Have you ever tried to recreate something by taste only? I recently had this experience after discovering Nando’s peri peri sauce for the first time.
I love going to grocery stores in foreign countries to see what products I can find that are different from home. So when I arrived in Cape Town, South Africa, I visited the nearest supermarket and came across a peri peri sauce by Nando’s. I didn’t know what peri peri or Nando’s was, only that it sounded vaguely familiar, so I purchased a bottle and proceeded to put it on everything I ate for the next week because it was that good. Then I bought 3 more bottles to take home. I knew that this was THE recipe from my trip to Cape Town that I would have to make.
Turns out that the rest of the world knows about peri peri, it just hasn’t caught on in the US yet. But people LOVE it. Peri peri, also called piri piri or pili pili depending on where in the world you are, is a sauce made out of the African bird’s eye chili pepper. It has origins in Mozambique, where the colonizing Portuguese incorporated the chili into their marinades. Today we have Nando’s, a South African chain with a global presence that specializes in peri peri chicken. This might be controversial but I’ve tagged the recipe as South African because 1) it is huge in South African cuisine, 2) that’s where I had it for the first time and 3) Nando’s is a South African chain. I haven’t eaten at Nando’s, but if you’d like to try it you can check here if there’s one in your area.
And by the way, the bird’s eye chili pepper is not to be taken lightly. It falls between the habanero and cayenne peppers on the Scoville scale, which measures the spiciness of the world’s chilis. A little bit of this pepper can go a long way in terms of spice. You might see this in stores as peri peri spice or as African bird’s eye chili. If you’re in New York, Kalustyan’s sells it. Check ethnic stores in your area or go online; another easy solution is to substitute with cayenne pepper.
Now the question was whether something so delicious could be recreated at home. Starting with the ingredients list on the bottle and some internet research, I wrote down two potential recipes and made them in small batch. Myself and a taste tester (ok, my fiancé) rated them next to the original on taste, color, and texture. I did a third batch a few days later which informed my final batch – the recipe I’m sharing with you today.
What can you do with peri peri sauce? Really, what CAN’T you do with it? Use it as a marinade for grilled meats and veggies. Dip for chips, veggies, or fries. Sub it for hot sauce in tacos. Make a spicy stir fry. Add a few drops in salad dressing for a spicy alternative. Put it on your sandwich. These are only the ideas I’ve thought of so far, I’m sure there are more uses!
There’s some huge bonuses to this recipe. Easy. Vegan. Sugar-free, dairy-free, gluten-free. Versatile. And peri peri is a natural preservative so it will keep in your fridge. The steps to making this sauce are simple: chop, sauté, blend, and simmer. Start by prepping the onion, red pepper, and garlic, then sauté in a pan.
These days I’ve been using vegetable broth as a substitute for oil when sautéing and it works – no compromise in cooking the food, but fewer calories. For this recipe I liked to cook until slightly browned. While the vegetables are cooking, add everything else to the blender. My recipe is for mild-medium levels of spice, but if you want something hotter you can increase the peri peri spice. I would recommend doing this gradually though because peri peri is really quite potent.
Put the cooked vegetables in the blender and blend on high until smooth – I used 30 seconds at speed 5 on my Vitamix to achieve this texture.
The taste should now be right but it will be watery and needs to be cooked down. Return it to the stove and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until darker orange and thick enough for dipping. Enjoy on anything and everything!
Homemade Nando’s Peri Peri Sauce
40 minutes. Makes one 8-ounce bottle.
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 red onion, diced
- 1 red pepper, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/3 cups water
- 3/4 cup white vinegar
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground peri peri (substitute: ground cayenne pepper)
- Large frying pan or saucepan
- Heat oil in large saucepan. Add onion, pepper, and garlic. Cook until clear and slightly browned, 7-10 minutes. If the pan gets dry, add more oil as needed.
- While the vegetables are cooking, add water, vinegar, lemon juice, vegetable oil, and spices to a blender. If you want to adjust the spice level, change the amount of peri peri spice, tasting as you go. When the vegetables are cooked, add them to the blender.
- Blend the ingredients on high speed until smooth.
- Return to saucepan and simmer on medium-low, uncovered, to thicken, approximately 20 minutes. The sauce is ready when it is a slightly darker orange and thick enough for dipping.
- Store in the fridge.