Among gardeners, there is so much hype surrounding tomatoes. Yet I prefer to watch peppers grow and ripen, finding the changes in color somehow more exciting. The same amount of space in my garden is devoted to each of these vegetables this year, but the two pepper plants – both gifts – are stealing the show. The red pepper plant is a Styrian heirloom variety, Ochsenhorn (ox horn). All peppers – including bell and chili – belong to the species Capsicum annuum. Like tomatoes, they are nightshades that originated in the Americas.
Last year I had one container with one eggplant plant that produced just one fruit. I couldn’t decide what to do with it. I couldn’t bear to pick it because it was My First Eggplant and I wanted to admire it just a bit longer. I was so proud. It was so beautiful.
The first frost came and went, and, well, let’s be honest: it was clear that the eggplant had passed its prime and that I had missed the time window to harvest it. Plan B: I decided I would leave it as an offering to the vegetable gods so that this summer, I would not be plagued by aphids as I was last year.
This must have appeased the vegetable gods because this year I have had few problems with aphids. But a variation of the same story is unfolding this summer on my balcony; my red pepper plant has only produced one fruit this year. Though unlike last year, this one is going to be harvested and eaten with relish!
The second pepper plant is producing numerous hot chilis despite the fact that it is still growing in the plastic container I received it in. The fruit will eventually turn orange, and then I will come to a new crossroads in my culinary career at which an important decision must be made.
I have never cooked with fresh chilis because I am afraid of unconsciously rubbing my eye after cutting a chili pepper and blinding myself or of some other freak accident occurring along those lines. Doesn’t this sound familiar to the reasons I came up with for not making jam on my own? Should I take the plunge and overcome my irrational fear of chili peppers? They’re a lot smaller than me, after all. It can’t be all that difficult, can it? Maybe it’s even as easy as making ajvar.
An accessible yet august ajvar
Ajvar, a vegetable relish made of roasted peppers, eggplant, oil, and garlic, is widespread throughout the Balkans. Most recipes call for a pepper-eggplant ratio of 2:1 or 3:1, which I ignored since I just had one of each to spare. The name comes from the Turkish havyar, meaning caviar. I brought it to share at a gathering the other day and was amazed at how many compliments I received for something so simple.
1 red pepper
3 garlic cloves
1 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs chopped walnuts
¼ ts salt
cayenne pepper or chilis to taste
Cut the eggplant and pepper in half lengthwise. Place face down on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes at 180°C (350°F) or until the skins have black spots.
Let the vegetables cool down. Remove the skins.
In a food processor, purée the vegetables, garlic, oil, walnuts, and salt. Some like it hot, and if you’re one of these people, add cayenne pepper or chilis to taste.
Serve on pitas, Turkish Fladenbrot, foccacia, or a similar bread of your choice. Ajvar goes well with goat or sheep’s cheese and olives too.