My mother used to make what we called Ajada. It was made with soaked bread, eggs, fresh garlic and lemon juice. It was mixed and mashed together and we used it as a dip for meat. What is the origin of this food? Is it Turkish or Spanish or Greek? I would love a recipe if one is available. Did I ask this question before? Thanks and wish I could come and take a class with you.
Good question, Estelle.
Ajada, a traditional Sephardic condiment, has its roots right here where I live in the north western Mediterranean and is just one member of a broad category of emulsions that are used at table to flavor savory meals – meats, fish, soups, stews, vegetables, you name it. The word ajada is Ladino and translates loosely as ‘a thing made of/with garlic’ which, along with olive oil, is the basic recipe for the whole category. Between Catalan, Spanish, French, Langue d’Òc, Italian and umpteen different dialects of each, garlic & oil emulsion goes by at least a dozen different spellings, among them alioli, aioli, alhòli, alloli, ajjoli, aillade, and ajada. The French word in the group, aillade, is equivalent in structure to the Ladino ajada. The others you see here are all compound words, in various Romance languages, that mean garlic (allium – of the onion family) and oil (oleum). And with this many variations in the spelling alone, you can easily imagine the countless variations in the recipe – different proportions of garlic and oil, some with mustard, with lemon, or vinegar, or bread, or saffron, maybe some pepper, bay leaf, a little tomato or egg yolk, and so forth. I’m talking about a very big swath of coastline here: from Valencia up through Catalunya and the southern coast of France (Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence) to the Occitan Valleys of northern Italy. Also the Balearic Islands. And Monaco. And, to some extent, Malta, although the Maltese versions are very elaborate and I don’t know that they necessesarily fit into this discussion.
The basic recipe consists of mashing garlic to a pulp with a mortar and pestle and whipping it to a frenzy with olive oil, producing an emulsion similar to (and very likely the precursor of) mayonnaise. The lines of distinction begin to blur with alterations and embellishments reflecting local styles of cooking. Catalan allioli, the most basic of the bunch, is no more than whipped oil, garlic and maybe some salt. Today it’s used primarily in fideuà, which is a seafood paella made with toasted fideos rather than rice that originated, as did paella, in Valencia. Catalan allioli is heavy and not terribly exciting (okay, so I hate it). At the other end of the spectrum is Provençal rouille (meaning ‘rust’ for its reddish tinge), which adds bread, saffron and chili pepper to the garlic and oil and is served alongside bouillabaisse. Rich, spicy, delicious (hey, it’s French). In the middle – and I realize this is starting to read like Goldilocks and the Three Bears – is Sephardic ajada, flavored and textured with bread and lemon juice. These serve to add balance, mellowing the pungency of raw garlic and with no heavy oiliness, a quality decidedly absent from Sephardic food. Ajada is wonderful. Try it on roasted potatoes sometime. Addictive.