Ajvar (pronounced eye-var), is a traditional Croatian roasted pepper and eggplant mixture, sometimes referred to as a vegetarian caviar - I call it “Croatia’s Ketchup”. This Ajvar Recipe, is a smoky pepper based dipping sauce that is a great match for grilled fish or roasted meats, gives a bit of oomph to your sandwiches, or is delicious slathered on a cracker with a drizzle of olive oil and a crumble or smear of goat or feta cheese. Read on to learn how to make Croatian pepper caviar – I promise, make it once and you will always keep a bottle in the door of your refrigerator.
If you have ever visited Croatia you most likely experienced this popular dipping sauce served as a condiment with grilled fish and meats. Perhaps, tucked inside a sandwich or served as one of the spreads on a cheese board.
Its versatility reminds me of our American ketchup. You will find a jar of Ajvar on almost every table within arms-reach to add a boost of smoky pepper flavor to any dish.
Be sure to try the sauce with this grilled pork chops recipe.
The recipe is usually passed down within a family from generation to generation. Although the sauce takes several steps – roasting the peppers and eggplant (which can be done a day ahead of time), blending the vegetables and finally simmering the “mush” over a low heat – there is really not much to it. So here it goes….
What you'll need
Let’s quickly chat about some of the key ingredients and tools you will need.
- sweet peppers – The type of pepper used for ajvar is called roga, meaning horned — it is large, red, horn-shaped, with thick flesh and relatively easy to peel. You can use any other type of pepper, the color doesn’t make a difference in taste, but it will result in a different color of the spread. I opt to use either sweet carmen peppers or red bell peppers.
- eggplant - eggplants are used to balance the sugary taste of peppers with their bitter-sweet flavor.
- whole head of Garlic, roasted. See directions below for how to roast garlic alongside the peppers and eggplant.
- hot peppers –This is an option. As Ajvar can be mild, spicy or very hot, so add your hot peppers accordingly. I like poblanos as they add extra smokiness to the blend. Of course, using serrano or jalapeno will up the spice level as well.
- Extra virgin olive oil
- White wine vinegar or white vinegar
- Kosher salt, plus more to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper
See recipe card for quantities.
How to make this recipe
Alright, got your ingredients ready? Making Ajvar from scratch is really not that big of a deal. Let’s get started.
First, preheat the broiler, if you have a convection oven this is the time to use it! Line a half sheet, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Prepare vegetables and garlic for roasting. Remove outer papery layers of garlic bulb, leaving the skins intact and cloves attached. Using a sharp knife, trim about ¼ inch to a ½ inch off the top of the bulb to expose the cloves. Drizzle with olive oil (I like about 2 tablespoons olive oil per head of garlic) and place cut side down on the prepared baking sheet.
Roast Vegetables. Make sure to pierce the skin of eggplant with a fork all over to keep the eggplant from exploding as it roasts in the oven. Place washed peppers and eggplant on the same parchment lined baking sheet as the garlic.
Now, roast the vegetables, turning occasionally, until their skins blister and turn black (and I mean black, not just charred).
Make sure to roast all sides and the tops and bottoms. If you own a grill, definitely go for it. Your ajvar will be even better.
Peel and remove seeds. The roasted peppers must briefly rest in a large bowl covered with plastic wrap, allow them to cool so that the flesh separates from the skin. Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them with your fingers carefully and remove seeds.
Tip: Keep a large bowl of water to rinse your hands as you peel the peppers. But do not rinse the peppers, it will also rinse the flavor away!
Slice the eggplant lengthwise down the center, opening it like a book. Using a tablespoon or an ice-cream scoop, remove the pulp of the eggplant. Discard the seeds and the skin.
Grind the roasted vegetables
Place peppers and eggplant into the bowl of a food processor.
Pulse the contents of the food processor until a smooth consistency is achieved.
Ajvar can vary in chunkiness. It is absolutely acceptable to chop the roasted vegetables by hand.
Simmer the Sauce
Finally, we will stew the vegetable “mush” in a saucepan, with added oil, in order to condense and reduce the water. In our version we add roasted garlic, salt and vinegar at the end.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Simmering for longer periods of time is how all the flavors come together, so do not cut corners. Store in glass jars, covered in the fridge for about a week. Ajvar also freezes beautifully (photo)
Tip: Let the ajvar rest in a glass jar for a day before using, this will help balance the flavors.
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Make ahead tips
You can roast your vegetables up to 2 or 3 days ahead. Once the roasted vegetables are cool enough to peel and seed, place in an airtight container and refrigerate until you are ready to process your vegetables in a food processor and simmer your sauce.
Alternatively, you can process your roasted vegetables in the food processor (or chop by hand), store covered in a glass jar and refrigerate. Saving the simmering step for the next day (or two!).
- Parchment Paper makes clean up a snap! I like to use the unbleached and chlorine free parchment paper. Look on the box to make sure your parchment paper can be placed in a 400 degree oven.
- Baking sheet - The Nordic Ware Half Sheet is the baking sheet I use when cooking roasting my vegetables.
- Tongs have so many uses in the kitchen: handling and frying tortillas, rotating and transferring a roast, stirring and serving portions of easy shrimp pasta, dredging and frying egg plant parmesan, and lots more. The Oxo 12" good grips tongs are a must have.
- Small sauce pan – I really like using this 3 quart All-Clad saucepan as it provides even heat, and is perfect to simmer the Ajvar for an hour or so.
After simmering and cooling the pepper sauce, let it rest for a day before eating. Store in glass jars, covered in the fridge for about a week. I like to use 4-ounce jars – just the right amount to for two.
Ajar also freezes beautifully for about 6 months.
How to use
Ajvar’s smoky flavor is a great match for grilled fish or roasted meats, especially lamb and pork, there aren’t too many rules when it comes to ajvar, including how you serve it. It is delicious on grilled pork chops.
You can add it to a sandwich for some oomph, or slather on a cracker with a drizzle of olive oil and a crumble or smear of whatever goat or feta cheese you can get your hands on.
Looking for other recipes for two using roasted sweet peppers or eggplant? Try these:
Ajvar Recipe - How to make Croatian pepper caviar
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- 2 lbs sweet peppers – sweet carmen or red bell peppers about 5 peppers
- 1 medium sized eggplant, about ¾ lb
- 1 whole head of garlic roasted. See directions below for roasting garlic
- 1 hot pepper optional – like a large poblano pepper. Using a serrano, or jalapeno will increase the spice level.
- ¼ cup sunflower or extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Preheat the broiler. Line a half sheet rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Pierce skin of eggplant with a fork all over. Remove outer papery layers of garlic bulb, leaving the skins intact and cloves attached. Using a sharp knife, trim about ¼ inch to a ½ inch off the top of the bulb to expose the cloves. Drizzle with olive oil (I like about 2 tablespoons olive oil per head of garlic) and place cut side down on parchment lined baking sheet.
- Now, place washed peppers and eggplant on baking sheet. Roast vegetables, turning occasionally, until their skins blister and turn black (and I mean black, not just charred), about 30 minutes. Make sure to roast all sides and the tops and bottoms. Transfer peppers, garlic and eggplant to a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes. Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them with your fingers carefully and remove seeds. (Keep a large bowl of water to rinse your hands as you peel the peppers. But do not rinse the peppers, it will also rinse the flavor away!)
- Slice length wise down the center of the eggplant so it splays open like a book, then using a tablespoon or an ice-cream scoop, remove the pulp of the eggplant. Discard the seeds and the skin.
- Place peppers and eggplant into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the contents of the food processor until desired consistency is achieved. I like to blend until smooth.
- Transfer the vegetable “mush” into a medium pot. Squeeze the bottom of the roasted garlic head to add the roasted cloves to the pot. Add oil, vinegar and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Place the pot over low heat and simmer for about an hour (or longer), until the liquids are gone and the mush is reduced into a thick spread. The longer the simmer the more the flavors come together, so do not cut corners. Taste and Season. Add some minced garlic if you think it needs more. Salt is a fantastic seasoning, do not hesitate to add a little at a time. Stir, taste and season. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Let the spread rest for a day before eating.
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Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.