I stepped into Old World Market with one mission: finding some extremely spicy peppers. I was on the north side of Chicago, in a diverse area not far from where we live. We had just run out of my husband Longe’s beloved “Pili Pili”—an African hot sauce made by his grandmother Koko. And for Longe, a meal without Pili Pili is not a good thing.
I had previously visited a few other markets, but none of them had the right peppers for the recipe. I finally found them at Old World Market in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. They sell them as “Jamaican peppers”, though they are better known around the world as scotch bonnet peppers.
Scotch bonnet peppers rank between 100,000 and 450,000 Scoville units. To give you an idea of that kind of heat, jalapeño peppers rank between 2,500 and 8,000 Scoville units. So basically, scotch bonnet peppers are hotter than blazes, and you need a full half pound of them, seeds and all, for Pili Pili. I can’t even smell Pili Pili without my eyes watering, yet my husband happily spoons it into his mouth at nearly every meal.
When I first met Longe almost four years ago, he had a jar of Pili Pili front and center in his refrigerator. Koko, his grandmother, had sent him home with it from his recent trip to visit her in Toronto. When Longe’s Mom came for our wedding, she replenished the supply. When that ran out…it was up to me.
We called Koko for the recipe, which Longe translated into English for me. “Peppers, garlic, and water”, she said. No amounts. Of course. So I set to work on getting the amounts right. It’s a 5-minute recipe—remove the stems for the peppers, dump everything into the blender, and purée it until it’s almost smooth. I also added some salt, because everything needs seasoning. But honestly, Pili Pili is so spicy, you probably can’t tell if there’s salt in there or not.
Can I tell you what not to do with this recipe? DO NOT blend the Pili Pili and stick your nose in the blender to smell it. I did that, and brought on a full on attack of sneezes (9 of them!), watery eyes, nose blowing, and a scratchy throat. I clearly cannot hang.
So what do you eat with Pili Pili? If you’re Longe, nearly everything. Just this week, he’s put it on fajitas, mac & cheese, potatoes, and salmon kabobs with rice. It’s traditionally served with Congolese stews, which are tomato based and made with either fish, chicken, pork, or beef. He puts a teaspoon of it on the side of his plate, and puts a dab of Pili Pili onto each bite.
It keeps for a few months in the refrigerator in a sealed container.
Pili Pili Recipe (African Hot Sauce)
A SUPER spicy hot sauce from my Congolese grandmother (in law). 🙂
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Total Time: 5 minutes
- Yield: 1 cup 1x
- Category: Condiment
- Cuisine: African
- ½ lb red scotch bonnet peppers (also known as Jamaican peppers)
- 3 large garlic cloves
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- Remove stems from the peppers. Place the peppers, garlic, water, and salt in a blender. Cover and blend on high until the mixture is puréed.
- Transfer to a storage container and serve a small spoonful with your favorite dish!
You can find scotch bonnet peppers at many international food markets. The market that I visited sells African and Hispanic foods.