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My great food addiction...

My great addiction: ajvar! What a delicately flavored concoction of pureed smoked red peppers, eggplant, oil, and seasonings!

Ajvar is a staple of Balkan cuisine and found throughout central Europe. Alas, it is not very well-known in this country.

I discovered a jar of it one day on the shelf of a specialty grocery store and now I can't get enough. I buy it by the case and use it on everything savory. I replace tomato sauces on pizza with ajvar, toss it with pasta, spread it on crab cakes, sandwiches, and burgers. I use it as a side dish to meats. I eat it right from the jar! And it turns everything it touches to culinary gold.

Has anyone else tried it? Give me some ideas for your favorite uses! What are your can't-live-without foods?

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  1. Darcia, I love ajvar, and also its lumpier cousin pindjur, which is more like a finely-chopped ratatouille. Those Turkish and Balkan savoury spreads are often very fine quality.

    Here in Montréal, there is not a large Turkish community - Marché Istanbul at a little strip mall just north of Crémazie and west of boulevard St-Laurent springs to mind - but it is often carried by Middle Eastern and North African shops here, as well as Balkan ones.

    Of course in Germany, Netherlands, etc there are huge Turkish communities, (and quite a few immigrants from the former Yugoslavia) so those products have become very common.

    1. It is great stuff. Here in Southern California I first found a jar at a Middle Eastern market, then found it at the 99 cent store and also often find it at the local drugstore along with other imported products that they sell at a discount. My uses are pretty much like yours. Also stir it into soups and stews. Unfortunately I am sensitive to roasted peppers (burpy after effect) so I can't go hog wild.

      1. Ajvar is wonderful! I love the hot version which is quite mild. It is a table condiment in all the former Yugoslavia to accompany grilled meats especially the ever popular cevapcici. Zergut Brand of Ajvar is xcellent. You can make this Ajvar at home very easilly.

        Ajvar is also great mixed with yogurt, sour cream or creme fraiche for a yummy dip. I also use it for a cauliflower dressing for a baked dish.

        There is another one called "pepetizer" that is peppers and eggplant that is amazing and addictive.

        2 Replies
        1. re: shantihhh

          Pepetizer sounds pretty much the same as pindjur.

          I make the dip with ajvar (hot - which is not very hot) and that thick Greek-style yoghourt from Skotidakis.

          1. re: shantihhh

            Sometimes I stir a little cream into ajvar, heat it gently and then drizzle it over a meat or seafood (especially delicious with crab cakes). I find ajvar so versatile; it's a wonder that it hasn't been picked up by a big-time distributor and made more readily available.

          2. is it like eggplant caponata? i'm off to google.

            1. oh MAN. i think i saw this same jar in the wikipedia link last time i was at BigLots (closeout store) and i picked it up but put it back down. I had a spell of bad luck trying new jarred goodies like this that were either sour/vinegar nightmares or just plain salty and nasty. ooooh i want to go back and see if they still have it. i do get some fun goodies there for under $3- this sounds like something i would like.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Boccone Dolce

                It is similar in texture to caponata, but the addition of roasted peppers gives it a richer color and flavor. I find the commercially prepared caponata has a sweet/sour taste with a harsh tang from the eggplant; ajvar is very robust, rich and full-bodied. The brand I buy is Va Va and it is nicely seasoned; the "Hot" version is usually not very spicy and the "Mild" is enticingly flavorful. You can probably taste the red peppers slightly more than the eggplant, but, all in all, the two are well-balanced against each other. I hope you enjoy it!

                1. re: darcia

                  I have made very good caponata at home, and enjoyed it in Italy, but I hate the commercial tinned stuff. Too sour. I think the importer's brands of ajvar and pinjur may be local - my favourite kind here (Cedar) is imported by a Lebanese-Montreal company. I prefer that they mark "sunflower oil" rather than generic "vegetable oil".

              2. MM that sounds good, I must check it out.

                I can't live without spicy sweet and sour sauce...Must have it for all my fried food, meats...and pizza.

                I'm also into dipping sauces...especially with plain chips.

                1. Just catching this post. If you love Ajvar then, you'll love the products from Zergut - peppertizer, etc. Any mid-eastern market will have these. Staples in my house, incliuding thier small diil pickles. I shop at Valley Produce on Reseda/Vanowen in the San Fernando Valley. They have everything!!

                  1. mmmmm Ajvar, I can find it in my Italian specialty foods store.
                    I use it as a veggie dip, blend it with cream cheese for chips.
                    I use it on my "Middle Eastern" sandwiches - Grilled Eggplant, cukes, onion, and tomato on flat bread with Ajvar. YUM.
                    Sometimes I thin it out and make that sandwich into a salad and use thinned Ajvar for the dressing and throw in a couple of olives.
                    It's good as a marinade for shrimp too - thin with a little lemon and Oil then grill yum!

                    1. Put ajvar on the same plate along with lepinja, kajmak, and cevapi.

                      You'll be absolutely set.

                      1. it's an excellent topping for roasted zucchini.
                        i also fold it into omelettes/frittatas.

                        1. I used to get Cedar brand Pindjur (Turkey, $4.99) but found an even better brand called Nektar (Meacedonia) for only a dollar more at my local eastern-european deli (waaa.. you get for 99 cents? Vancouver's more expensive than I thought!). It's all roasted peppers with a few green in amongst the red. Great on pasta, also good mixed or paired with crumbled feta, mixed with roasted potatoes. The canned avjar i've found to be a bit bitter, look forward to trying the brands recommended.
                          If you're shopping at Marche Istanbul you have to try the Turkish pepper powder called "kizmi (sp?) biber" , it's the most amazing rich, almost oily roughly ground paprika.

                          1. I cant live without:

                            1) prime beef, cooked rare
                            2) lobster
                            3) crab - King, dungeness, snow, stone, blue, kona
                            4) butter
                            5) oyster sauce
                            6) sea scallops
                            7) shrimp
                            8) crawfish
                            9) Pho, gumbo, bisque, chowder, or any great soup

                            my weekly grocery bill is evidence of my expensive tastes. :-)

                            1. one of my addictions is Taramasalata. Its not that i have it that often, but whenever I do get a pot of the stuff, it won't stick around in my fridge for long. Seriously, the stuff is like crack.

                              There's nothing nicer that using bits of warm pitta bread used to literally spoon mounds of the stuff down the hatch. If there's no pitta, fingers will do!

                              1. I know I'm late to the game, but...

                                My addiction is Pindjur, as mentioned by some others here. Specifically the Bulgarian variety. Here in Southern Ontario, S&F foods imports what is probably the best (manufactured) spread found anywhere in the world, BAR NONE! Once experienced, no one I know has been able to resist this thing.

                                Bonus: Not only good, but good for you too. Relatively low in calories, it's a great diet food. What's not to love?

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: yaddayadda

                                  Zaater comes to mind, something not that easy to come by in Central PA. Pittsburgh -- different story.

                                  My real addiction lies with Sichuan chili bean paste. I could eat a stir-fry with that every day. And Sichuan peppercorns, of course. >Drooling<

                                  1. re: linguafood

                                    Are you a Pennsey Girl? Holy Yuengling!

                                    Peter Muhlenberg

                                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                                      Close! I'm a born & bred German. And by this I mean born IN Germany, and raised there. Moved to PA in 2001. I think I might like Maine better '-)

                                  2. re: yaddayadda

                                    where in toronto would you find this yaddayadda?

                                    1. re: haggisdragon

                                      Many supermarkets: Loblaws, GCSS, Metro, Sobey's, etc.

                                      I'd go to Food Basics or No Frills for a better deal, usually around $3/jar. You will want to look at either the International Foods section, the Canned Vegetables section, or, most likely, the Spreads section of the supermarket.

                                      Again, it must be the one imported by S&F Foods and must say "Pindjur" (Roasted Red Pepper Spread) and "Product of Bulgaria". There's a blue and white label with a picture of some veggies on it. Note there are a lot of spreads out there, and many others of the pindjur variety, but go for that S&F one. The stuff is a pleasant red in colour, is rich tasting with a hint of fire (spice).

                                      Good luck, and you can thank me later.

                                  3. I really like dipping roasted eggplant or broccoli in it and then sprinkling parm cheese on it.

                                    1. We always have ajvar in the fridge. We do everything you do, and we also spread it on bread under toasted cheese, make dip with it and sour cream, and toass pasta in ajvar, cream, and garlic.

                                      Yum.

                                      1. I've never heard of this and it sounds absolutely delicious. Does anyone have a favorite recipe or mail order source? The nearest Middle Eastern grocery store is about 100 miles away.
                                        Thanks!
                                        Phoo-D
                                        http://www.phoo-d.com

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: Phoo_d

                                          I just got some at my Italian grocery store, and have also seen it at the local Spanish market, both different brands so look around. It's out there!
                                          The jar I got was "home-made" (it actually looks like it was) in Macedonia. Here it is

                                          http://www.shopwiki.com/detail/d=VA-V...

                                          1. re: coll

                                            Very interesting. Thanks for the link. Did you get the mild or hot variety?

                                            1. re: Phoo_d

                                              I got the mild as I've never tried either before, and the hot came in a different jar that wasn't so fancy (I have a thing for cool looking jars to reuse). But I probably won't open it until next time we have company, I bought a few things like that for last minute apps. It looks really delicious though, I've seen Marco Polo brand all over and that looks yukky and thick. If you can go by looks!

                                        2. I've never heard of it, but i love it already

                                          1. Ajvar sounds great, now I gotta drive 300 miles to find a Middle-eastern shop.

                                            My need is Sunchang Goohojang (Korean hot pepper paste). Add it to anything and get the warm fuzzys Add it to chicken, carrots, potato, onion and a ton of garlic, stock and you have Korean penicillin. Such a pretty red color.

                                            1. Ajvar wonderful in omelets or on hard boiled eggs, too. The first time I had it, I ate the entire jar, plain, too. It was so good I didn't want to dilute the flavor with bread or anything else!

                                              I definitely go through food addiction phases. Right now, I'm adding toasted sesame oil to everything and making a gazillion types of oven-roasted vegetables (broccoli, asparagus, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, beets, parsnips, turnips, rutabaga, carrots, garlic, potatoes, etc...).

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: cimui

                                                This post prompted me to join chowhound after months of just lurking around. I love ajvar.I was born in and raised in Macedonia, and I grew up eating ajvar at least once a day October-May. Spread ajvar on freshly baked bread, crumble some feta on top, and watch me turn into the chubby five-year-old I once was.
                                                That being said, I find most kinds of commercially available ajvar really disgusting. I've lived in the US for 6 years now, and I have yet to find a commercially available brand that is palatable. All varieties I've tried so far were either too bitter or too sour, and the texture is just wrong- slimy and chunky at the same time. I always get really excited when I see a brand I haven't tried yet, and I inevitably end up disappointed. Some varieties are passable, but they usually need lots of doctoring up. For now, my consumption is limited to the several jars I manage to smuggle through airport security coming back.
                                                I heard about a woman in St. Louis who sells homemade ajvar, and now I'm on a quest to find her. If you have a chance to try homemade ajvar,definitely do it, even if it's more expensive .The difference in taste and texture is definitely worth it. No bitter burnt skins, no vinegar, no slime- just smooth peppery deliciousness.
                                                Pinjur is another story- most middle-eastern and SE European stores have great pinjur . It's also ridiculously easy to make it at home, and it freezes relatively well.
                                                Both ajvar and pindjur are great with eggs, with most kinds of grilled meat, with any kind of crusty bread, and with most strong-flavored cheeses.

                                                1. re: evilmonkee

                                                  Is there anything about ajvar that would cause it to be difficult to make at home? I would much prefer trying to make it than buying a jar, but since I've never had it before I would like to use a tried and true recipe to ensure that it turns out like the real thing.

                                                  1. re: Phoo_d

                                                    I was just wondering the same. I've never made it, but the recipes I found while Googling honestly don't look *that* difficult.

                                              2. Can ajvar be ordered on line?

                                                I know 2 Turkish Restaurants in NJ (550 miles + away) Seven Hill in Highland Park and another on Rt. 9 S in Manalapan. I'll be in the area in April, any place near to buy Avjar? Gotta find it. We really enjoy Turkish food.

                                                Passadumraki

                                                1. I make Ajvar I guess. I grill eggplant and mix it with smoked red peppers I do on my smoker with garlic and olive oil and some oregano, s/p. I never called it that. My old room mate used to make it, I got the recipe from him. I just called it my eggplant dip. May be not the ame as yours but I love it. Ajvar huh?

                                                  Herbed cheese. I use it in scrambled eggs, on toast, in sandwiches in casseroles. It has a creamy great flavor. A little goes a long ways. It can be used in so many different ways. I love it.

                                                  Tomatoes is my other. I couldn't not live without them.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: kchurchill5

                                                    Good, I'll google it. Like baba ganoush (sp) w/o the baba?

                                                  2. Question: once opened, how long does ajvar last for? I noticed that there isn't alot of salt (i.e. means of preservative) in it.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: Olivia

                                                      The oil preserves it, I would say.

                                                    2. Guests will find some use of Ajvar on my Thanksgiving table.
                                                      And I'm looking forward to try this:

                                                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/741851

                                                      1. New Mexican chiles. I have/had 90lbs. of green chile in the freezer and 3 50lb. onion sack of dried red chile. A 50lb sack of dried pinto beans round out the diet.
                                                        ps There are just 2 of us.

                                                        1. Halloumi. I don't know if I know a world that could possibly exist, in any realm, without this Greek cheese from the Greek Island of Cyprus. It is a staple in our Greek household and used and enjoyed in many, many ways.

                                                          1. If I'm in Indonesia, it's Manadonese cuisine. Can't get enough of the dabu-dabu (sambal) and smoked dried tuna.

                                                            In Japan, it's trying a different (mayonnaise-less) onigiri, at least two, everyday. Oh, and fruit juices and teas.

                                                            In NY, the usual spot, a baguette with olive oil, tomatoes with salt and/or oolong tea.

                                                            Jonathan
                                                            http://buildingmybento.com
                                                            http://collaterallettuce.com