Ajvar (Macedonian and Serbian Cyrillic: ajвар; pronounced [ǎj.ʋaːr]) is a type of relish, made principally from red bell peppers, with garlic. It may also contain eggplant and chili peppers. Ajvar originates in the Serbian cuisine, and was therefore 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. Original homemade ajvar is made of roasted peppers, while some industrial producers use cooked peppers, which leads to a lower quality. Depending on the capsaicin content in bell peppers and the amount of added chili peppers, it can be sweet (traditional), piquant (the most common), or very hot.
The name ajvar comes from the Turkish word havyar, which means "salted roe, caviar" and shares an etymology with caviar. Prior to 20th century, there was a significant local production of caviar on the Danube, with Sturgeon swimming from the Black sea all up to Belgrade banks. Domestic ajvar, meaning caviar, used to be a very popular dish in Belgrade homes and restaurants. However, the domestic production of ajvar/caviar was continuously striked since the 1890s, and eventually a special pepper salad was, with the sense for irony and an eye for production and serving and optical similarities between the two dishes, offered as a substitute in Belgrade restaurants under the name "red ajvar" or "Serbian ajvar" (crveni ajvar, srpski ajvar).
Original homemade ajvar is made of roasted peppers, while some industrial producers use cooked peppers, which leads to a lower quality of ajvar.
The preparation of ajvar is somewhat difficult, as it involves a great amount of manual labour, especially as regards the peeling of the roasted peppers. Traditionally, it is prepared in mid-autumn, when bell peppers are most abundant, conserved in glass jars, and consumed throughout the year (although in most households stocks do not last until the spring, when fresh salads start to emerge anyway, so it is usually enjoyed as a winter food). Often, the whole family or neighbours gather to bake the bell peppers, peel them, and cook them. The principal cultivar of pepper used is called roga, i.e. horned — it is large, red, horn-shaped, with thick flesh and relatively easy to peel. It typically ripens in late September.
In order to produce ajvar, bell peppers and aubergines (eggplants) are roasted whole on a plate on an open fire, a plate of wood in a stove, or in an oven. The baked peppers must briefly rest in a closed dish, to allow them to cool and to allow the flesh to separate from the skin. Next, the skin is carefully peeled off and seeds removed. The peppers are then ground in a mill or chopped in tiny pieces (this variant is often referred to as pinđur). Finally, the mush is stewed for a couple of hours in large pots, with added sunflower oil and garlic, in order to condense and reduce the water, as well as to enhance later conservation. Salt (and sometimes also vinegar) is added at the end and the hot mush is poured directly into glass jars which are immediately sealed.
Ajvar is produced in various countries. The reported annual Serbian production is 640 tons.
Ajvar is part of the so-called "zimnica" (winter foods), which include pickled chili peppers, pickled tomatoes, and anything else that can fit in a jar that gets prepared just before winter.
^Joseph Slabey, ed. (1949). Slavonic Encyclopaedia. p. 338.; Lovett Fielding Edwards (1954). Introducing Yugoslavia. p. 79.; The World and it's peoples. 1965. p. 45.; Pavla Zakonjsek (1966). Praktična kuharica (Slovenian cookbook) (in Slovenian). p. 123.; Joseph Wechsberg (1960). The Cooking of Vienna's Empire. p. 164.; Thelma Barer-Stein (1979). You eat what you are: a study of ethnic food traditions. p. 576.; John Masson (1977). Lets go to Yugoslavia. p. 70.; Vera Lévai. Culinary delights. pp. 62, 169.; Malcolm Burr (1935). Slouch hat. p. 165.
^Joseph Wechsberg, The Cooking of Vienna's Empire, 1960, 164; Thelma Barer-Stein, You eat what you are: a study of ethnic food traditions, 1979, 576; John Masson, Letts go to Yugoslavia, 1977, 70
^Etimološki rečnik srpskog jezika I, 2003, s.v. ajvar