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Dueling Aji Amarillo Salsas

I really love the scorching hot, Peruvian, yellow hot pepper called aji amarillo. It really has a unique flavour and the bright yellow colour makes everything it touches look really pretty which, in turn, makes everything it touches taste great. If you look good, you feel good.

I was introduced to this spicy little devil by our good friend, the MVP (Most Valuable Peruvian) when he made us papa a la huancaina. I watched him make this very traditional dish for us and, at the time, I was dying a little inside because all I was seeing was a bunch of bland, white food. Boiled, sliced potatoes, sliced hard boiled eggs, a bowl of queso fresco and some milk - omg, how was I going to eat this without making my bad face? The worst part was how exited he was for us to taste  this special dish that he was clearly infusing with unadulterated Peruvian love. He put the cheese, milk and some of these frozen aji amarillo peppers in the blender as he told us that it is virtually impossible to have these peppers in their natural state in Canada but luckily, he knows where he can buy them frozen. He blended the sauce and it turned a pretty pale yellow, which, next to the bland looking plate of boiled potato and egg, was the most colourful thing going. He poured the thick, cold, yellow sauce over the potato and egg and set the platter in the middle of the table while his entire family salivated, forks at the ready to dig in.  It was truly the LEAST appetizing looking plate of food I had seen in years. I politely took a tiny portion, plastered my best fake excited expression on my face (which is not entirely convincing at the best of times) and took a tiny bite, wracking my brain for something nice to say about this monstrosity.


That sauce literally exploded in my mouth and I might have actually yelped as I elbowed his children out of the way so I could fill my plate with this ambrosia. In the end, I was thankful that the only thing under this powerhouse of a sauce was a plate of boiled potato and egg because anything else would have competed with the huancaina sauce. Basically, the potato and egg are just excuses to get the spicy, slightly grainy while still being creamy sauce in you. After this experience, I knew I had to start experimenting with this magical, Peruvian pepper so the MVP bought me a jar of the paste and, later on, brought me a little bag of hot aji amarillo sauce from Peru that they use at the table on everything. I have made up my own homage to our friend in the form of my MVP sauce and I often just throw a spoonful of the hot sauce into bowls of soup or on top of scrambled eggs just like any other hot sauce.

 We were eating dinner at the home of our MVP family this summer when they served us a platter of grilled meat served with a scallion sauce that had lots of aji amarillo in it. Although the meat, itself, was delicious, I ate it as an excuse to keep eating the sauce and if I had been at home and not a guest in someone's house, I might have just grabbed a big ass spoon and ate the whole bowl as is.

After we came home I kept thinking about it. I had to make it but I couldn't get hold of my MVP to find out exactly what he put in it so I improvised. I knew he had  aji amarillo and olive oil in there but after that I couldn't remember. Over the next two weeks I experimented with it until I ended up with my two favourite sauces. They are kind of different so you will know which way you roll - you are either a smoother basil person or like a bit more radishy bite and cilantro. OR you could make them both, which is what I have been doing. Don't just eat this stuff on steak because it's great on baked potatoes, on scrambled eggs, in an omelet, on some basmati rice or on a taco, on a fox or in a box.

Scallion Aji Amarillo Salsa

3 scallions, sliced thinly
approx1  tbls chopped, fresh basil
3 tbls olive oil
2 tbls white balsamic
pinch salt
1 tsp aji amarillo or to taste

Mix everything together in a bowl and let sit at least an hour.

Scallion Radish Aji Amarillo Salsa

3 scallions, sliced thinly
2 radishes, julliened (I used a plain radish and a small watermelon radish)
approx 2 tbls chopped cilantro
3 tbls olive oil
2 tbls white balsamic
1 tbls water
juice of 1/2 lime
pinch kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp aji amarillo or to taste

mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and let sit at least an hour.

*a note about aji amarillo - I have a jarred paste and I have a salsa in a bag. It really is worth looking for if you have any sort of latin american markets you can peruse because it has a very distinct flavour and I love the deep yellow it imparts to everything. If you just can't find this stuff you can use another hot chili that you know you like to use already but it won't taste the same. I have read a bunch of different things about what you can use to substitute but my Peruvian friends say that is crap and you can't substitute it. If you must, order some online. It's really like no other chili.
can't decide? Put one version on your potato and the other on your meat

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