It was late afternoon in Mostar, Bosnia as we dashed laughing through a sudden rain storm that turned streets into rivers and our merry band into drowned rats. Gasping and dripping we arrived back at our van, shook ourselves like a pack of dogs and clambered in.
I didn’t want to leave.
Mostar is a city of rich culture, rebuilding itself emotionally and physically after the devastating trauma and upheaval of the Bosnian conflict in the 1990’s. Some buildings are too battered and gutted to do more than simply exist. Others are being transformed from places of rubble and devastation to ones of beauty and significance. I suppose the same could be said of the people.
I do not claim to understand this beautiful country, but I am grateful to have experienced it. I can’t stop reading about its history, geography, ethnography, even agriculture. I am in awe of people who go through such heartache, loss, and indescribable grief, and wake up each day doing something to make their life beautiful again.
The storm passed quickly and the sun came out as we drove up into the hills above Mostar. We looked back in amazement at the watery fields now glistening in the setting sun.
We drove in silence for a while, no small feat with 5 chatty girls in the car, processing what we had seen, learned, and felt during our time in Bosnia. I felt grief, hope, peace, and deep gratitude.
We crested the hill on our way to Croatia and my heart swelled at the sight.
It was a perfect farewell.
Today I’ll share with you a recipe for one of my favorite Bosnian dishes: ajvar. Varieties are also found in Germany, Russia, and Croatia, and they’re all fabulous. A blended condiment of roasted eggplant, red bell peppers, onion, garlic and olive oil, ajvar is a rich, savory sauce that goes beautifully with so many things. I love it as a dip for Bosnian Cevapi, or spread thickly on dark rye bread topped with bacon or salami.
2 large eggplants, washed and dried
6 large red bell peppers, washed and dried
1 sweet onion, skin on, brushed with olive oil
2-3 garlic clove, peeled and minced
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper
- Heat oven to 475 degrees F.
- Place eggplant, onion and peppers on baking sheet and roast until their skins blacken and blister, about 30 minutes.
- Put roasted vegetables in a heatproof bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow them to steam for 10 minutes. This will loosen and moisten burnt skins.
- Peel off and discard blackened stems, skins and seeds.
- Place vegetables in large bowl or food processor depending on the consistency you want. Mash in bowl if you want it chunky, puree in processor if you like it smooth.
- Add garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Stir until well mixed.
- Store covered and refrigerated. Can be canned to last longer.