Kosova Food 2 – Ajvar

Ajvar [eye-var] or hajvar is a sort of relish made from roasted peppers.  It is a popular accompaniment in Kosova for many foods and is used as a base for pizzas, in place of chutney or mustard in a sandwich and on the side of bread and cheese and many traditional Kosovar dishes.

Ajvar is made in the autumn (September and October) when peppers are very cheap. You can buy a 3kg sack of peppers for as little as 0.30€ (25p) in late September which means that making ajvar is an incredibly cost-effective way of preserving and eating this vegetable which is full of vitamins and anti-oxidants and a valued ingredient in both mediterranean and balkan cuisine. In contrast, one single pepper would cost you 1€ in the UK, meaning you would need to be a millionaire to make ajvar in the UK.

The process of making avjar is fairly straightforward. First, you buy and mince several kilos (25+kg) of red peppers, either sweet or spicy, and then cook them slowly with oil over a wood fire. It is important to keep the peppers moving so constant stirring is essential. In previous years this would mean a lot of physical stirring but nowadays there are machines that you can hire to do this part for you, making the whole process easier. These machines cost as little as 20€ to hire for a day, well worth it if you love ajvar. Cooking can take several hours and one batch of ajvar can yield up to 30 1lb jars.

A basic rule of thumb when buying ajvar is: the darker and more intense the red colour the better. As the peppers cook they darken and caramelise so the darker colour indicates the ajvar has been cooked slowly to yield a more flavoursome and higher quality final product. Everyone has their preference when it comes to sweet or spicy, but in reality there is very little difference between the two.

It is usual for families to give jars of ajvar to friends and families as a gift or to give foreigners a taste of this local speciality. When visiting Kosova expect ajvar to be in sandwiches, pizzas and burgers and to come on the side of some meals.

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