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|Region or state||Balkan|
|Main ingredients||Bell peppers, oil, salt|
Ajvar (Serbian Cyrillic: ajвар; Albanian: ajvari; Bulgarian: aйвар; Macedonian: aјвар; ) is a pepper-based condiment made principally from red bell peppers and oil. Ajvar is used in the Balkans in Albanian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Macedonian, Serbian, and to a small degree the Slovenian cuisine. In Serbia, it was long known as "Serbian salad" or "Serbian vegetable caviar". It became a popular side dish throughout ex-Yugoslavia after World War II and is nowadays popular in Southeastern Europe.
Homemade ajvar is made of roasted or cooked peppers.[clarification needed], 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 (ljutenica). Ajvar can be consumed as a bread spread or as a side dish. There are few variations of ajvar. If it contains tomato, then it is called pindjur or if it contains eggplant is called malidzano.
The name ajvar comes from the Turkish word havyar, which means "salted roe, caviar" shares an etymology with "caviar". Prior to the 20th century, there was a significant local production of caviar on the Danube, with sturgeon swimming from the Black Sea up to Belgrade. Domestic ajvar, meaning "caviar", used to be a very popular dish in Belgrade homes and restaurants. However, the domestic production of caviar was not steady starting in the 1890s because of labor disputes, and eventually a special pepper salad was offered as a substitute in Belgrade restaurants under the name "red ajvar" (crveni ajvar) or "Serbian ajvar" (srpski ajvar).
There is a dispute considering the origin of Ajvar as both Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia claim to be the original creators of the ajvar recipe.
Homemade ajvar is made of roasted peppers, while some industrial producers use cooked peppers, which leads to a lower quality. Ajvar preparation is somewhat difficult, because it requires considerable manual labour, Particularly for peeling the roasted peppers. Traditionally, people prepare it in mid-autumn, when bell peppers are most abundant, and preserve it in glass jars for consumption throughout the year. Anecdotally, most households' stocks do not last until the spring, when fresh vegetables become available, so it is usually enjoyed as a winter food. Often, the whole family or neighbours gather to prepare the bell peppers. The principal cultivar of pepper used is called roga (i.e. "horned"). Roga is large, red, horn-shaped, with thick flesh and relatively easy to peel. It typically ripens in late September.
To produce ajvar, bell peppers 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 cool to allow the flesh to separate from the skin. Next, the skin is carefully peeled off and the seeds are removed. The peppers are then ground in a mill or chopped into tiny pieces (this variant is often referred to as pindjur). Finally, the resulting mush is stewed for several hours in large pots. Sunflower oil is added at this stage to condense and reduce the water, and to enhance later preservation. Salt (and sometimes vinegar) is added at the end and the hot mush is poured directly into sterilized glass jars, which are sealed immediately.
Ajvar is one of the so-called zimnica (winter foods), which include pickled chili peppers, pickled tomatoes, and anything else that can be preserved in a jar just before winter.