This recipe is for daydreamers. For those who like to let their mind wander whenever a chain of bad luck sets in. Those who dream of somewhere fabulous, like say a creaking sailboat on a teal blue sea, when reality is freeway gridlock with a wimpy A/C unit on a blazing hot day. Or for those who fantasize about sea spray in her hair when reality is a flat tire during said gridlock.
And all that daydreaming would be focused on Croatia's Dalmatian Coast. It’s a place that once you go, it never leaves you. It’s a place of history and beauty and culture that’s what you would imagine life would be like if the lavender fields of Provence were peppered about islands that have a very Pirates of the Carribbean vibe. And it’s a place where there’s tons of grilled fish, fresh summer produce, and lots and lots of ajvar.
Ajvar is actually from Macedonia but my first try of it was on everything and anything during my trip to the islands of Croatia. It was a place I’d go back to every summer if I could, but the realities of life have gotten in the way. But just a taste of ajvar is totally transporting, which is awesome because it’s really stupidly easy to make.
There aren’t too many rules when it comes to ajvar, including how you serve it. I’ve had it as a condiment with grilled fish and meats, added to a sandwich for some oomph, or just slathered on a cracker with a drizzle of olive oil and a crumble or smear of whatever goat or feta cheese I can get my hands on. And then I daydream and forget about car troubles, hot, sticky summer heat, and dream of the next time I’ll be able to get back to those gorgeous seas and summers of Croatia.
(about 5 to 6)
(about 12 ounces)
Heat oven to 450°F and arrange racks in the upper third. Halve each pepper, discarding stems and seeds. Place peppers, cut side down, on a baking sheet lined with foil. Cut eggplant in half lengthwise and drizzle it with about 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and a little salt and place it, cut-side down, on the baking sheet. Roast the peppers and eggplant until they are blackened, blistered, and the eggplant collapses when you press on it, about 30 minutes.
Ajvar can be made up to 4 days ahead of time; store refrigerated in an airtight container and bring to room temperature before serving. Taste and stir in more vinegar, sugar, salt, or olive oil as desired. You can also grill the peppers and eggplant.
Remove the eggplant and set it aside to cool slightly. Remove the peppers, place them in a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap until the peppers have slightly cooled, at least 5 minutes. Use a spoon or ice-cream scoop to remove the pulp of the eggplant from the skin, and discard the skin. Put eggplant in a food processor with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and the garlic. Pulse the eggplant a few times so that it’s roughly chopped.
Once peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them (reserving any juices that collect), discard the peel, and add the peppers and 2 to 3 tablespoons of the pepper liquid to the food processor. Add the chives and pulse 5 to 8 times to chop coarsely. Stir in the lemon juice, vinegar, red pepper flakes, and sugar. Taste and add more sugar if it is a bit sour, then add salt and freshly ground black pepper, as desired. Serve warm or room temperature as a spread or condiment.
Food styling and photography by Aida Mollenkamp