Transform your meals with this spicy African pili pili sauce. Aromatic, flavorful and easy to make, this pilipili ya kukaanga is a must-try!
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the best pili pili ya kukaanga sauce
Belive me when I tell you that this pili pili ya kukaanga sauce is the best! Being African, I grew up eating it and I can tell you that it is easy to make, flavorful, goes well with so many dishes, and will definitely enhance your food! My favourite way to enjoy it is over some South African Beef Stew, East African Coconut Chicken (Kuku Paka), or Kenyan Beef Stew.
Let's dive in, learn, and make some!
Pili pili sauce, also known as piri piri, pilipili, or peli peli, is a spicy African sauce popular in countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Africa.
For most of these countries, the key ingredients remain the same, with slight variations in the method of preparation. As an example, pili pili ya kukaanga (made in this recipe) refers to Swahili-style pili pili sauce popularly consumed in East Africa, especially in Kenya and Tanzania. The name The word pili pili is derived from the Swahili language which means pepper, and the word kukaanga is Swahili for to fry. As the name suggests, this East-African variation involves frying the sauce in oil before serving it.
Pili pili and peri peri sauce are similar, but not the same. The main similarity is that the two sauces have the same base ingredients, namely, tomatoes, garlic, salt, and African bird eye chilis, which are normally blended into a smooth paste.
Peri peri sauce, whose usage has been popularized over time by the popular restaurant chain Nandos, and whose origin is disputed as Portugal, is more common towards the Southern part of Africa in countries such as Angola and Mozambique. It normally uses more ingredients and tends to have vinegar as its key acidic component, instead of lemon, with some versions including both lemon and vinegar. Pili pili style sauce is more common in Swahili-speaking Eastern African countries and Central African countries such as Congo and Ivory Coast.
You will require the following ingredients (this is a summary, please see the full ingredient measurements provided in the recipe card at the bottom of this page).
- large tomatoes - use any type of large plum tomatoes such as Roma.
- African bird's eye chilies (de-seeded) - these are popularly used when making pilipili sauce but you can also use habanero peppers.
- garlic cloves and the juice of one small lime (or half a lemon).
- condiments - any cooking oil with a high smoke point such as olive oil, and some tomato paste.
- spices and seasoning - salt, garam masala and sweet paprika (but feel free to use your favourite spices instead).
how to make pili pili sauce
Here is how to make this African pili pili hot and spicy sauce:-
- Deseed the African bird eye chilies and add them together with the tomatoes, garlic cloves, and salt to a blender. Process until smooth.
- Heat oil in a pan under low to medium heat. Next, add in the tomato paste and stir for about a minute, so it does not burn.
- Add the blended vegetables to the pan. Stir, then allow the sauce to cook at a low heat, stirring from time to time so it does not burn.
- Add the lime juice (or lemon juice), cover and allow to cook for a further 1-2 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat and strain any excess oil (do not throw this away, keep it in the fridge to use in other recipes). Allow it to cool completely then transfer it to a sterilized jar. Serve your pili pili sauce as a condiment alongside your favourite dishes, use it as a marinade, or add it to food when cooking.
serving suggestions and refrigeration
Pili pili sauce is so versatile, and goes well with just about anything! Pair it up with chicken, beef, vegetables, and seafood, use it as a marinade or even serve it as a condiment or dipping sauce. It particularly goes well with the following dishes, plus so much more!
Kept in suitable airtight containers, this pili pili sauce will keep in the fridge for 7-10 days. You can keep it in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Variations: Use your favorite herbs and spices, in place of the garam masala and paprika. Bay leaves, curry powder, cumin, coriander (cilantro), and thyme particularly work well. To add some depth and texture, stir in two small grated carrots to the sauce just before cooking. Alternatively, stir in grated vegetables such as carrots or zucchini, for texture and volume. This works particularly well when you are serving your pili pili sauce to a crowd.
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Pili Pili Sauce
- 2 tablespoon tomato paste
- 4 ripe medium-sized tomatoes
- 4 African bird eye chilli (deseeded)
- 5-6 cloves of garlic
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil (or preferred cooking oil)
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon garam masala (or your preferred choice of spice)
- 1 teaspoon sweet or smoked paprika
- juice of one small lime (or half a lemon)
- Into a blender, add the tomatoes, de-seeded African bird eye chilies, garlic cloves, salt, garam masala, and paprika, then process until smooth.4 ripe medium-sized tomatoes, 4 African bird eye chilli, 5-6 cloves of garlic, ¾ teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon garam masala, 1 teaspoon sweet or smoked paprika
- Heat oil in a pan under low to medium heat. Next, add in the tomato paste and stir for about a minute, so it does not burn. Add the blended vegetables and combine.½ cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoon tomato paste
- Cover and allow the sauce to cook for about 20-25 minutes at low heat, stirring from time to time. You will know it is done when much of the water has evaporated, the tomato mass separates from the oil, and the sauce changes color to a darker red.
- Add the lime juice, stir, and allow it to cook for a further 1-2 minutes.juice of one small lime
- Remove the pan from the heat, allow the oil to cool slightly, then strain off any excess oil (do not throw this away, keep it in the fridge to use in other recipes). Allow the sauce to cool completely then transfer it to a sterilized jar.
- Serve your pili pili ya kukaanga sauce as a condiment alongside your favourite dishes, use it as a marinade, or add it to food when cooking.
- stir regularly to prevent your tomatoes from burning and turning bitter.
- the color and intensity of the heat of your sauce will vary depending on the type of chilis you use, and whether or not you use the seeds of chili pepper.
- make sure to use enough oil when cooking the sauce as this assists with preservation and helps keep the sauce longer.
- skip de-seeding the chili peppers if you prefer your African hot sauce spicier.
- Use your favorite herbs and spices, in place of the garam masala and paprika. Bay leaves, curry powder, cumin, coriander (cilantro), and thyme particularly work well. Also, substitute the African bird eye chilis for any hot chili peppers such as habanero.