Aivar, the red pepper spread you find in the grocery aisle in the supermarket, is North Macedonia’s best kept secret†
Made by charring the great Balkan pepper over a fire until the skins blister and turn black, its smoky flavor lends itself well to a range of dishes.
Traditionally it is served simply as part of a mezebord with freshly baked bread and a selection of cheeses and antipasti, but it can also be stirred into pastas and risottos, fried with eggs or used as a marinade for meat.
The possibilities are endless, but here are some suggestions from North Macedonia-based aivar brand Pelagonia and chef Keiron George.
Sourdough with aivar, whipped feta and olive oil roasted tomatoes
200 g Greek feta
2 heaping tablespoons of natural yogurt
½ garlic clove, chopped
60 ml olive oil
1-2 tbsp lemon juice
250 g mixed cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp chopped herbs (I used oregano and thyme)
4 tablespoons Pelagonia Aivar
4 slices of sourdough, toasted
1. Grind the feta in a food processor with the yogurt and garlic. With the blade turning, drizzle in ½ of the olive oil and lemon juice. Store in the refrigerator until needed.
2. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Place the tomatoes in a baking tray with the rest of the olive oil, a good pinch of salt and pepper and the chopped herbs. Roast for 15-20 minutes until the tomatoes burst and begin to color.
3. To assemble, spread some whipped feta on each slice of toast. Spoon 1 tbsp Pelagonia Aivar on each and garnish with the roasted tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt flakes and garnish with a little thyme.
Roasted garlic and aivar spaghetti with herb lemon breadcrumbs
1 bulb of garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
½ Jar of 314 g Pelagonia Aivar
300 g dried spaghetti
For the breadcrumbs†
1 large slice of sourdough, toasted
½ lemon, grated only
½ small packet of parsley
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Cut the garlic bulb into slices and drizzle with a little olive oil. Wrap in aluminum foil and roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes until the cloves are soft and sweet, let cool slightly.
2. Grind the toasted bread in a food processor with the lemon zest, herbs and the remaining olive oil. Put aside.
3. Heat a large pot of salted water and cook the spaghetti according to package directions.
4. Meanwhile, heat the Pelagonia Aivar in a pan and squeeze the whole bulb of roasted garlic into it, discarding the skin. Heat gently and mix well.
5. Once the pasta is cooked, using tongs, transfer to the sauce and mix to coat. Doing this instead of draining the spaghetti allowed some of the cooking water to make the dish more “juicy”. Place on plates or a large bowl and sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
Aivar risotto with forest mushrooms
3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
180 g arborio risotto rice
125 ml dry white wine
1L hot chicken or vegetable stock
200 g wild mushrooms
3 sprigs thyme, leaves removed
25g grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra to serve
40 g unsalted butter
½ Jar of 314 g Pelagonia Aivar
1. Place a casserole or frying pan over medium heat, add 2 tbsp olive oil and sauté the onion and celery until soft. Add the garlic and rice and stir for a few minutes until the rice starts to become translucent. Add the white wine and let it bubble until incorporated.
2. Gradually add the stock to the pan and stir until it is absorbed by the rice. Repeat adding ladle after ladle, stirring frequently until the rice is soft and creamy, with a little bite, this should take about 15 minutes. Check for spices – if using stock cubes they can be a little salty so keep that in mind.
3. Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, heat the remaining oil and fry the mushrooms until brown and soft. Add the thyme, a knob of butter and season to taste.
4. Add the grated Parmesan cheese, the rest of the butter and Pelagonia Aivar to the risotto and stir until incorporated. Serve the risotto sprinkled with mushrooms and shaved Parmesan cheese.
Keiron George Recipes. Pelagonia Aivar, including Hot Aivar and other meze, is available in Waitrose and Sainsbury’s stores in the UK and coming soon to Co-op. Look for inspiration and recipes on their website, here†