Lemon Drop Chilli (Aji)

This is an amazing variety of chilli.  For those who are interested this is not technically a chilli (shock horror!), this is called an aji.  These are somewhat more rare and the lemon drop is more rare still: there are only limited numbers of citrus peppers in the world. That said, most places that sell chilli seeds seem to also sell these seeds.

In the Garden:

The plants need heat to start off, like all chilli plants.  You will want to start them in a propagator or on a window sill. You want the soil to get to about 23°C so that the seeds can germinate.  A warm windowsill or a propagator work perfectly. I allowed the plants to grow to about 4 inches in pots that were 2 inches across, then potted on. Then once were outgrowing these next size I planted into 60 litre bags.  These were perfect for growing larger, although it was obvious that the roots grew first; the plant seemed stunted for a few weeks, but then quickly flourished.

I found that my plants grew huge, with long lanky stems, and was absolutely covered in 2 – 3 inch peppers; other people’s seeds did the same. With it being such a warm summer here I managed to grow these outside without any difficulty. I actually feel doing this helped; many of the early flowers fell off without being pollinated, so the move outside to near a lavender bush made a huge difference with bees hovering around it much more. The peppers themselves grow quite quickly and stay green on the plant for a long time.  This is not a major problem, but start them early so that you get a crop before it starts to cool down.  Even then you can use the green chillies, but I find they have a more grassy flavour than unripe red chillies which personally I do not like.
I also found that the green chillies lacked any heat, so were fairly pointless for me.  But as soon as they turned yellow they were incredibly hot.  The Scoville rating is between 15000 and 30000, so nowhere near as hot as the habanero, but I think the lemony acidity seems to exaggerate the heat of the chilli itself. Now, really key, you can ripen green chillies on the windowsill or in a brown bag, in the same way as tomatoes, just leave a load of green chillies with a ripe red tomato and they will ripen quickly.
However, the chillies also have a habit of drying out, so you do loose that freshness. On top of this some of the grassiness seems to remain, so if you do not like this flavour try to avoid ripening like this.

In the Kitchen

I warned a friend about this heat when I provided her with some, but my warning went as a challenge, and she popped a whole, 2 inch, chilli in her mouth. There were actual tears. That is how hot the chillies are. I know on paper 15 to 30 thousand Scovilles sounds low when you think heat, especially when we talk about the hottest chilli being over 2 million, but it still feels hot when you eat it!
So, on to the recipes!  The lemon drop chilli is a Peruvian chilli, however works well in other cuisines.
All of the below recipes can work with dried or fresh lemon drop chillies, so I have shown the amounts of each with each recipe. Here goes!

Lemon Drop Chilli Jam

This is a fresh and sticky chilli jam, with quite a heat to it.  I love it!  It works really well with pieces of pork or chicken breast, or just a nice cheese board.
  • 5 yellow sweet or bell peppers

  • 5 lemon drop chillies

  • 2 inch piece fresh root ginger

  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled

  • 20 fresh cherry tomatoes

  • 600g golden caster sugar

  • 200ml red wine vinegar

  1. Roughly chop the peppers, the chillies, the garlic and the ginger and place all into a food processor, then whizz until very finely chopped. Scrape into a heavy-bottomed pan with the whole tomatoes, sugar and vinegar, then boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for about 50 mins, stirring occasionally.

  2. Once the jam is becoming sticky, continue cooking for 10-15 mins more, stirring frequently so that it doesn’t catch and burn. It should now look like thick, bubbling lava. Take off the heat and cool slightly, and place in warm jars, then leave to cool.

  3. This should keep for 2 months if you don’t eat it! But once you open it make sure you keep it cool in a fridge.

Hot Spaghetti Bolognese

This is a hot take on the classic. Adding lemons shifts the flavour of this dish, bringing a beautiful zing to the dish. It contrasts beautifully with the beef and complements the tomatoes.
Serves 4
  • 1kg (2lb) beef mince

  • 2 stems of celery

  • 2 carrots

  • 1 lemon drop aji

  • 1 large white onion

  • 1 large green pepper

  • 4 cloves of garlic

  • 175ml port (or 250ml red wine)

  • 10 fresh tomatoes

  • 1 tin of chopped tomato (or homemade tomato sauce)

  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree

  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika

  • Handful of chives

  • Handful of parsley

  • Handful of basil

  • Pinch of nutmeg

  • Pinch of cinnamon

  • Olive oil

To Serve:
  • A good helping of pasta (80g dried or 110 fresh per person – so 320-440g all together)

  • Parmesan

  • juice of 1 lemon

  • Handful of basil leaves

  1. Start by chopping the onion, carrot, chilli, celery, pepper and garlic into fine pieces. Place all into the base of a thick bottomed metal pan. I use a shallow sided 30cm pan as I find I get more control. Fry this mix in the olive oil until the onions are golden.

  2. Add the minced beef and continue to cook until the beef is brown.

  3. Chop the herbs finely and add to the mince.

  4. Add the port to the beef to deglaze the pan and then quickly the tomato puree, tinned tomato and spices.

  5. Allow the mix to stew down for about 1 hour, checking every 15 minutes. Add water if it is looking too dry. You want the flavours to meld together and be beautiful.

  6. Boil the pasta until al dente and then mix with bolognese in the pan. Decant the pasta and sauce into a serving bowl and let your guests have it!

Aji de Gallina

Serves 4
  • 4 chicken breasts

  • 190ml whole fat milk

  • 3 tbsp olive oil

  • 2 large onions

  • 5 cloves garlic

  • 1 lemon drop chilli

  • 1 tsp paprika

  • salt and black pepper for seasoning

  • 50g ground walnuts

  • 25g grated parmesan

  1. Place the chicken in a saucepan, add just enough boiling water to cover, then bring to the boil and simmer until cooked through. Remove from the water and place on a cool plate, keep the stock in the pan. When cool enough to handle, tear the chicken so that it appears like pulled meat.

  2. Chop the garlic and onion finely.

  3. Fry the onion, garlic and chilli and in the olive oil for 7-8 minutes, or until softened and golden. Add a glug more oil and then stir in the paprika and seasoning and fry for a minute.

  4. Add the pulled chicken and coat in the spices then pour in the milk. Add the stock, bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer gently for five minutes. Stir in the ground walnuts and cook for another 5 minutes. Add more stock if you want it less thick.

  5. Stir in the parmesan then season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.