
Broil, turning occasionally until peppers and eggplant are well charred on all sides. The eggplant will likely cook the fastest and, if so, remove it to a plate and let cool until the peppers are done cooking.
When the peppers are well charred, use a pair of tongs to pop them into a paper bag, roll the bag to seal and let the peppers rest at least 10 minutes. What this does is steams the skins from the peppers, making the skins easier to remove. Remove the skins, stems, and seeds and discard. (I add mine to our compost bin)
In the meantime, scoop out the innards of the eggplant and place it in a food processor. Discard (or compost) the skin.
Add the garlic, vinegar and the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil to the processor.
Add the peeled peppers.
Pulse until well-blended but still a bit coarse – it should still have a little texture to it. If too dry, add more olive oil until a smooth, spreadable mixture is formed.
Serve with feta cheese and fresh or toasted bread (or crackers).
This is so, so good! Very garlicky and the vinegar adds a brightness and tang to it, while the olive oil smooths it all out.
If red bell peppers are all you can find, by all means, use them. You can also add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes if you want a little spice to your ajvar.
Of course, you can also char the peppers and eggplant on the grill; whichever method is easiest and most convenient for you.
There’s something just so rustic and satisfying about schmearing roasted deliciousness on bread and devouring it. Ajvar does not disappoint. Make yourself a batch and dig in.