I've been addicted to Trader Joe's red pepper spread since Stephanie recommended it, but it wasn't until a friend returned home from Eastern Europe with a jar of ajvar that I realized this chunky mix of roasted red peppers and eggplant is actually a traditional Serbian dish. Added bonus: it isn't too difficult to make from scratch!In Serbia, autumn is ajvar-making season, when the red peppers are harvested. Mounds of them are smoked over open fires alongside eggplants, and everyone pitches in to help peel the piles of roasted peppers. Mixed with the roasted eggplant, garlic, olive oil and vinegar, the peppers become a spreadable mash of smoky, sweet and garlicky goodness.
As long as you aren't trying to put up enough jars to last you through winter, ajvar doesn't take long to make, and the recipe is easily tweaked to your tastes. The resulting spread is endlessly adaptable — use it as a sandwich spread, a sauce for meat or fish, a dipping sauce for bread or crudite — and very addictive.
NPR's Kitchen Window published a great base recipe for ajvar, along with a little background on ajvar season in Serbia.
Anjali is a former private chef who is currently pursuing a graduate degree in nutrition, with plans to become a registered dietitian. She lives in Los Angeles. You can read more of her health-focused writing at Eat Your Greens.
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