Thursday Thirteen

13 things about paprika!

1. Pepper (paprika) is probably the most important vegetable in Serbia and is tightly connected with our folklore. Moreover in old Yugoslavia Serbia (and Macedonia) were almost synonyms for best paprika. I wouldn’t exaggerate if I say that we have some sort of cult of paprika.
2. The largest peppers-fields are on the north of the country but production is too commercialized with all that new technology and doesn’t represents tradition (or cult). More traditional way of growing pepper is on the south of Serbia. Moreover people from the south have nickname paprikari because of that. If you happen to be on the Serbian south at the end of the summer you’ll probably be invited by hosts to refresh yourself (I wrote about our aggressive hospitality) but also to hear eulogy about their paprika. 3. You’ll probably be totally confused by wreaths of paprika that are covering whole front/back yard; house and other objects around the house. 4. Don’t be confused, you’ve just met one very old custom in Serbia. Hand made wreaths of paprika will go in next processing into red pepper powder or chopped pepper etc. however some of those wreaths will be decoration of the house or kitchen (I have one in my ethno corner). It represents sort of mascot of this region. 5. During the winter when there is extra need for vitamin C those wreaths are perfect reservoirs. Naturally dried paprika can be bought in “intact” shape and used in preparing some dishes. Therefore it’s not strange that people from the south are using term red gold for their paprika. 6. What is typical for this region is also Paprikijada (sort of manifestation dedicated to paprika and the etymology of the term lies in the word ‘Olympics’ = in Serbian “Olimpijada”) and it’s also one lovely custom: moba. Moba is custom where all neighbors (and other villagers) are helping one another in doing some big work. And harvest of paprika is one of those. 7. Production is actually quite huge: one wreath is approximately 10-15 kilos and after drying and powdering it’s 1 kilo. After the season one household can produce 1000 kilos of powdered paprika!
8. I’ve mention that paprika has extremely significant place in Serbian folklore, so here are some recipes:

Dried Peppers Stuffed with Rice or with Beans
(this is very common dish during the Lents)
Wash paprika (10 pieces) and leave them in water for a while (30 min). drain off them, pull out seeds and stem pedicels. Half boil rice (250g); onion (3 bulbs) chop on thin pieces and fry on vegetable oil. Drain rice and mix with onion, add salt pepper, chopped leaves of parsley and celery, chopped olives (5 pieces) and red pepper powder. Mix all ingredients and stuff peppers with the mass and put it in greased dish. Bake 30 min.
(if you stuff peppers with beans; beans should be boiled previously, drain and instead of olives put walnuts and mint leaves)

9. Of course when I speak about pepper I cannot skip ajvar! In the early winter we have ajvar fewer: on the streets you can smell the dusky, smoky fragrance of roasting peppers mingled with the scent of fallen leaves. Stalls at neighborhood markets overflow with mounds of peppers, while village vendors lug giant sacks of the red beauties to street corners to tempt passers-by. What an image!
10. In Serbia, ajvar stars as a starter or as a colorful complement to grilled meats and kabobs. Ajvar also does well alongside sturdy grilled fish like salmon or swordfish. You could toss it with spaghetti, adding olives and parmesan for a quick meal. 11. Preparation of ajvar is somewhat difficult (I’m stealing this from wikipedia), as it involves plenty of manual labor, especially for peeling. Traditionally, it is prepared in early autumn, when the bell peppers are most abundant, conserved in glass jars, and consumed throughout the year (although in most households stocks don’t last up until spring, when fresh salads start to emerge anyway, so it’s usually enjoyed as winter food).
The peppers and eggplants are baked whole on a plate on open fire, plate of a wood stove, or in the oven. Baked peppers must briefly rest in a closed dish, so that they get cooler and the flesh sets apart from the skin. Then, the skin is carefully peeled off and seeds removed. So obtained pepper is ground in a mill or chopped in tiny pieces (this variant is often referred to as pinđur). Finally, the mush is stewed for a couple of hours in large pots, with added sunflower oil and garlic, in order to condense and reduce the water, as well as to enhance later conservation. Salt and optional vinegar are added at the end and the hot mush is poured directly into glass jars which are immediately sealed. 12. The name ajvar comes from Turkish havyar, which means salted roe.
13. And that’s it for this week. I hope it was interesting enough. And just for the record:
While I was typing this TT I realized that my mouse pad has lovely photograph of red peppers! LOL

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