Balkanizing My Kitchen, Part two — Ajvar and Pinjur

Oops. That's not Ajvar and Pinjur, it's Akbar and Jeff from Life in Hell, with apologies to creator Matt Groening.

Oops. That’s not Ajvar and Pinjur, it’s Akbar and Jeff from Life in Hell, with apologies to creator Matt Groening.

If you happened to see my earlier post on lutenitza, you’ll recall that I promised to return with a further exam of its kissing cousins, ajvar and pinjur. First, let’s have a look at the real deal.

The REAL Ajvar and Pinjur.

The REAL Ajvar and Pinjur.

Although thought to be Serbian in origin, ajvar (pronounced “EYE-var”) is said to have derived its name from the Turkish word havyar, which shares an etymology with “caviar.” [In Russian as well, the word ikra (or икра), can mean both traditional caviar and also a vegetable purée or paté.] It’s made from red peppers, aubergines, garlic, oil, and spices. Both lutenitza and pinjur, which share many ingredients with ajvar, generally include tomatoes, while ajvar does not. Perhaps the most striking difference between ajvar and the other two, though, is its consistency; you can turn a room temperature jar of ajvar upside down without spilling its contents. Pinjur and lutenitza, not so much. Depending on the recipe, ajvar may be made with smoked or roasted peppers or not; in this bottled version, the peppers are not roasted, giving it a lighter, brighter flavour than either the pinjur or the lutenitza.

The FatFree Vegan Kitchen blog has an excellent (and quite healthy) recipe for homemade ajvar, as does the Kitchen Window blog at NPR (where they dub the dish “Serbian Salsa“). In both cases, these recipes opt for roasting the red peppers.

Pinjur (also known as pindur, pindjur, pindzur, and pinđur) is widely available throughout Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Bulgaria, and Macedonia. Just in case you’re unclear on just where all these places are, here’s a map.

For the geographically challenged, this is where ajvar and pinjur come from. Photo courtesy Univ. of Texas Library.

For the geographically challenged, this is where ajvar and pinjur come from. Photo courtesy Univ. of Texas Library.

Unlike ajvar, which is more of a spread, pinjur (pronounced “PEEN-jur”) resembles a salsa or sauce. And, like salsas and sauces, it comes in a fairly wide variety of styles. It’s generally characterized as being an aubergine (eggplant)-based sauce/relish, rather than a roasted pepper sauce/relish, even though lutenitza generally contains aubergines, and pinjur generally contains roasted peppers. Confusing, ain’t it? In my limited experience so far, lutenitza is a little spicier than pinjur, but there are so many variants on the recipes, it would be impossible to make a generalization that really sticks. Dealer’s choice here.

Both pinjur and lutenitza are terrific mixed in with rice, ladled over vegetables or meat, or as a dip for chips; they can be served either warm or at room temperature. Both are gluten-free and vegan (as is ajvar), and they’re all a great way of dealing with the overabundance of vegetables from the summer garden, offering a tasty treat for home canning enthusiasts well into the winter months… provided you can wait that long to break into those jars.

The Food Network’s UK website has a tomato and pepper-free recipe for pinjur that relies heavily on aubergine for its base, but if you want something closer to the commercially available versions, you can opt for this recipe from the Healthy Food Base blog.

As the Macedonians would say, “Cреќен јадење!” [transliteration: “Sreḱen Jadenje!”] [translation: “Happy eating!”]

Balkanizing My Kitchen, Part one — Lutenitza

Three tasty pepper-derived foodstuffs.

Three tasty pepper-derived foodstuffs.

Not to worry: my kitchen has not split into warring factions. I just happened to be at Big Lots! [or, as some stores’ signage reads, Big! Lots (formerly Pic ‘N’ Save)] earlier today, poking around to see if they had any more jars of Macedonian Lutenitza, as one often does on a Tuesday. And that’s when it happened.

Let me back up a minute. Back in the ’50s, in Culver City, California (not far from where I live), a guy named William Zimmerman put together a chain of stores that specialized in overruns and closeouts, and called it Pic ‘N’ Save. Later, as the chain expanded — overexpanded, as it turns out — they redubbed themselves MacFrugal’s, and were purchased in 2002 by Consolidated Stores Corp., who converted the locations they kept open to their pre-existing brand, Big Lots! (and ultimately renamed the entire business Big Lots, Inc., which currently trades on the NYSE with the symbol BIG). While most of the merchandise in these stores is off-brand or otherwise out of favour (see picture below), they occasionally bring in weird little items that magically appear — and then just as magically disappear. So it was with my introduction to Macedonian Lutenitza.

Get 'em while they're not hot.

Get ’em while they’re not hot.

Lutenitza (also known variously as ljutenica, lyutenitsa, or lutenica, plus a dazzling variety of Cyrillic-alphabet spellings) is a type of salsa/sauce/relish widely made throughout Bulgaria, Serbia, and Macedonia. Its basic ingredients are tomatoes, red peppers, aubergines (eggplant), vegetable oil, sugar, and salt, though variants also contain onions, carrots, garlic, and black pepper, among other things. Like salsa, everybody’s grandmother makes “the best,” and family recipes are handed down as prized possessions. I’m sure my Bulgarian friends — if I had any — would blanch at the idea of buying commercial lutenitza, but heck, I didn’t even know about it until a week ago. [Note to self: Make some Bulgarian friends.]

For the geographically challenged, this is where lutenitza comes from. Photo courtesy Univ. of Texas Library.

For the geographically challenged, this is where lutenitza comes from. Photo courtesy Univ. of Texas Library.

While lutenitza itself is entirely vegan, it’s served on meats, fish, breads, roasted vegetables, French fries, and pretty much anything that doesn’t move. Some versions are apparently hotter than others, but if you make your own — which I’m guessing you’ll probably have to do, unless you have a Balkan grocery (or Big Lots!) in your area — you can adjust spices to taste. This recipe, courtesy of, looks like it would match up pretty closely to the one in the bottle I have, except it would seem that this commercial version has upped the pepper and carrot content in favour of using aubergine, and he uses olive oil rather than a more neutral one such as canola.

Lutenitza Serving Suggestion, courtesy

Lutenitza Serving Suggestion, courtesy

Lutenitza –- Bulgarian Vegetable Relish


2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 onion, diced
1 medium aubergine, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large roasted red peppers, skin and seeds removed and then diced
1 400g (14 oz.) can chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme (or summer savory if you have it)
2 tablespoons sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Take a medium sized saucepan and fry the onions, carrots and aubergines in the olive oil until soft. Add the red peppers and fry for a further 2-3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and seasoning, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add a little water if the mixture seems too dry. Mash some of the mixture using a potato masher. You are aiming for a thick ratatouille type texture. Spoon into a clean preserving jar, cool, seal and refrigerate. Makes about 1 kg/2 lb.

If, however, you plan on making it the old fashioned way — which is to say in bulk to put up for winter — this video, which calls for an astonishing 8kg (nearly 18 lbs.) of tomatoes, might serve you better, as might this video, featuring the “Sexy Chef,” Liz Todorova.

More on lutenitza’s cousins, ajvar and pinjur, in a later post. Do come back.