Aji with Plum Jam
Plum, sugar, sugarcane molasses, brown sugar, Aji pepper, lemon juice
Cured meat, aged cheese
This jam, with its mysterious shade of purple, is smooth, aromatic and spicy. It’s not that spicy but, yes, moderately spicy. It is ideal served with charcuterie, or you can use it as a glaze on grilled meat to achieve a sweet-and-spicy dish. It also works very well with aged cheese and as a dip for chicken wings.
The Andean countries – Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia – have always intrigued me, for their long history of pre-Columbian civilizations, for their varied cuisines and for their lovely people. I have visited the region certainly more than 10 times. But it was on a trip to Ecuador in January 2020 that I had the opportunity to experience local ingredients as a cook. I would spend days visiting local markets away from the tourist centers searching for rare fruits, herbs and spices so that in the evenings I could preserve them as jams or candied fruits.
An ingredient that promptly made my eyes shine were the aji peppers: long, orange, firm, aromatic and moderately spicy. They made a very good jam when mixed with tree tomato. Unfortunately tree tomatoes are not found at an affordable price in Brazil, so I could not sustainably reproduce this jam here. Ají, on the other hand, could be found fresh during a few months of the year. So, in thinking of ways to maintain production of an ají jam all year long, I decided to smoke the pepper to preserve it for use in the off season. I did this using an old fashioned smoking technique with my beloved friend Aysla. Since the peppers get dark in the smoking process, I wondered if it might be better to use a dark fruit base. But which one? The answer appeared right in front of my eyes when I opened the door to the kitchen cabinet: dried plums! I adjusted the sources and quantity of the sweeteners, and done!
Ají is one of the approximately 20 pepper varieties cultivated in Ecuador and other Andean countries. It is elongated, predominantly orangish, and reaches 15-20 cm long. Its pulp is aromatic and not spicy since the capsaicin is concentrated in the seeds, not the flesh.
Plums are in the same family of fruit as apples, peaches and pears, all of which were originally domesticated in Asia and are now produced worldwide. In Brazil, they are grown mostly in the southern states, to be eaten fresh or dried.