Eat Ecuador – The Sauce on Every Table in Ecuador – AJI SAUCE
Read about this series here: the Eat Ecuador Food Series
Aji Sauce – available in every restaurant, but always a little different.
The sauce of choice in Ecuador is aji sauce. It’s a chili pepper sauce, but it’s not always spicy. Every restaurant makes the sauce themselves, so it changes depending on what they’re serving, where in Ecuador they are, and even what’s in season.
Technically, aji is a species of chili known by the science nerds as Capsicum Baccatum. It’s native to South America, and in most parts of Latin America the word is used to mean chili pepper. There’s evidence that dates the pepper to Peru around 6000 years ago. There are 30 different varieties of aji available in Ecuador. The most popular is probably aji amarillo or yellow aji.
Almost every single meal out will include a bowlful of aji as a condiment, but you’ll probably never know what variety is used to make the sauce, or how much chili is actually used. The sauce could turn out to be quite mild, or it could be burn your little lippers off.
Aji peppers sit at around 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville Heat Units (SCUs). SCUs are used to measure how spicy a pepper is. 30,000-50,000 is approximately where cayenne pepper sits on the scale. It’s a bit spicier than a jalapeño.
A good restaurant will make their aji with the type of food they serve in mind. For example, my favorite guatita place makes their aji sauce with a sharp spicy kick to it, which cuts through the strong flavors of guatita’s peanut-infused broth.
The aji that often comes with hornado is less spicy and more fruity, which works really well with savory pork fat.
A very basic version of aji sauce contains chilis, lime, cilantro, and onion. In some areas of Ecuador it’s popular to put bananas, mangos, pineapple, or other fruits in the sauce.
In the Sierra, the people love their aji sauce with tomate de árbol, a fruit that’s popular in Ecuador but not really known worldwide.
Tomate de arbol literally means tree tomato. You might also hear them referred to as tamarillo which sounds very Spanish, but that name was actually made up in New Zealand. When the Kiwis started growing tree tomatoes, they wanted a name that would differentiate the fruit from regular tomatoes.
Tree tomatoes are native to the Andes, and they are in fact related to tomatoes. They’re part of the nightshade family, which includes chili peppers, potatoes, eggplant, and even tobacco. They are a bit tart, but sweeter than tomatoes with a slight peppery taste to them. Tree tomatoes are high in vitamins and iron, and low in calories with only about 40 calories per fruit. In Ecuador, you can try their juice at juice stands, but most of the tree tomatoes I’ve eaten have been in aji sauce.
Recipe for Ecuadorian Aji Sauce Sierra Style
- Boil 2 tree tomatoes for about 4 minutes to make it easier to peel them.
- Remove skin and chop into chunks.
- Blend chunks with 2 hot peppers and a half cup of water.
- Add 2 TBS of finely chopped onion, the juice from 1 lime, 1 TBS finely chopped cilantro, and salt to taste.
- Pulse blend to combine.
- Add more water depending on how thick you want it.
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The Music in this video is produced by Clueless Kit and performed by Eric Reprid. You can find the song “Blitz”, “Blind Eyes”, and their other great music on their Soundcloud pages: Eric Reprid -and- Clueless Kit