Sunday, July 24, 2016

Ajvar (Warm Grilled Pepper and Eggplant Spread)...

I love Middle Eastern food, especially the countless vegetarian spreads, dips and salads beyond the everyone-knows hummus. Ajvar, in particular made with grilled pepper, eggplants, garlic and red pepper spice is one of my favourites! Ajvar is the Turkish word for fish roe or caviar. It actually originated in Serbian cuisine and was long known as "Serbian salad" or "Serbian vegetable caviar". It became a popular salad (side dish) throughout Yugoslavia after World War II and is nowadays popular in the Balkans and the Middle East. This beautiful chunky red relish is so versatile as a bread spread or served along meats especially grilled. A hostess play-date gift I had received, I busted the jar opened this weekend to serve along grilled chicken at my home's casual family gathering. It reminded me of the ajvar I use to make from scratch entertaining way back sans kids and it was always a hit! Try my homemade version of this delicious warm accompaniment brimming with Mediterranean flavours.

Makes 3-4 servings (Double ingredients to double the recipe)

2 bell peppers
1 fat eggplant or aubergine
1 small red onion
3 to 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped (use 2 if you want less garlic flavour)
1/4 tsp. sugar
2 to 3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 to 2 tsp. ground Middle Eastern red pepper
1 lemon, juiced
1 to 2 tsp. vinegar
a handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves plucked and roughly chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

NOTE: Red pepper spice can be crushed or ground. Hotter than paprika and milder than cayenne, it is rich and fruity. Deep red indicates better quality, rubbed with oil keeps it fresh.

Place the pepper and eggplant directly onto a gas flame or grill, and burn the skin all over. Roast using fairly high heat, blacken the vegetables until they start to look like deflated rugby balls. *Prick each vegetable a few times to prevent them from exploding*. Pop into a plastic bag to sweat for a few minutes, and then hold them under a thin stream of running cold water as you remove the burnt skin. 

Put the pepper onto a board, cut in half, remove the stalk, seeds and pith, and chop it to a pulp. Cut the stalk of the eggplant and chop the soft flesh to a pulp. Over medium-high heat, saute onion and garlic with sugar and olive oil in a pan until slightly golden. Stir in the red pepper and add the pulped pepper and eggplant. Beat in the lemon juice and vinegar; stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper. 

USES: You can put ajvar in pretty much anything - sauces, breads, dressings, on pasta, in sandwiches, pizza etc. Before serving finely dice or grate some garlic, add a splash of extra virgin olive oil, chopped herbs like parsley or basil and serve alongside grilled or roasted meat (it's AMAZING with poultry) or with antipasta/tapas.

Robust, garlicky, sweet, and tart the taste is pure comfort and hearty smooth tender!

Photo Credit: Food Chomp

Chicken legs were simply marinated in salt, black pepper, garlic and onion powders, paprika, Creole seasoning (or any other flavoured seasoning or omit) and Dijon mustard. Best to marinate at least an hour or overnight before grilling to allow flavours to meld.


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