Ajvar (pronounced eye-var) is a treasure of the Balkans, but we bet you've probably never heard of it until now. Former chef Philip Evans is one of the masterminds behind Pelagonia, a Macedonian owned company bringing the very best of Macedonian ajvar to UK shelves.
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Traditionally, ajvar was a staple addition to the Balkan pantry to feed families through tough winters – a preservation tradition still thriving today, even if it’s no longer necessary.
HELLO!'s Lifestyle Writer, Georgia, travelled to North Macedonia to learn about the process herself, unlocking a rich culture and power of community intertwined within ajvar's history.
Zivica, fondly known as 'Baba' welcomed me into her home during harvesting season to pick, roast and peel the peppers from her farm, whilst her daughter Milena taught us the technique behind perfecting the pouring of aivar into jars, ready to be sold on to local villages and sent overseas to their family in Sweden.
After sampling Baba Zivica's home-brewed Macedonian rakija, a fiery brandy-like liquor traditionally drunk before a day's work, we set out into her family's fields to pick the brightest yield of ripe red peppers. These were then hand washed and charred over a crackling log fire - the secret behind ajvar's subtle smokey flavour. Once peeled, minced and left to rest, we returned a day later to help Zivica roast the pepper stew - her recipe and methods passed down through generations.
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With 300 days of sunshine and history of fruitful agriculture, North Macedonia is a fertile land for the best Balkan peppers. The Pelagonia Range is naturally plant-based and effortlessly healthy, making it loved by both locals and experimental foodies alike.
A luxuriously smooth condiment made from roasted red peppers harvested in the autumn, ajvar is both sharp and spicy, whilst having notes of natural sweetness – and you're going to want to add it to your kitchen.
Renamed 'aivar' for simplicity, Pelagonia's recipe is deeply rooted in Macedonian culture, using nothing but vibrant Balkan peppers, sun-ripened aubergines fresh from the Pelagonia valley and sunflower oil in their take on the European condiment.
The delicious spread, both rich and naturally creamy, is traditionally served generously on fresh bread and topped with crumbled sheep's cheese.
If you're not tempted by ajvar the Macedonian way, the versatile roasted pepper dip can be stirred into pasta sauces, baked into eggs for a fiery breakfast, or used to marinate meat and vegetables for a mouthwatering BBQ.
Pelagonia Aivar, £3.35, Waitrose
If you thought you'd fallen in love with houmous, wait until North Macedonia's best kept secret becomes a staple in your cooking. Versatile, comforting and rooted in Macedonian family history - there's a lot of love that goes into that jar!
Widely available from many major UK supermarkets, Pelgaonia's aivar isn't far from your next mezze board.
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