Aivar, the red pepper spread you can find down the condiments aisle in the supermarket, is North Macedonia’s best kept secret.
Made by charring the large Balkan pepper over a fire until its skin blisters and turns black, its smoky flavour lends itself well to a range of dishes.
While it’s traditionally enjoed simply as part of a meze board with freshly made bread and a selection of cheeses and antipasti, it can also be stirred into pastas and risottos, baked 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
200g of Greek feta
2 heaped tbsp natural yoghurt
½ garlic clove, minced
60ml olive oil
1-2 tbsp lemon juice
250g mixed cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp chopped herbs (I used oregano and thyme)
4 tbsp Pelagonia Aivar
4 slices sourdough, toasted
1. In a food processor, blitz the feta with the yoghurt and garlic. With the blade spinning, drizzle in ½ of the olive oil and the lemon juice. Keep in the fridge until required.
2. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4. In a baking tray, toss the tomatoes in the rest of the olive oil, a good pince of salt and pepper and the chopped herbs. Roast for 15-20 mins until the tomatoes burst and begin to colour.
3. To assemble, spread some whipped feta onto each slice of toast. Spoon 1 tbsp of Pelagonia Aivar on each and top with the roasted tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt flakes and garnish with a little thyme.
Roast garlic and aivar spaghetti with herby lemon breadcrumbs
1 bulb garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
½ 314g jar Pelagonia Aivar
300g dried spaghetti
For the breadcrumbs:
1 large slice of sourdough, toasted
½ lemon, zest only
½ small pack parsley
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4. Slice the very top of the bulb of garlic and drizzle with a little olive oil. Wrap in tin foil and roast in the oven for 30-40 mins until the cloves are soft and sweet, allow to cool slightly.
2. Blitz the toasted bread in a food processor with the lemon zest, herbs and remaining olive oil. Set aside.
3. Heat a large pan of salted water and cook the spaghetti according to package instructions.
4. Meanwhile, heat the Pelagonia Aivar in a pan and squeeze in the entire head of roasted garlic, discarding the skins. 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 “saucy”. Transfer to plates or a large platter and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs.
Aivar risotto with wild mushrooms
3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
180g arborio risotto rice
125ml dry white wine
1L hot chicken or veg stock
200g wild mushrooms
3 sprigs thyme, leaves removed
25g grated parmesan, plus extra to serve
40g unsalted butter
½ 314g jar Pelagonia Aivar
1. Place a sautè pan or casserole over medium heat, add 2 tbsp olive oil and fry the onion and celery until softened. Add the garlic and rice and mix for a few mins until the rice starts to become translucent. Add in the white wine and bubble until absorbed.
2. Gradually add the stock to the pan and stir until absorbed by the rice. Repeat adding ladle after ladle, stirring regularly until the rice is tender and creamy, with a little bit of a bite, this will take around 15 mins. Check for seasoning – if you’re using a stock cubes, they can be a little salty, so bear that in mind.
3. Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, heat the remaining oil and sautè the mushrooms until browned and tender. Add in the thyme, a knob of butter and season.
4. Add in the grated parmesan, the rest of the butter and Pelagonia Aivar to the risotto and stir until incorporated. Serve the risotto topped with mushrooms and shavings of parmesan.
Recipes by Keiron George. Pelagonia Aivar, including Hot Aivar and other meze, is available at Waitrose and Sainsbury’s stores across the UK, and is soon coming to Co-op. For inspiration and recipes, check out their website, here.