Ajada (Q & A and a recipe)

Hi Janet,

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.

Estelle

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.

recipe

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14 Comments

Filed under Glossary, Recipes, Your Questions Answered

14 responses to “Ajada (Q & A and a recipe)

  1. Estelle

    Janet,

    This is so perfect. Now I have the information I’ve been seeking and a recipe too. I can’t wait to make it and have it bring me back to days in the kitchen with my parents. By the way, it was the men in my family that usually made this.

    Thank you so much.

    Happy New Year to you.

    Estelle

  2. Gloria

    Hi Janet, we also have ajada in Galicia, where I come from.

    It’s quite different, made with oil, garlic and paprika only. Basically, you fry the garlic in oil and add some (sweet or spicy) paprika powder. It’s usually served with boiled fish.

    I had no idea there were other versions and that it was related to alioli!

    Thank you for enlightening me!

    Saludos,
    Gloria.

    • JA

      Hi, Gloria –
      Well, there’s much more to linking foods together than basic ingredients or even a name, as you’ll see. The Galician word ‘ajada’ or ‘allada’ certainly means garlic sauce and, I believe, has the same pronunciation in Galician as it does in Ladino (with a soft ‘j’). Needless to say the key ingredients are identical, but from there these two sauces really do part company.

      As you point out, Galician garlic sauce is cooked. From what I understand, it is also used in the actual cooking process of the foods it accompanies, a starting point to flavor the cooking oil. That’s very different from Mediterranean garlic sauces which are: 1) always raw; 2) always emulsified and 3) only served alongside foods as a condiment, not used in the cooking process.

      Those are significant enough distinctions as to set these two far apart. Lucky for us all, they’re both delicious 🙂 — Janet

    • Gloria

      They certainly are!

  3. Adrienne Coale

    Brilliant website. You have earned a new devotee. Please maintain the good writings and I look forward to more.

  4. vanessam

    En mi familia, o al menos en esta region, se dice ‘majada’, ya que se produce del acto de majar, es decir, machacar. Se le suelen añadir unas almendras fritas también que dan un gusto muy especial y se machaca todo. Riquisimo!

  5. Irving Penso

    Dear Janet,

    My grandmother was from the Isle of Rhodes and her recipe for ajada called for mashed potatoes instead of bread. The rest of the recipe was the same. Served as an appetizer with bread or crackers, it was simply gostosissima.

    Irving

    P.S. I thank our daughter, Lillia, for turning me on to you.

    • Janet Amateau

      Hi, Irving.

      What your grandmother made is the Greek dish called skordalia. Besides the use of potatoes instead of bread, the distinction between the two is that skordalia is served as an appetizer, as you describe, eaten like hummus. But ajada is a condiment – albeit one I can eat by the bowlful!

      Thanks for your comments (and I thank your daughter, too!). — JA

  6. Jackie Sauter

    My grandmother also made Ajada, exactly as you’ve described, Janet — with just bread, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and salt. She was from Monastir and cooked all the traditional foods, but I mostly remember Ajada as the sole and most wonderful accompaniment for charcoal grilled steaks at our family summer cookouts!

    • Janet Amateau

      Well then, Jackie, it’s reasonable to assume that this is Monastir-style ajada; Estelle, who posed the question, is also from a Monastir family 🙂

    • kayjayatfoodreviewsandrecipesforum

      To make our family ajada recipe (our family from Monastir also) we use a loaf of white bread with crust cut off, moistened and added to a blender with 1/3 c. oil, 1 egg and lemon juice. Oh, and 1 large, entire head of fresh garlic. Puree in blender and serve chilled. Your eyes will steam garlic from their sockets, but on burning meat recipe, this is fabulous!! Also good w/Thanksgiving turkey!

    • Janet Amateau

      Thanks, Samantha. Looks like we’ve got our quorum on Monastir style ajada!

  7. sharon

    my family is also from Monastir

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