Earlier this week, I mentioned the St. Lucian version of salsa, souscaille, and this is an ingredient that’s sometimes included in it: seasoning peppers! Such a practical name for these little guys as that is precisely what they do. It’s true, they look a lot like the habanero or scotch bonnet pepper, and I had to do a double take when I first saw them. But these don’t even come close to the heat level of one of those peppers and truly season food with an incredible flavor.
These peppers are grown throughout Latin America and the Caribbean and are, more formally, aji dulce peppers. The flavor is straight habanero without the heat – that tangy richness and sweetness and just a slight touch of heat. The photo below was taken on the farm I visited where they grew them, and it felt insane to bite into a pepper that looked and smelled like a habanero and not flinch!
Aji dulce means “sweet pepper” and is a key ingredient in Latin American sofrito, some cultures’ peas and rice (or rice and peas depending on where you’re from), Cuban black beans, Brazilian jams, and countless other West Indian and Latin dishes. They aren’t the easiest to find, and I’m going to be exploring Latin markets until I find a supplier. But my other plan is to look for a plant in the farmers’ market this summer when they come into season.
I would add these to…basically everything! As it is, I cook with habaneros for the flavor, scraping out as much of the seeds and ribs as possible to reduce the heat level. If I could achieve that flavor without the painful heat? I’d be in heaven! Thought I’d still use habaneros here and there… Salads, crab cakes, stir fries, morning eggs, macaroni pie….I’d lose my mind.