Tamarillo or tree tomato aji hot sauce, known as ají de tomate de árbol in Spanish, is a very tasty hot sauce made from tree tomatoes or tamarillos, hot peppers, onion, cilantro and lime juice. A tree tomato or tomate de arbol, also known as tamarillo, is a South American fruit that looks somewhat like a roma tomato, but pointier and with a thicker skin. Tree tomatoes can be either yellow orangish or dark red depending on the variety, the inside of the fruit will be either orange, dark red or almost purple. They can be eaten just plain, but make sure they are very ripe if eating them plain – they are very tart. Tamarillos or tree tomatoes are used frequently in juices and in desserts (cooked in a panela or sugar cane syrup with cinnamon, clove and other spices). One of the most well known way to use them is to make this aji or hot sauce, which is usually mild to medium spicy, and is served with a lot of different Ecuadorian dishes. This tamarillo hot sauce is a must-have for green plantain empanadas (or any empanadas), yuca bread, plantain chips, tamales, humitas (a fresh corn tamale) and goes great with potatoes, fish and meat, basically with almost anything.
It is very hard to find tree tomatoes in the US, most of the time when you find them they come from New Zealand (so please send us more). In Austin I was able to find them at Fiesta and also occasionally at Central Market. I’ve seen tree tomatoes or tamarillos only a few times in Seattle, once at QFC (U-District) and at Uwajimaya. I asked once at Pike Place Market and was told that several years ago an attempt to introduce them into Seattle was made but it wasn’t successful. You can find the tree tomato pulp frozen and it works well for juice but doesn’t do too well for this hot sauce (but it’s better than nothing if you have a craving), however sometimes you can find the actual fruits frozen at the Latin grocery stores, then the hot sauce is almost as good as when made with the fresh fruit. This is the basic recipe for tree tomato aji, in some places in Ecuador – especially in Quito – it is very common to add chochos (lupini beans) to this aji, so if you have some on hand feel free to add them. I also love the Cuencano version of tree tomato aji, it’s very smooth and creamy since they blend it with some oil.
Tamarillo or tree tomato aji hot sauce is a very tasty hot sauce made from tree tomatoes or tamarillos, hot peppers, onion, cilantro and lime juice.
- 4-5 tree tomatoes, fresh or frozen
- 2 ajies or hot peppers (serranos or red chilies are good options, habaneros if you are very brave)
- 2 tbs finely chopped white onion
- 1 tbs finely chopped cilantro
- 1 tbs lime or lemon juice
- ¼ cup water
- Salt to taste
- Optional – Add cooked and peeled chochos or lupini beans
- If using fresh tree tomatoes peel them, boil them for about 5 minutes to make it easier to peel them.
- If using frozen tree tomatoes, defrost them over night in the fridge, then cut them in half and scoop out all the insides.
- Blend the tree tomatoes with the hot peppers (seeded and deveined if you want it very mild, you can always save a few seeds and add them in if it’s too mild).
- Transfer the blended mix of tree tomatoes and hot peppers to a small sauce pan, add the water (you can add more if you want a more liquid sauce) and cook on medium heat for about 5-8 minutes. You can also omit the cooking part, the sauce will be fresher, but will need to be consumed faster.
- Add the onion, lime juice, cilantro, chochos (if adding), and salt to taste.
- Serve warm or cold.
Replace water with oil (avocado, light olive oil, or a mild flavored oil) for a creamier Cuencano style aji (and do not cook it after blending).