I love aji! Plain and simple. I was not fond of Colombian food until I discovered aji. I found it bland and uninspired. And then I found aji. And everything changed. Aji brought Colombian food to life for me! The word "aji" is "chile" or "pepper" in Spanish. It is fresh. It is picante. It is bright. It is lovely. It is wonderful. It is - aji! It is super simple to make. I developed this recipe after talking to my in-laws about what are the basic ingredients in aji and also tasting several different versions in restaurants. Sometimes, tomatoes are used. Well, I am allergic to tomatoes - so that is just not an option for me - but you can add some if you wish.
All you need to make aji is a bunch of cilantro, an onion, hot peppers (I use serrano) salt, lime juice, water, and a blender. Life is good!
I take a whole bunch of cilantro and tear off the tops - leaving behind the biggest stems. I am not too picky about pulling out the big stems - I am running this through the blender. Next, I peel and roughly chop a large onion. A regular brown onion will do. Then I chop up about 5 or 8 serrano peppers - depending on how hot they are. In Colombia, I made this with Tabasco peppers, yes - that is correct, Tabasco peppers. The same type of peppers grown here in Louisiana to make that famous hot sauce! They were a beautiful orange color. That orange colored pepper adds another aesthetic dimension and flavor profile to the aji which it is lacking here using the green serrano peppers. But, we use what we have. I plan on growing some Tobasco peppers in my garden this year and freezing some to make my aji year round. I add the juice of one lime to preserve the color of the cilantro and to add a nice tartness to the aji sauce. I add a big pinch of salt. I add cold water - enough to almost cover.
Just turn the blender on and puree! That is all there is to it. Add more water if necessary to create a smooth sauce. Check to make sure it is as picante as you would like it to be. Add more peppers if it is not. It is used as a condiment at each meal, except breakfast. But then again, you never know - I could see it being good in some changua (typical Bogota breakfast soup). It is especially good with potatoes. It is a must with empanadas! I will make empanadas soon and post about that!!! William has been hinting in a not so subtle way about wanting empanadas - and since I learned how to make them when I was in Colombia, I can't avoid making them for much longer.
Once you have the basic aji sauce made, you can augment it in many ways. I personally prefer it in its most basic form, just like my brother-in-law, Whitman. This is because he and I like things really picante. The more you add to the sauce, the less picante it is. One of the things I have tried adding, which I really enjoyed, is boiled eggs. Sounds weird, but tasted really good! The rest of the family really likes the addition of avocado to the basic recipe.
When I make a batch of aji, I put the first half in a container for me. I add avocado to the other half. I add the juice of another lime. I puree the mixture and add water if the mixture is too thick. I usually have to add water. I like to be able to pour the sauce out of the blender easily. Colombians actually call this version of aji - guacamole. This makes sense, since it has all of the ingredients of a classic guacamole - just not in the classic proportions we are used to. I find that both last in the icebox for several weeks. You do not need to use a large quantity at each meal. I recommend starting with a small amount - like 1/4 a teaspoon and working your way up from there. This is picante! And I love it!