Thursday, July 22, 2010

Aji? Peruvian Salsa Verde!

I was first introduced to this classic Peruvian hot sauce years ago by a native of the Amazonian city of Iquitos; it soon became my favorite green salsa and I've been making it ever since in my San Francisco kitchen. Aji is a heady blend of hot chiles, fresh cilantro, lime juice, olive oil and garlic; its exhilarating flavor quickly becomes habit forming. Yet this beautiful brilliant green treat takes only moments to prepare; all that is needed is a blender and a few simple ingredients.

It's easy to regulate the heat of the aji by adjusting the type of chiles you select. Fresh jalapeno and serrano chiles can be found in many ethnic produce markets; they provide excellent flavor and potent but not stratospheric heat. Removing the seeds from the peppers will tone down their burn. If you want to turn up the temperature, use serranos instead of jalapenos, or add a few small green Thai "bird" chiles to the mix.

Wash the cilantro thoroughly before chopping; use the stems as well as the leaves. The measurements in the recipe are simply a guideline; don't be too concerned about the exact amounts. After you've followed the recipe once or twice, you'll be comfortable making aji without measuring.

Be careful not to touch your face or eyes when handling chile peppers; their oil and juice can cause painful burning upon contact with sensitive tissues. Wash hands well during and after preparation of this recipe.

3 or 4 medium fresh jalapenos, roughly chopped
1 large clove garlic, halved
1/4 cup fresh lime or lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 medium bunch fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

Place jalapenos, garlic, lime juice, olive oil and salt in blender. Pulse until ingredients begin to liquefy. Add cilantro in stages and pulse until mixture is fairly smooth; use a bit more olive oil or lime juice if the aji seems too thick. Store aji in a clean glass jar in the fridge; its bright green color and flavor will keep well for several days.