If you live in Peru and enjoy spicy food, then you’re almost certain to have heard of ají, the pimento chili. Peru is home to over three hundred different types of ajís and just about every dish contains some form of the chili (except the desserts, of course!). In fact, the Peruvian writer Garcilaso de la Vega once said, “The people of my homeland are so enamored of ají that they won’t eat so much as a few raw vegetables without it.”
However, if you are NOT a fan of the ají’s heat, then nothing is worse than finding it where you least expect it. It’s definitely unpleasant if you order a nice ceviche and take a big bite only to chomp down on a spicy bit of chili. To help you avoid creating a flambé on your tongue, here’s our guide to the most common ajís of Peru and the dishes where you can find them, so you know when to ask for the mild version.
Perhaps the most mild of Peru’s ají family, this medium-sized yellow pepper is commonly found in “lomo saltado”:http://www.peruthisweek.com/food-more-than-just-savory-dish-symbol-of-harmony-101912 and “ají de gallina”:http://www.peruthisweek.com/food-aji-gallina-peruvian-comfort-food-102806, as well as many other dishes. But don’t worry, it’s quite mild, especially if you remove the seeds. To prepare, simply remove the stem and slice longwise down the middle, nudging the seeds out. Alternatively, you can take the easy way out and buy the packs of blended ají in the grocery store.
This one is a bit stronger than the ají amarillo and has more of a red color, but is still mild. It’s usually dried and mixed into sauces, soups, and the coastal specialty arroz con mariscos.
While these ones look like harmless red sweet peppers, the rococo is actually quite spicy. This is especially true if eaten raw! However, the flavor softens if the pepper is cooked. The rocoto is a central part of the Arequipan specialty rocoto relleno, where the pepper is stuffed with meat, spices, cheese, and olives. It’s sometimes served with a side of creamy potatoes, which are thankfully not spicy and can be used to soften the strong rocoto flavor.
This is one that you’ll most likely find sitting innocently on top of a ceviche. The ají limo can be either red or green and is medium strength in terms of spiciness. It’s only about two or three inches in length and is usually sliced up and put in ceviche or other seafood dishes.
*Pinguita de Mono Ají*
The name of this aji means “monkey’s penis,” in English. It’s small, red, pointy and very spicy – watch out! It’s not very commonly found outside of the jungle regions, but it’s often chopped up and used as a condiment, or used to flavor a ceviche with a jungle influence.
These may look like little yellow peas, but the aji charapita is one of the spiciest chilis in Peru. It is used mostly in cuisine from the jungle region and is difficult to find outside of the jungle, though it’s starting to appear in specialty shops and restaurants. It’s usually chopped and mixed with onions, cocona and lime to create a kind of relish. Taste if you dare!
*Got a spicy dish that you would like to share with us? Leave us a note in the comments below!*