Recipe contributed by Peruvian chef Marita Lynn. Her company, Catering by Maria, serves New York City and Greater New Jersey.
Peru has a large variety of ají (hot peppers), which vary in color, size, shape and flavor. They have been used in Peru for several thousand years, since pre-Incan times, and every region has its own type.
My family and I love to cook with ají – it always brings a special flavor to my dishes and immediately takes me back to when I was growing up in Peru. I remember my mom cooking most of her dishes with ají amarillo and ají mirasol not to mention her favorites rocoto and ají limo, which are mostly used in ceviche. I’ll be posting on many different types of ají in this blog since they are intrinsic to Peruvian cooking.
My favorite is ají amarillo, long and thin peppers, about 3-5 inches in length. Don’t be fooled by the name – amarillo means yellow in Spanish – because ripe ají amarillo are bright orange and unripe ones are yellow. The seeds inside will make a dish very spicy, so just remove them to lower the heat level. The aroma and its fruity, somewhat sweet flavor add to the spiciness, making it unique from other hot peppers.
I use ají amarillo in dishes such Papa a la Huancaína, potatoes with a yellow creamy sauce, Causa, a cold potato dish colored and flavored with yellow ají, Papa a la Diabla, a warm potato dish with a creamy ají sauce, and as a garnish on Escabeche, pickled fish. Another common use is as a side dipping sauce that can accompany any meal.
In addition to flavor, ají amarillo has health benefits as well due to its high levels of capsaicin, a natural ingredient in hot peppers located in the pepper’s ribs, which is good for pain relief, as a digestion aid and in fighting inflammation.
A good place to find ají amarillo is on Amazon.com.
Here is the recipe for Ají Amarillo Salsa Dip. This dip makes a good side – try it with fries instead of ketchup!
Yields 6-8 servings
1 lb ají amarillo
¼ cup canola oil
1 small garlic clove, crushed
pinch of salt
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Cut ají in half and remove the seeds. Cover with water and soak overnight at room temperature.
2. In a small pot, boil the ají for 15 minutes or until soft. Let cool then peel the skin off. Place ají in a blender with canola oil, crushed garlic and a pinch of salt and blend to form a paste.
3. Pour paste in a bowl and mix in the vinegar and scallions until well combined. Add salt and pepper to taste.