Paula Wolfert's Ajvar

Paula Wolfert's Ajvar
Eric Wolfinger

From Emily Kaiser Thelin's Unforgettable: "Proust had madeleines; Paula Wolfert has eggplants. Her love of nightshades was seeded in her childhood, and this is her best guess at her grandmother’s recipe for a Balkan eggplant spread she often made when Paula was growing up. Tangy and only faintly garlicky, it’s an ideal accompaniment to just about anything: grilled skewered meats (like the sausages that follow), grilled fish or vegetables, or spread on bread in a turkey or tofu sandwich."


  • 3 or 4 red sweet peppers, such as bell or Corno di Toro (about 4 ounces | 115 g each)
  • 1 green bell or poblano pepper (about 4 ounces | 115 g)
  • 2 eggplants (about 12 ounces |350 g each; see notes)
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt‍
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for topping
  • 1 tablespoon unfiltered cider vinegar‍
  • Heaping 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper‍
  • Pinch of mild red pepper flakes, preferably Aleppo or Marash (optional)
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)


  1. Light a medium-low fire in a charcoal or gas grill. Set the red and green peppers and the eggplant on the grill and cook slowly, turning occasionally, until they are nicely charred on all sides and soft to the point of collapsing, about 30 minutes. As they finish cooking, transfer the vegetables to a large bowl, cover with a plate or plastic wrap, and let steam and cool.
  2. Using your fingers or a paring knife, peel the eggplant and the peppers. Remove any large seed pockets in the eggplant, and then stem and seed the peppers. Transfer the vegetables to a large bowl. Using your hands, pull the peppers and eggplant apart into chunks, then crush and massage them between your fingers to form a coarse paste. Set aside.
  3. Using a mortar and pestle, the back of a heavy knife and a cutting board, or a mini food processor, crush together the garlic and salt, forming a paste. Add the garlic paste, olive oil, vinegar, black pepper, and the red pepper flakes and cayenne, if using, to the eggplant mixture and mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more vinegar, salt, and black, red, and cayenne pepper if needed.
  4. Transfer to a jar and top with a 1/4-inch (6-mm) layer of olive oil. Cover tightly and refrigerate at least overnight before serving. Season lightly once more before serving.

Excerpted from UNFORGETTABLE The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert’s Renegade LIfe by Emily Kaiser Thelin.  Copyright © 2017 by Emily Kaiser Thelin. Reprinted with permission from Grand Central Life & Style.  All rights reserved.

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