Thursday, August 6, 2020

Another mistaken plant

The past couple of years I've frequently complained about the fact that many times the seeds that I buy are not the seeds that I wanted. often bags are filled with a completely different variety. Vegetables and flowers that I get are a completely different size, color, or even completely different type. 
The same thing is happening with seedlings. I'm already used to the fact that when we buy summer seedlings we have no idea what variety they are. Tomatoes are sold with names "round", "for cooking", "heart", peppers are sold by their color and cabbages by their type (summer/fall). There's no way to know the exact variety they are, even if you manage to get a name there are big chances the name is wrong. But recently this started happening even with plants.
In spring I bought a bunch of flowers and I ordered a Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum). Since the order was placed over the Facebook page I wrote Latin name, Croatian name, and wrote number under which photo in the album the plant was written. 
Instead of Spider plant, I got Tradescantia fluminensis.

Sure it's a pretty plant and a great plant to have in the hanging basket. But it is a completely different plant that has nothing to do with the plant that I ordered. 

Spider plant I bought last week and Tradescantia

I really can't believe that someone that grows and sows plants doesn't know the difference and is able to wrongly label the plant. Even more, because the Tradescantia is a very common plant here and every single house has it. 

I finally managed to buy Spider plant last week from a nursery that actually knows what they are selling. 

The plant was in excellent shape with big and healthy roots.

The same thing happened to my hubby a week ago. He went to a store to buy me Aloe vera for my birthday. He came home with what he thought was Aloe vera and happily gave it to me.

To be honest, I didn't even notice it wasn't Aloe vera, I honestly thought it was. Even more, because I got a paper with instructions on how to care for the plant and when to start harvesting leaves. I placed a photo on Instagram and in the comments, I found out it was actually Haworthia limifoila.
A beautiful plant, but again not what we were looking for. 
This makes me seriously doubt what I'm buying and how should I know something is wrong labeled if I'm not familiar with the variety.
I guess we'll have to be very careful about what we buy in the future. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Ajvar- the Balkans red monster

When you say the word "Ajvar" in the Balkans it opens a neverending debate. What is the most accurate recipe? Are onions allowed, how much eggplants can be used, can it be baked or must it be cooked on the stove? This pepper relish has caused many fights and heated debates and the truth is everyone is wrong and everyone is right. Each country and even each village have their own recipe. 
Ajvar cooking is an event that lasts at least 2-3 days depending on the amount you cook. Some people spend their whole vacation cooking ajvar. Even when you say that you've been cooking ajvar you get a sympathetic look cause every person on Balkans knows what it means to cook ajvar.
Some people say that there is no point in cooking ajvar if you don't cook at least 50 kilos of peppers at once. Others cook small amounts. But everyone ends up in the same way: with a messy kitchen.

Ajvar is made with elongated bell-type pepper. We call them "roga paprike" which translates as horn pepper. Peppers got its name because they look like a horn. There are some well-known ajvar varieties like "Sirvija" and "Arlequin", but also some newer that are as good as old ones. They are sweeter than regular bell peppers, can't be used before they turn red and easy to peel. Ajvar can be made with bell peppers too, but only if you don't want to peel them. The skin on regular bell peppers will never peel like on the ajvar horn peppers. 

I always cook 10 kilos of peppers because this is the amount that will fit in my 8-liter pot which I can cook on the ceramic-glass stovetop. Any more than that I would have to cook in 2 pots and that's too difficult to do.

10 kilos(22lbs) of peppers
3 kilos (6.6lbs)of eggplants 
2 spoons(soup spoon) of sugar
2 spoons of salt
0.5 - 0.7 liters (0.13-0.18 gallons) of oil
4 spoons of vinegar
garlic powder
chili powder (optional)

The epic Ajvar saga begins with the baking of the peppers and eggplants. To remove their skin they have to be pre-baked. The older households do this on top of the fire stove, some do a fire in the yard and bake them on fire, and us that don't have this conditions bake them in the oven. Over needs to be preheated on 200°C (392°F), then place on the baking paper a few whole peppers and bake them for 10 minutes on each side. Do not remove the seeds before the baking and they should be completely dry. If baking in the fan oven they can be coated with a thin layer of oil to prevent too much smoke and the time can be shortened to 7 minutes on each side. 

Once they are baked as soon as you remove the tray out of the oven, place them in a pot and cover with a lid. Once the pot is full seal it with some plastic wrap and put the lid on. The more the peppers are wrapped the easier will it be to peel them. The same process is done with eggplants. Eggplants can be cut in half and baked 20 minutes without turning or kept whole and turned after 10 minutes. They should also be placed in the pots and sealed.

Peppers should stay like this for at least 12 hours. They will need a lot of time to cool down and they can't be peeled unless they are cool.

Once they cool down, peel the skin off the peppers, if there are bits of skin that won't peel just leave them. A little skin won't be a problem, but too much could make ajvar taste bitter and pieces of skin would stay look like a rolled piece of paper. 

While cleaning the peppers and eggplants remove also the seeds and wash them shortly in a pot of water. Place them in a colander and leave them to strain. The dryer the vegetables are the less time will ajvar need to be cooked so don't rush it. I usually get up very early and peel them and they are left to dry the whole morning. 

Once the peppers and eggplants are dry cut them in a blender to get small bits of peppers. And place the cut peppers in a cooking pot. Add half of the sugar, salt, and oil.

Here is where the battle begins. The ajvar will put up a big fish, starting with the stick to pot attack, which will make you stir the pot every minute or two so don't think about doing anything else while cooking ajvar. Forget about going to the bathroom, washing dishes, or even playing a game on the phone cause it will surprise you with the sticking attack and you'll have to pour the ajvar to another pot to clean the burned pot and this will make an incredible mess in the kitchen. Not to mention that this will prolong the cooking time.
So stir the pot until your hand falls off, then change to the other hand and stir some more. 
After an hour and a half add the rest of the sugar, salt, and oil, add garlic and chili powder if you want it to be hot. 

This is when things get ugly, once the ajvar is almost cooked it will give its final attack- the spitting attack.
Since the ajvar is very dense there will be no normal boiling it will rather puff the bits in the ail, similar to jam. And since there is no point in putting the lid cause at this point you have to still almost non stop, this will mess up your kitchen completely. I can just say that I'll have to paint the kitchen ceiling again.
Also, the spitting attack can burn your hands really badly, so consider using some kind of gloves. 
Few minutes before the end add vinegar.

The ajvar is cooked when it becomes light red and has a consistency of a chunky puree. The amount of oil depends on the peppers. Add oil until the peppers stop "drinking", but no more than 0.7L or it will be very oily. The ajvar shouldn't be oily. The oil should be absorbed by the peppers.

The ajvar cooking is hard work, stiring big amounts can be very difficult, so if you can't do it in one day you can take it off the fire after an hour and continue the next day. Some people cook it for 2 to 3 days. 

The ajvar should be cooked for at least 2:30 hours. If peppers haven't been dried well it can take up to 4 hours to cook.

15 minutes before the end wash the jars and place them in the oven. Heat the oven to 100°C(212°F) together with the jars to keep them from cracking. When the oven heats leave the jars inside for 30 minutes.
Stop cooking the ajvar 15 minutes before filling up the jars. This will stop it from spitting on you while filling the jars, but it will still be hot enough for filling.
Fill the jars, put the lids, and put the jars in the oven. The easiest way is taking one jar out of the oven, filling it, taking another jar, and placing the filled one back to the oven. This way the jars won't be in the way and they will keep the temperature. 
Once all the jars were filled keep them in the turned-on oven 100°C for an hour, then turn off the oven and leave the jars to cool down inside the oven. This will take almost a whole day. If you need to use the oven you can put them in the basket or a plastic pot and cover with pillows and blankets. The jars need to cool down slowly. Do not leave them to cool outside.
 The ajvar can be used for a week or 2 after opening the jar so think about the size of the jar you want to use. Closed jars with good lids can be stored for 2 or even 3 years.

Ajvar can be used as a relish next to some meaty meal, as a puree that is added to the meal while cooking or eaten on a bread or toast like the butter. The last way is the most common here, a sandwich with ajvar is something very popular.

Ajvar monster will fight you every step of the way, and it's one of the most difficult preserved food to be made, but it's with it if you want to taste peppers during the winter.