Smoky Pili Pili Sauce

African bird’s-eye chilies have grown wild for centuries in Malawi, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. They are the main ingredient in this sauce, which is popular throughout Africa. If you can’t find bird’s-eye chilies, you can substitute another pepper, like serrano, which will be milder, or a habanero, which will be hotter. Drizzle this hot sauce over fritters or any other main dish.

Smoky Pili Pili Sauce

Makes 1 cup
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes


  • 1 tbs. peanut oil or other high-heat oil
  • 1/4 cup finely diced white onion
  • 2 tsp. finely grated orange zest
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt
  • 2 to 6 African bird’s-eye chilies, seeded
  • 3/4 cup red-wine vinegar
  • 2 tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. bourbon
  • 1 tsp. maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp. unsulfured molasses
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh basil
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground white pepper

Warm the oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft, five to seven minutes.

Add the orange zest, garlic, paprika, and salt, and sauté until the garlic is fragrant, two to three minutes.

Transfer the mixture to a blender. Add the chilies, vinegar, lemon juice, bourbon, maple syrup, and molasses, and purée until smooth.

Pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Partially cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally until the mixture starts to reduce, about 30 minutes. Stir in the basil and white pepper, and simmer for two minutes.

Use immediately or store in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Excerpted with permission from Afro-Vegan by Bryant Terry, copyright © 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. Photography © 2014 by Paige Green.

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