I always imagined Latin food as something very spicy and hot.
It was a big surprise when, after coming to Ecuador, I found the food a bit on the bland side.
Ecuadorians don’t like to use a lot of peppers or spice their food much.
What they would use, generously, was a ají salsa.
And there is always a plate on the table, so that everyone can add to their own taste.
When I first tasted ají, it totally explained where the spicy and hot fame of Latin food had come from.
There are many kinds of ají in Ecuador, this is the basic one that you can find in most of homes.
But everyone has their own version of ají.
Tree tomato aji hot salsa, known as ají de tomate de árbol in Ecuador, is a very tasty hot sauce made from tree tomatoes, hot peppers, onion, cilantro and lime juice.
A tree tomato or tomate de arbol, also known as tamarillo, is a South American fruit that looks somewhat like a roma tomato, but pointier and with a thicker skin.
Aji or hot sauce, is usually mild to medium spicy, and is served with a lot of different Ecuadorian dishes.
This tamarillo hot sauce is a must-have for empanadas, yuca bread, plantain chips, tamales, humitas (a fresh corn tamale) and goes great with potatoes, fish and meat.
I personally love to add aji salsa to different soups, like Ecuadorian pumpkin soup or Locro de papa - the traditional potato soup.
In Ecuador aji is basically eaten with almost anything, and everything is better with aji.
In Quito, and some other areas of Ecuador, it is very common to add chochos (lupini beans) to this aji, but you can do it without also.
Tree tomato aji hot sauce / Ají de tomate de árbol
Yield: ~1 1/2 cups of tree tomato aji
- 4-5 tree tomatoes, fresh or frozen
- 2 ajies or hot peppers (serranos or red chilies are good options, habaneros if you are very brave)
- 1 finely chopped white onion
- 1 tbs finely chopped cilantro
- 1 tbs lime or lemon juice
- ¼ cup water
- Salt to taste
- Cooked and peeled chochos or lupini beans