Author - Sarah Washburne

From Croatia with Love – Ajvar

In Croatia servers don’t ask, “Red or Green?” like they do in New Mexico, but if they did, your response would be the same, “Both!” If you know the Southwest then you know that one of the best things is the smell of chiles roasting along the roadsides in the fall. Now you will be happy to know that incredible smell can be found in another pepper loving part of the world – Croatia! Whereas in the American Southwest red or green chiles are made into a spicy sauce for enchiladas, burritos or their famous Pozole, Croatians make Ajvar (pronounced eye var) to top slices of bread, roasted lamb or to eat with salad. It’s a great appetizer, and fun to share with a bottle of Croatian wine.

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What is Ajvar, you ask? Well, it is a roasted concoction of peppers and eggplant that, after roasting is simmered and stewed with oil until it thickens and develops its signature complex flavor. Red Ajvar is most commonly made with Roga – a red horned pepper, but green and yellow paprike peppers can also be used to make Ajvar.

Just like in New Mexico, Croatia has a variety of peppers that lend themselves to roasting. Paprike peppers tend to have a thicker skin and flesh making them easy to fire-blister and peel. In September and October, peppers of all kinds overflow in the Croatian markets making Ajvar a great choice for canning  – a way to preserve a taste of summer for winter.

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How is Ajvar made?

In Croatia, peppers are blistered over a coal fire or in the oven. Once the skin is charred, they are placed into a covered dish allowing the steam to loosen the peel. After the peppers are cooled, the skins and seeds are removed and chopped into small pieces. While the peppers blister, the eggplant is roasted, and once soft, is added to the chopped peppers along with a few hot peppers for those who like a little zing. The vegetables (well, really fruits) are blended or processed into a fine puree and simmered with oil for hours until a rich thick paste forms. The resulting flavor is one that teases the palate first with a hint of sweet, then the smoke of the charred peppers and lastly, the perfect bit of heat to keep you wanting more.

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Serving Ajvar

Ajvar is delicious straight out of the jar, but one of the best ways to serve Ajvar is with cheese, oil and garlic. Fats of the olive oil and creaminess of the cheese contribute to Ajvar’s complexity and create a magical flavor balance. An unsalted cheese highlights the sweetness of the eggplant and gives the dip an even creamier texture, the garlic adds another depth of flavor and the olive oil brings out the counterbalance of both the pepper flavor and spice. It’s an entirely addicting combination not to be missed!

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Travel Croatia

Croatia is a must-see country for so many reasons – the land is beautiful, the people are friendly and the food is AMAZING! When you visit, you will want to plan a trip to the grocery stores just for Ajvar. Entire aisles are dedicated to this delicacy, so make it at home with Tamara Novakovic’s recipe, but know you will run out and need to visit beautiful Croatia in order to find a sampling of the many delicious varieties and combinations. Plus, you will want to pair it with Croatian’s other farm to table delicacies like wine, cheese and olive oil to experience Ajvar at its finest! For those looking for the next great culinary treat, Ajvar (and Croatia’s other gastronomic delights) is a MUST!

Want to experience Ajvar in Croatia for yourself?  Explore the Edible Destinations of Croatia on our website.

Iceland In Between … Meals That Is!

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ROAD TRIP ICELAND

Many travelers to Iceland end up spending a good amount of time traveling overland either in a rental car or tour bus. It’s a vast country with wide open vistas where buildings, homes and villages are few and far between. For someone accustomed to city living, it might feel as if there is nothing to eat in such a seemingly rural and sparsely populated country, but actually there are a number of fun stops along the way for in between snacks.

A very small portion of Iceland is arable – mostly the southern lowland areas where mountains and glaciers give way to lush pastures, and it is common to see sheep, Icelandic horses and dairy cows grazing. One of Iceland’s best treats is anything made with the rich milk and cream of the Icelandic grass-fed cow. It is in Iceland that you will find some of the best butter, cheese, ice cream and their famous yogurt, Skyr. So, let’s think cheese as we begin our snacking!

GRAB A PICNIC

If you are a planning a day or a week on the road in Iceland your first stop should be either at a Bonus or Kronan Supermarket. Here you can explore national foods and stock up on picnic items like spelt bread or crackers from the bakery, cookies, fresh greens from one of Iceland’s vegetable producing greenhouses and some of their fabulous cheese. You would also be wise to grab a bottle or two of the very creative fruit and veggie blends offered by Floridana. These juices are not raw or fresh pressed, but while traveling they are certainly convenient, delicious and refreshing.

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BREAKFAST TO GO

If you start your day in Reykjavik and head out for a tour of the Golden Circle, make sure to stop at the family run Molsfellsbaer Bakery for coffee and the Icelandic lemon poppyseed roll, or one of their spelt bread rolls formed by hands carrying on bread-baking traditions hundreds of years old. Of course, if you have a newborn in tow, they are famous for cakes referred to as “Cristening Pillows.” 

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ICE CREAM ANYONE?

Once you have some snack provisions, head out on the Golden Circle traveling Hwy 36 where you will find the sites of Thingvellir National Park and Oxararfoss Falls. After hiking around these amazing natural wonders, you will find yourself heading towards Geysir and Gullfoss Falls, but you will want to stop first at Efstidalur Ice cream Farm.

At Efstidalur you can either take in a full lunch or watch the Icelandic cows through observation windows in the barn while enjoying a rich and delicious ice cream cone. These cows give a milk that is much higher in fat – 3.9% compared to 3.25% – likely because Icelandic bovine have been isolated for over 1100 years, they are grass-fed, and their winter diets are supplemented with fish meal giving a unique richness to the ice cream. Don’t miss it!

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VISIT THE TOMATO GREENHOUSE

Make sure that when you arrive at Geysir and Gallfoss you move around a lot – walk, hike, do some jumping jacks or burpies, because the next snack stop is just down the road (Hwy 35) at Fridheimar Farm. Here you can get up close and personal with one of Iceland’s famous geothermal greenhouses. This one grows a large percentage of Iceland’s tomato crop which they serve up in all-you-can-eat tomato soup with bread. It’s fascinating to watch thick tomato vines climb to the roof while you dine in the warm light of a beautiful glass building. If you are looking for gifts to take home, Fridheimar Farm has a “Little Tomato Shop” where they sell a variety of tomato jams, jellies and sauces.

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The best secret of Iceland is that some of its tastiest snacks and meals come from the N1 gas stations! You can find a variety of sandwiches, pizza and an order of large fries that will put the idea of “Supersize Me” to shame. These giant square boats of fries could feed a family of ten, so don’t make the mistake of ordering two for your group of four or you’ll be donating one box to the backpackers at the table next to you!

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If you’re tired of traveling and need a full rest stop, there are a few little towns where you can snack on a pizza and Icelandic beer. Two worth mentioning are Halldorskafi Restaurant in Vik and for a more casual stop after touring the Lake Myvatn area, Daddi’s Pizza. Both offer a variety of pizzas with creative toppings, but if you continue to crave more of that delicious Icelandic cheese, go for simple. Halldorskafi offers their Icelandic cheese pizza with three different varieties of cheese served with a little currant jelly on top, and Daddi’s names its cheese pizza after the neighboring volcano, Krafla, and covers it with lava-like cheese chunks including parmesan, blue, cream cheese and a spicy pepperjack. Served alongside an Icelandic Microbrew from Einstock or Borg Brugghus, you will be a very happy snacker!

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Iceland may well become the next great “Road Trip” destination with food and snacks that will make even the most discerning traveler happy!

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