Here is another traditional spicy sauce from Ecuador: ají de tomate de árbol. Literal translation of this fruit is tree tomato, and it is known as such in other countries like Australia and New Zealand. Tomate de árbol, also known as tamarillo is native to the Andes region of Latin America, so you will not only find this fruit in Ecuador, but in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Chile. Some varieties of the tamarillo are sweet, but generally speaking tomates de árbol are quite tart. Back home, our preferred use of tomates de árbol was in juices, which are so delicious and refreshing. Soups and juices – a staple in Ecuadorian cuisine.
I have not seen tree tomatoes sold at regular grocery stores around here, but the pasteurized pulp is available at my local Hispanic grocery store. Of course, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I found tomate de árbol pulp and was tempted to buy the whole frozen foods case. This seems to happen quite often. Soon I will be broke. But I will have cases of tomate de árbol pulp, which seems to be a fair trade-off.
When I made this sauce, I decided to forgo the ají peppers and step into the unknown. I decided to use habanero peppers. Never cooked with them or used them for any meals I’ve prepared at home. I started with one habanero, seeded. And the sauce was awesome! It had a bit of a kick, which was a delayed kick, and I think many will appreciate this. I, however, like to live on the edge and decided that it wasn’t spicy enough so I proceeded to add said seeds back in the sauce. And then, I threw in another habanero pepper – seeds and all! I am such a daredevil. I liked this heat and we were pretty happy with the flavor. At the end of the day, it is up to your taste, but I rather start on the safe side and adjust as I go.
If you happen to have tamarillos readily available, go for them! You will need enough to yield 1 1/2 cups of pulp. Cook them in water until the skin begins to crack. Peel and puree the tamarillos with some water, and strain the juice to remove the seeds. In my case, I am using the readily available pulp.
Take a habanero pepper and seed it. If using aji peppers, grab 2 of them and seed them. By the way, wear some gloves when you seed these suckers.
Add some salt,
Some chopped scallions,
Some chopped cilantro,
And some vegetable oil.
Blend it all using the device of your choice.
Finish it off with some lemon juice.
Use ají de tomate de árbol to spice up any of your favorite Ecuadorian dishes, or any other food you love. I think it would be amazing on some fish tacos!