Llajwa – Weekend Herb Blogging

2006.Mar.02 Thursday · 34 comments

in Food & Recipes

Ingredients for Salsa LlajwaBuenos Aires – Salsa Llajwa is sometimes known as the Bolivian National Hot Sauce. I first encountered it at a restaurant in Palermo, and it was so delicious that I’d asked the manager of the restaurant what was in it. He described it as containing the Peruvian herb huacatay and the Bolivian herb quirquiña, blended with rocoto peppers and oven dried tomatoes. I’ve spent a bit of time looking for recipes, figuring one of these days, like yesterday (see last post), I’d make it out to Liniers and possibly be able to find the key ingredients. Although he didn’t mention it, every recipe I saw included either onion or garlic, so I added in a shallot. Recipes varied wildly, using various herbs, generally on the aromatic side, but from coriander to mint to parsley, and the peppers varied as well – from just rocoto to rocoto and much hotter pepper combos, to others.

HuacatayHuacatay is referred to by some as Amazon Black Mint, and it has a pungent aroma, sort of a like spearmint; and others insist that it is a variety of the Mexican herb epazote – it doesn’t look at all like the epazote I used to get in New York at the Mexican markets, which had longer, arrowhead shaped jagged leaves, and it has a much more intense flavor. Other names for this are Chiquilla, Chinchilla, and Zuico. I’ve seen both the scientific name Tagetes minuta, and also Pazote chenopodium ambrosioides, which between them come back to a variety of different English names, including muster John Henry, Stinking Roger, Mexican Marigold, Hedionda Grass, Sagrada Grass, and Tall Khaki Weed. Searching for various photos online, some of these look the similar, some don’t. Such is the world of plant names, however I’m leaning more towards the non-epazote camp and something in the mint-ish world. [Edit: further research says that the non-epazote/tagetes minuta camp is the correct one.] It is a common ingredient in Peruvian cooking especially, and is the key herb in both ají de huacatay (not surprising), a spicy hot sauce from the Arequipa area, and in the sauce for ocopa, one of my favorite potato dishes.

QuirquinaQuirquiña, or Bolivian coriander, (also called quilquiña or killi), is a vibrant green herb found throughout Bolivia. It has an aroma and flavor that is similar to coriander, but with a touch of bitterness (Wikipedia describes it as a cross between coriander, arugula, and rue). Scientific name Porophyllum ruderale, which puts it in the Aster family, as an annual herb. In different parts of the globe it is known as Pápalo, Papaloquilitl, Tapakuelo, Yiwa ndusú, Yiwa pápalo and many others. Obviously, it looks nothing like coriander, and even the flavor is different enough that it’s clearly not related, merely possessing similar aromatics.

Salsa LlajwaI’d remembered the sauce as having a brownish color to it, which, given the bright green of the various ingredients, seemed unlikely, though the tomato red might have managed. I also remembered a very smoky flavor, and attribute that to the oven drying process that the restaurant manager had mentioned. Although all the recipes I’ve found call for this to be an uncooked, fresh herbal sauce, I decided on a compromise to try to get the effect that I wanted. So, I cooked the shallot and some sun-dried tomatoes (they’re what I had) in oil until they were all lightly golden, then poured the hot oil mixture over the fresh herbs and rocoto pepper and immediately blended them. This took a lot of the edge off of the shallots, the herbs, and the hot peppers, and gave me the smoky flavor I was looking for. If you don’t have access to these herbs, I’m not sure what to suggest – but given the references, the closest substitutes might be to give a shot with coriander cilantro and spearmint, it might just work – after all, both match well with hot peppers in salsas!

Salsa Llajwa

1 cup of good olive oil
1 cup of sun-dried tomatoes
1 coarsely chopped shallot

Heat these three ingredients together until the oil just starts to bubble, then reduce the heat to minimum and cook slowly, stirring regularly, until the shallots are lightly browned and the tomatoes have reconstituted and taken on a touch of toastiness.

1 packed cup of huacatay leaves
1 packed cup of quirquiña leaves
2 seeded rocoto peppers
1 tablespoon of coarse salt

Put these ingredients into your blender or food processor. When the oil mixture is ready, pour it directly onto the herbs and blend immediately. Weekend Herb BloggingIf you need to add a touch more oil to smooth this out to a consistency you like, feel free, but you don’t want this runny. Makes about a cup and a half of sauce, which will keep well in the refrigerator and can also be frozen – like you won’t finish it off within 2-3 days!

This sauce can be used on a variety of things where you want a nice, herbal and spicy sauce. I’m especially fond of it on crustacea – shrimp approach perfection tossed with or dipped into this. It also works well on fish, chicken, and even veal.


{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

ksternberg March 2, 2006 at 23:04


I am second to no one in my adoration of delicious hot sauce and I’d love to make this recipe. But my local supermarket is fresh out of quirquiña and huacatay leaves and may not get more for a little while. Like five years. Are there any substitutes possible?

kalyn March 2, 2006 at 23:26

What a great post for Weekend Herb Blogging. I’ve never heard of either of these herbs before.

dan March 3, 2006 at 07:47

Now Ken, you’ve got to start reading thoroughly. The last paragraph before the recipe I suggested substitutes, really just for people who live in god-forsaken places like Massachusetts, where markets don’t carry fresh quirquña and huacatay? It’s heresy I tell you, heresy!

asadoarg March 3, 2006 at 16:27

That looks good, I’ll have to try it. IF I can find the herbs. I have like 100 packets of dried locoto “en polvo” that someone gave me from Bolivia. Hardly has any taste. Like a milder version of cayenne. Good for soups, sauces, and marinades though. Llajwa recipe on the back says grate 2 or more tomatoes. Add locoto powder to taste. Season with salt, minced onion, and quilquiña. Just need to get my hands on quilquiña. Maybe I can score some seeds and grow it myself.

dan March 3, 2006 at 16:56

Asadoarg, aren’t you in Argentina? If so, it shouldn’t be hard to find either herb, there are enough pockets of Andean communities around. And if not, depending on where you are, there might be a source of Peruvian or Bolivian products somewhere near to you? Maybe if there’s a restaurant of either type near to you you could ask them. Also, powdered rocoto/locoto is no substitute for the fresh peppers!

Beyond that, if you just want to try the sauce (though, of course, not as good as my version…), or any of lots of other Peruvian products (for example, they have pureed rocoto and pureed huacatay, ready to use – though I didn’t see quirquiña), you can check out: Peru Cooking: Pricelist

asadoarg March 3, 2006 at 18:20

I’m down in Rio Grande, btw. Amazingly, there are some Bolivans here and “supposedly”, from what someone told me, there is a little store in Ushuaia that has Bolivian/Northwest Argentina products.

Definitely agree on the fresh peppers. I live by them. Same person who gave me the powder gave me some fresh ones, well not really fresh. A bit blemished and when I cut them open the seeds were all black. Was hoping for the seeds to be alright so I could at least grow them but no such luck. Thankfully a supermarket here sells a bunch of jalapeños and cilantro so I can make due with a pseudo-llajwa, cough Mexican-type salsa. Speaking of cilantro, when I lived in Buenos Aires, it was quite a challenge to find. Jumbo would sell like a few sprouts in a container for $3 pesos. Here the supermarket sells them by the bunch for almost half the price. Probably due to the amount of Chileans here and their love for pebre.

dan March 3, 2006 at 18:35

The seeds in rocotos should be black, so that’s normal. If they’ve been refrigerated, that’s probably why they didn’t grow, who knows?

These days, cilantro is readily available here.

Paz March 4, 2006 at 01:28

Cool post. Never hear of any of these herbs before. Very enlightening.


Gabriela Bieri April 18, 2010 at 22:44

I hate to tell you, but Huacatay, garlic, onions, and puree of tomatoes are definitely NOT ingredientes in Bolivian Llajua.


THAT is Llajua. Anything else is…..something else.

dan April 19, 2010 at 09:59

It’s quite possible that that is the classic recipe, but saying it’s the only way to make it is like saying there’s only one way to make chimichurri, or ketchup, or anything else. A two second search of the internet yields recipes using various herbs, including huacatay, parsley, cilantro, and others – solo or in combinations; some have garlic; some don’t, some have onions; some don’t, some have oil, some don’t – the only constants seem to be tomatoes and rocotos. Part of the world of food and cooking is that things evolve. Since that first encounter with the sauce four years ago I’ve had it in more than a dozen restaurants, all Bolivian or Peruvian and each version was different. Even my own version is now different, I dropped the sun-dried tomatoes and went with fresh and use very little oil, just enough to get a slightly smooth texture to it.

quirquincho July 2, 2010 at 11:24

If you are in the U.S. you can by huacataya by mail from Noly’s World Cuisine in Chicago. Sometimes they have quilquina too. I checked their website and right now they have huacataya but no quilquina. They say to check back in late summer for the quilquina.

I agree with Gabriela Bieri, llajua is simply huacataya/quilquina, locoto, tomato and salt.

dan July 2, 2010 at 13:03

Thanks for the sources for those in the U.S. You are however, missing the point about the recipe. Sure there’s a traditional, simple recipe, but that doesn’t mean one can’t vary it, just like any other sauce gets varied. You think ketchup or mustard only have one recipe? If so, we wouldn’t have a zillion brands of each. Even if you look at the ingredients on different commercial brands of llajwa you’ll find different ingredients, and the different brands taste different. Even though you claim to agree with Gabriela, you specified huacatay as an ingredient and she says it has no place in the sauce. There’s a place for tradition, and there’s also a place for realizing one doesn’t have to be stuck in it.

Uju July 9, 2010 at 17:59

Dan, hi! I’m from Buenos Aires, your post is nice! Do you remember the name of the restaurant? I want to go and eat Llajwa…

dan July 9, 2010 at 19:19

What restaurant? The one where I first tried it here in town? It doesn’t exist anymore.

There aren’t a lot of Bolivian restaurants here in town, other than out in Liniers. And there’s one in Belgrano that I know of.

Charangoman September 28, 2015 at 17:02

Hi, I was looking for a llajwa recipe and stumbled upon this page, so I know it’s out of date. But I need to say to Gabriela Bieri, I’ve had llajua with huacatay in Bolivia and it even appears in some recipes from Bolivian sources. They may spell it as “wacataya”, but obviously it’s the same leaf. I’ve also been told it’s the same herb known as suyco (or suico, suyko, etc. however they wish to spell it.). Here’s one mention from the renowned “gastronomic capital” of Bolivia.

dan September 28, 2015 at 17:27

Charangoman – thanks for your comment! Yes, the herb actually has quite a few different names, depending on where in the Andean communities one lives.

charangoman September 30, 2015 at 18:03

Ha! I had no idea it had so many names, but one thing’s for sure, it definitely is an option for authentic Bolivian llajua.

One of the things a lot of people enjoy about Andean food is that it’s very ancestral and traditional. Make the slightest change from what they’re used to, and they (especially Bolivians) will jump “that’s not llajua!”, “that’s not sillpancho!” or whatever dish you’re making. But all their traditional favorites were innovations at one point, so why not continue innovating? Even Bolivians in Bolivia are tinkering with other herbs in their llajua!


dan September 30, 2015 at 18:11

Exactly. It’s why restaurants like Gustu are so wildly popular! Even note in the link you sent – that it says “traditionally made with either quirqiña or huacatay”, belying the claims that only one of them is the “correct” one.

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