Pili pili, also known as piri piri or peri peri, is a super spicy African sauce made with chili peppers, habanero peppers, garlic, and olive oil. A little quantity is all you need for an intense, spicy kick!
Pili pili sauce is so quick and easy to make. It has a pungent, smoky, and earthy aroma and flavor, thanks to the raw peppers used.
Its heat is intense, so you only need a small quantity to add heat to your food. If you like spicy foods, your dishes will never be the same again!
What does Pili Pili mean?
Pili pili or piri piri literally means "pepper pepper" in the Swahili language. You know it's really spicy when they have to say pepper twice.
There is some debate about where this hot sauce originates from, but it is very popular in Mozambique, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ingredients used in making pili pili sauce
Chili Peppers: Pili pili is traditionally made from bird's eye chili peppers, which is native to Asia and Africa. But any red chili peppers will do.
Habanero peppers: This is one of the hottest peppers on the Scoville scale, notorious for their terrific heat. The pepper used in Africa is scotch bonnet peppers but in the U.S, habanero peppers have a very similar heat and flavor profile.
Habanero peppers come in different colors - orange, yellow and red - and the color of the pili pili sauce will vary, depending on the color of peppers used.
The red habanero pepper is by far the hottest. I use yellow for this recipe because that is what is currently in season.
Olive oil: I use just a bit of olive oil to thin the sauce when blending.
Garlic cloves and salt: for taste.
How to make African pili pili sauce
First, de-seed the peppers by opening them up and removing the seeds and core inside.
It is highly recommended to wear gloves when handling habanero peppers. The heat remains on your hands long after you are done, and you will feel it if you touch your face hours later.
De-seeding the peppers will not cause them to lose their spiciness - I promise, this pepper sauce will still be super spicy.
If you leave the seeds on, the intense heat might be a bit too much, so only do this if you can tolerate that much spiciness.
Peel the garlic and set aside. Rinse the peppers under running water and dump all the ingredients together into a blender. I use a small personal blender or nutribullet because I like the idea of less cleanup, but a regular blender will work as well.
Blend everything together till smooth and pour into an airtight container.
This recipe contains 15 servings and 0 net carbs per serving. Each serving is roughly 1 teaspoon and it stores well in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Your sauce will be a deep red color if you use red habanero peppers or scotch bonnet peppers. I used yellow habanero peppers so my pili pili sauce has an orange hue.
How do I use pili pili sauce?
This sauce is not your average hot sauce, it is intensely hot. I use it very sparingly and show it the same respect as ghost pepper. In other words, a little goes a long way.
You can add it to your marinade for your beef, chicken, or fish recipes. You can also add about half a teaspoon to your food when eating.
How can I make pili pili sauce less spicy?
When you remove the seeds from the peppers, use a spoon to scrape the insides of the pepper.
Rinse it, and then scrape one more time. Most of the heat is contained in the inner membranes of the pepper, so this helps to reduce the heat.
You can leave out habanero peppers altogether and only used red chili peppers for a more toned-down version of the sauce.
Variations when making this sauce
My pili pili sauce recipe is as basic as it gets, but you can jazz it up quite a bit if you want.
You can add any of the following:
- Lime juice
If you love spicy food, check out these other spicy recipes!
Pili Pili Sauce
- 4 habanero peppers
- 4 chili peppers
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1/4 tsp salt
- De-seed peppers by opening them up and removing the seeds and core inside. Peel the garlic and set aside.
- Rinse the peppers under running water and dump all the ingredients together into a blender.
- Blend everything till it’s completely pureed.
- Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container.
- Always wear gloves when handling very hot peppers.
- To make the sauce less spicy, after you remove the seeds and core from the peppers, use a spoon to scrape out the insides.
- You can also omit the habanero peppers altogether and use only the red chili peppers for a more toned-down version.