Ajvar from Leskovac

Serbia

Vegetables and vegetable preserves

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Leskovac ajvar is a cream whose main ingredient is the famous ajvarka pepper. It is produced in all the provinces that were once part of Yugoslavia in the western Balkans. However, only in the towns around the city of Leskovac is ajvar is prepared exclusively with peppers, without adding onion, eggplant or tomato. Leskovac is a southern Serbian town situated in the valley of the Morava Južna, a fertile alluvial plain, particularly well suited for the production of peppers, so much so that its inhabitants are called ‘paprikari.’ In this area, many varieties were and still are produced: those for preserving, for salads, for filling, and for drying and grinding into a powder for use as a spice. To create ajvar, the ajvarka, kurtova or ajvaruša peppers are used. They have a ruby ??red color and with a characteristic flat and pointed shape that makes them ideal for grilling. The result is a particularly sweet product, which may sometimes be slightly spicy. These peppers represent about 90% of the varieties grown by thirty producers that are part of the Leskovacki ajvar producers’ association. The agricultural season runs from late May, when the seedlings are transplanted into fields, until the end of October. To cook the peppers, one uses a Kube grill. The grilled pieces are then placed in plastic bags for easy removal of the peel and seeds and are left to drain overnight. The peppers are then coarsely chopped (into pieces of 6-8 mm) with a meat grinder, and are stored in a large pot. They are then cooked over a fire and mixed by hand with a long wooden spoon for around two hours. During cooking, red wine vinegar, sunflower oil and a pinch of salt and sugar are added. After about two hours, the product is ready. The ajvar is usually eaten as a meze (a word of Ottoman origin meaning ‘appetizer’), but also as a side dish for grilled meats. Each year, 400 tons of peppers and 100,000 700-gram jars of ajvar. Each farmer grows on less than one hectare and individually produces a maximum of 3000 to 5000 jars. Ajvar is at risk of being lost due to the fact that there are few producers that still work in the traditional way and with the native pepper seeds.

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