When I meet people and we talk about food, it is usually assumed that because I am Latina, I must love spicy food. The truth is that I learned how to eat spicy food when I moved to the United States. My mom has always cooked with a variety of sweet peppers but the hot pepper plant in the back of the house was only there because my dad planted it. The peppers from the plant where little tiny buds with beautiful colors, you didn't need to know that they were hot, once you got near the plant the distinctive pungent smell from the hot peppers left no doubt that they were very spicy. My dad uses the hot peppers called "ají chirel" to make this Ají Picante recipe, a spicy creamy sauce that he adds to everything.
My memories of grandma's house are full of flavors and smells. The first smell in the morning was of the freshly ground coffee being brewed in the old traditional way, a cloth percolator held by hand on top of the cup while hot water was poured and fresh coffee hit the cup. Then the smell of "sofrito" that would go on anything she was going to cook that day. Ají Picante was always at the table for every meal, and my dad and uncles would always add lots of it to their food. The one recipe I never asked grandma how to make was Ají Picante because as a kid I never liked to add that sauce to my food. My dad learned from grandma and he taught my brother, who has always had that love for spicy food I didn't inherit. When my brother visited me in Madison last month I knew there was one recipe I wanted him to make; my grandma's Ají Picante!
There are many different types of hot peppers, for this sauce I used dried chile de árbol and a fresh jalapeño because those are easily found here in Madison. The creaminess of the sauce comes from a dairy product found in The Andes. This part was tricky because I wanted to find something as similar as possible. I found that the closest in flavor to the Venezuelan version was the Honduran style sour cream, only found in Latin stores. You could use Mexican Cream instead as it is easier to buy. This sauce is so versatile that it goes well with everything. In Venezuela our traditional corn flour cakes (arepas) are served daily, and Ají Picante is added by those who love to have that little kick after each bite. Here I give you my grandma's best kept secret and I hope it inspires you to make your own bottle of Ají Picante to go with anything you are grilling this summer. Enjoy!
Serving: Makes about 2 cups Ingredients: 2 cups water 1 cup dried chile de árbol 1 jalapeño, halved 1/2 small onion 2 garlic cloves, peeled 16 oz. Honduran Sour Cream
In a small sauce pan place the water, dried chiles and jalapeño. Over medium-high heat bring to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. In a blender, add garlic, onion, cooked chilies and the cooking water. If the liquid is too hot, remove the center piece of the blender top and cover with a kitchen towel. Blend all the ingredients at a medium speed. Transfer to a bowl, add the Honduran sour cream and whisk together until well combined. The sauce is now ready to serve. It will keep in the fridge in a glass jar for up to three weeks.