Recipe contributed to Hispanic Kitchen by Sweets and Beyond. Used with permission.
The foundation of Puerto Rican cooking is sofrito. In English, sofrito means sauteed.
Sofrito is a sauce used as a base in Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin American cooking. Sofrito consists of aromatic vegetables cut into small pieces and sautéed or braised or blended in a mixer or food processor.
In Caribbean cuisine sofrito is the seasoned base for many traditional dishes, but prepared differently in Caribbean countries. Annatto seeds cooked in oil is added to color it yellow, and later strained out. To the colored oil, Cuban sofrito is a mixture of cured ham, cubanelle peppers, onions, culantro, cilantro and sweet ají peppers.
In the Dominican Republic, it’s also called sazón, and is a liquid mixture containing vinegar, water and sometimes tomato juice. It’s used for rice, stews, beans, and other dishes.
In Colombian foods, it’s called hogao, or guiso, and it is made mostly of tomato, onion and coriander, and sometimes garlic, it is mostly used when cooking stews and meats.
In Ecuadorian foods it’s called ajito, and it is made of spanish onions, cubanelle peppers, fresh tomatoes, roasted garlic, cilantro and ground toasted cumin. It is also used also mostly used when cooking stews and meats.
In Haitian foods, it’s called epis, a sauce made from cooked peppers, garlic, and herbs, particularly green onions, thyme, and parsley. It is used as a basic condiment for rice and beans and is also used in stews and soups.
Sofrito is usually in most of my recipes. From rice, stews and even spaghetti sauce! It’s very easy to make and it freezes beautifully. I use onions, cubanelle peppers, ají dulce, cilantro, culantro and lots of garlic.
About the different ingredients of sofrito (note the numbers):
1. Culantro is a completely different plant from cilantro. Although the two are cousins, they look nothing alike and are quite easy to differentiate by appearance. Culantro is also often called spiny cilantro and is not as widely available as cilantro. Check with your market’s produce manager if you do not see any in with other fresh herbs. It really makes a difference in the flavor of the sofrito.
2. A cubanelle pepper is a long, somewhat slender pepper that is considered to be a sweet pepper. Ranging in color from green to yellow or red, this pepper has a glossy outer skin that is smooth and firm in texture. Also known as Italian frying pepper, this pepper is mildly hot and very similar to an Anaheim pepper. If you can’t find cubanelle peppers, you can use bell peppers.
3. Ají dulce (Capsicum chinense) is a small, light green pepper that turns red if left long enough on the plant. In Puerto Rico, it is known as ají dulce or ajicito (sweet pepper and small pepper, respectively, in Spanish). In the Dominican Republic, it is also known as ají gustoso or ají cachucha (tasty pepper, and cap-shaped pepper, respectively, in Spanish). It has the shape and size of a habanero pepper without the intense heat. Unlike many other countries in Latin America, hot peppers are not commonly used in the cuisine of Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, or Cuba.
4. Cilantro is an herb with lacy green leaves and a pungent and unique flavor. The seed of the cilantro plant is called coriander.
And now that you know the history and ingredients of our sofrito, here’s how to make it:
Note: This recipe makes A LOT. I like this recipe because I freeze the leftover sofrito in ice cube trays for use later.
Ingredients for the sofrito:
3 bunches of cilantro
3 bunches of culantro (spiny cilantro or recao)
2 cups of garlic cloves
15-20 ají dulce or sweet peppers
3-4 large onions
4-5 cubanelle peppers (or bell peppers if cubanelles are not available)
Triple wash cilantro and culantro and snip the ends. Rinse and chop the rest of the ingredients. I personally use a food processor, but a blender will work to puree all the veggies.
Watch me make my sofrito step by step ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgPb2r7E1Gc)
Editor’s note: Find more of Ida’s creations at the Sweets and Beyond channel on YouTube