Absolutely Not Ajvar

"I had for breakfast more paprika, and (...) egg-plant stuffed with forcemeat, a very excellent dish"
Dracula, Abraham Stoker

The journey of Jonatan Harker starts innocently, with his observations on the culture of the Carpathian mountains. These observations are perforce superficial, and probably only incidentally accurate, but when he writes about food, he writes the truth. I did not make stuffed eggplant, because I don't much like eggplant, but stuffed peppers are almost the same dish, and paprika means exactly that - bell peppers. The word is used in English to describe the spice made from dried and powdered bell pepper (capsicum annuum - do not confuse with actual pepper, piper nigrum and family). This spice is a staple in seasoning Hungarian, Serbian and other Balkan dishes, and the bell pepper itself is a popular ingredient thereof.
The recipe I want to share today is of Serbian origin, and made almost entirely of bell peppers seasoned with paprika (so, peppers) as well as pepper and chili peppers. Get the picture yet? The actual, real thing is called ajvar, made of bell peppers and eggplant that have been roasted and need to be peeled after roasting. For this reason real ajvar is quite expensive and not a lot is made of it - what can be bought is often a cheap knock-off.
Okay, so I make a cheap knock-off too, but it's actually better. Because, while I do not grill the bell peppers like I should, my way actually results in a taste similar to the real thing. I only use peppers, no eggplant, because I don't much like eggplant, but if You want, You can add some. The proportion is 1 part eggplant 2 parts bell peppers.
  • Bell peppers
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Hot peppers - chili, jalapeno, what have you. Preferably fresh, but good quality powdered spice will do. The amount depends on how hot you want it.
  • Aromatic herbs: thyme, rosemary, basil, tarragon, summer savory - if you want them. The traditional recipe doesn't call for them much but they will not spoil anything.
  • Vinegar - conversely, the real recipe calls for it, I don't use it. You can either forgo it entirely, substitute lemon juice, or use actual vinegar if you want a more piquant, sour taste. White wine vinegar is the best choice.
  • Olive oil for frying.
Bell peppers frying
It's as simple as these things can be: fry it all on a large pan.
(Note: if you intend to keep this as a preserve, you should start boiling those jars at the same time as you start with the peppers.) 
Still frying. Notice the jars boiling beside.
The two important things here are, first and foremost, to fry the bell peppers until they get brown at least at the edges, thus simulating the traditional grilling/roasting, and to choose what you want to do with onions. As we all know, onions fried till browning have a different taste than onions fried short enough to stay white. The actual ajvar recipe does not call for onions at all, but I add them to make the thing more robust since I'm cheating anyway. I definitely prefer the "glazed" onions in their spicier form, but a lot of Balkan recipes recommend to brown them, so I'll say this is up to You. If You decide to brown the onions, just fry them with the bell peppers, if you don't, add the peppers first and the onions a good deal later. Garlic should also come in later-ish.
When you've browned the peppers enough, and the smell is driving you crazy, shift the whole thing into the tall receptacle, add some water - just enough to let the blender work - and blend it thoroughly. Put it back in the frying pan and cook until you lose the surplus water. If you want to add vinegar, this is the right time. Remember to stir, as the now-puree can easily burn.
Having reached the desired thickness, take the jars out of their pot, put the paste into the hot jars and screw the boiled lids on. Congratulations! You now have a few jars of Absolutely Not Ajvar, great thing to put it on sandwiches, to accompany roasted meat, or anything else you want.
The two flat jars at the front absolutely do not have ajvar (made of green bell peppers) in them.

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