Ají (Colombian-Style Tomato and Onion Salsa) Recipe

Aji­ (Colombian-Style Tomato and Onion Salsa) in a bowl, served with potatoes

Serious Eats / Diana Chistruga

Why It Works

  • Seasoning with salt extracts flavorful liquid from the vegetables.
  • Adding water creates extends the flavorful liquid, creating even more sauce.

To say that this is the ají recipe would be ludicrous. Like Mexican salsas, there are countless variations of this Colombian sauce: some made with hot chilies, some with avocados, some with pumpkin seeds, even some made with hard boiled eggs. But, as with Mexican salsa, there is one that immediately comes to most people's minds when they hear the word. In this case, it's the tomato and onion-based version I first tried at my aunt-in-law's house just outside of Bogotá.

Made by combining diced tomatoes, cilantro, green onions, and (if you'd like), a chili or two, it starts off like a Mexican pico de gallo. Where it differs is in its seasoning, which is nothing more than salt and water. You'd think that adding water to your vegetables would make them taste, well, watery, but rather, what you get is an intensely flavored liquid as the salt extracts juices from the vegetables. The ají is thin, letting it soak into the crevices of grilled meat, or get sopped up into the pores of crisp corn empanadas.

"what you get is an intensely flavored liquid as the salt extracts juices from the vegetables."

You'll see it as a universal condiment for just about everything. Roadside grilled meat vendors put out bowls of it to go with your chorizo or your ternera a la llanera—the insanely tender veal legs slow-grilled on vertical spits over open fires. My wife likes to spoon it over her fried papas criollas, the creamy little yellow potatoes native to the region, or even better, her fried yuca. It's an essential condiment for crispy corn-dough empanadas (there are empanada bars in Bogotá that offer dozens of varieties). I like bite off the tip and spoon some ají directly into the filling. You'll even see folks adding it to their soup for a quick boost of salt and flavor.

Delicious and ridiculously easy? That's the best kind of recipe of all.

June 28, 2012

Recipe Facts

Active: 3 mins
Total: 3 mins
Serves: 24 servings
Makes: 3 cups

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  • 4 medium roma tomatoes, cut into 1/2- to 1/4-inch dice (about 2 cups)

  • 4 scallions, white parts only, split into quarters lengthwise, finely sliced (about 1/4 cup)

  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped

  • 1 serrano or jalapeño chile, seeds and stems removed, finely chopped (optional)

  • Kosher salt

  • 1/2 cup cold water


  1. Combine tomatoes, scallions, cilantro, and chili in a small bowl. Season generously with salt and let sit 2 minutes until salt dissolves. Add water and stir to combine.

    Aji (Colombian-Style Tomato and Onion Salsa) in a bowl

    Serious Eats / Diana Chistruga

Make-Ahead and Storage

Ají can be eaten immediately or stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days

This Recipe Appears In

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
6 Calories
0g Fat
1g Carbs
0g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 24
Amount per serving
Calories 6
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 41mg 2%
Total Carbohydrate 1g 0%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 1g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 5mg 23%
Calcium 5mg 0%
Iron 0mg 1%
Potassium 69mg 1%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)