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Think of this as the Latin American answer to Louisiana's Holy Trinity of celery, onion, and bell pepper. It's an essential cooking base for classic dishes like rope vieja (braised beef) or arroz con pollo (chicken and rice). Goya's sofrito is a mix of tomatoes, onions, peppers, cilantro, and garlic, deeply caramelized in olive oil and pureed. Use a heaping spoonful to jump-start a soup or braise, or stir into sauce for enchiladas. Sold at most supermarkets.
If you'd like to make a homemade version, try our Sofrito recipe from our April 2001 issue.
Sofrito means "gently fried." The sofrito is a mixture of sautéed ingredients—onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes -that gives depth of flavor to many dishes in Spanish cooking, from paella to stew, vegetables to pasta. Sofrito is the first step in many recipes. It’s a procedure, a technique and a sauce.
While a sofrito can be prepared in any pan, it's traditionally made in a cazuela, an earthenware casserole. A cazuela takes longer than a metal pan to come up to temperature, but then it maintains a steady, even heat. Ingredients such as chopped onions can be browned on a high heat or they can be "poached" in oil on a low fire until nearly melted.
Often the sofrito serves as a cook-in sauce, added to foods, usually with additional liquid such as wine, to continue cooking until done. In the case of shellfish, this is a matter of minutes, whereas stewing beef or lamb might take an hour or more and require additional liquid. Herbs and spices are added, depending on what is being cooked in the sofrito.
The essential ingredient in sofrito is olive oil. The basic procedure is to heat olive oil in a cazuela or frying pan and sauté chopped onion until it is lightly golden. Sometimes chopped green peppers are added as well. Once the onions are softened, peeled and chopped tomato is added and allowed to “fry” on a high heat for a few minutes.
Seasoned with salt and pepper, the sofrito simmers until the tomato is somewhat reduced. It's now ready to be added to the main food. For example, in preparing menestra (a vegetable medley), green broad beans, peas and artichokes are first blanched, then finish cooking in a sofrito of onions, mushrooms, tomatoes and bits of ham.
If a larger quantity of tomatoes is used, the sofrito becomes a basic tomato sauce. It can be left chunky or sieved to make a smooth sauce. Chicken, pork or bonito that have been first browned in oil are added to it to finish cooking. Or the sofrito sauce can be served over cooked pasta, for example.
A sofrito of onions, peppers and tomatoes may be the starting point for lamb stew, fish soup or chicken in sauce. And, according to Valencia experts, the secret to good paella is the sofrito. The paella ingredients are fried very slowly to develop their flavor. First, olive oil in a wide steel paella pan on a grate over hot coals. Pieces of chicken or rabbit are added to the pan and allowed to brown very slowly. No rushing. Next, some chopped garlic and grated tomato pulp go in, followed by wide flat green beans and fat lima beans. Once the meat is nicely browned and almost cooked, liquid is added and a golden mixture of saffron. Once the liquid boils, the rice is stirred in. As the rice cooks, it absorbs all the flavors of the sofrito.
Janet Mendel is a food writer based in southern Spain. She is the author of several books about Spanish food, including Cooking in Spain and Tapas: a bite of Spain (Santana Books, Spain) My Kitchen in Spain and Cooking from the Heart of Spain-Food of La Mancha (Harper Collins), and Traditional Spanish Cooking (Frances Lincoln, UK).
Karen’s Essential Puerto Rican Sofrito
The mother starter sauce of Latin Cuisine.
A mixture of aromatic ingredients, either chopped or pureed, used to add layers of flavor to different foods. Serve raw, or add a few tablespoons to your cooking to jazz it up!
A fresh mix to stir into so many recipes… the essential flavors of Puerto Rican Cuisine!
I’m adding a little red onion for color and another flavor note
Puerto Rican Sofrito’s key ingredients are a puree of of onions, garlic, aji peppers, green bell pepper, cubanelle peppers, tomatoes and cilantro.
You can adjust it to your desire with other peppers, herbs and seasonings. Use it as base to cook/season ANYTHING.
I love it raw too! (with lime juice)
Puerto Rican style beans
1 can of red beans (can be substituted for pink beans)
1 ounce of smoked cooking ham (can be substituted for hickory-smoked ham)
1 cup of pumpkin, cut into medium-sized cubes (can substitute or add potatoes)
1 leave of fresh culantro
¼ of fresh coriander, chopped
In a saucepan, at medium-high heat, cook the ham for one minute. Add the sofrito and cook until translucent, then add the sazón, beans, pumpkin, and salt. Cook for 15 minutes at medium heat. Add the chopped coriander before serving.
Let's cook! Join Chef Juliana González from Caña Restaurant at the Fairmont El San Juan Hotel as she gives us a cooking demo on how to make Puerto Rican "arroz con pollo". Bring home the flavors that make our Puerto Rican cuisine so irresistible!
What is Sofrito?
Most cultures have a handful of ingredients that define its cuisine. For the French, it is mirepoix, the classic blend of carrots, onions, and celery (the Italians also have a similar version they call soffritto).
Puerto Rican sofrito has its roots in Spanish cuisine. A typical Spanish sofrito contains a blend of onions, garlic, peppers, and tomatoes. Many versions of sofrito exist throughout Latin America, each country has adapted the recipe to include native herbs and peppers.
In Puerto Rico, sofrito is a unique blend of onions, garlic, cilantro, culantro (an herb native to the Caribbean), and sweet peppers known as ají dulce (they look like habanero peppers but are not spicy). Sofrito is used in virtually every Puerto Rican recipe and that's what makes it an essential part of the island's cuisine.
5. Puerto Rico: sofrito
Originally from Spain, sofrito is a cardinal ingredient in a great many cuisines. Variations of the tomato-based sauce have spawned other sauces, stews, and regional preparations across Latin America, the Caribbean, and Europe’s Iberian Peninsula, as well as Italy and the Philippines.
Puerto Rico’s cuisine is among the most sofrito-dependent. There, the sauce begins with a basic blend of pureed aromatics known as recaito: Sweet, lightly spicy aji dulce and green bell peppers are cooked down in pork fat with garlic, onions, cilantro, and culantro. An olive-caper condiment called alcaparrado is commonly added, as well.
Sofrito generally throws tomatoes into the mix, turning green recaito into a proper red sauce. This sauce can then be modified to suit various rice dishes, including arroz con gandules.
- ¼ Cup Olive Oil
- 1 Large Yellow Onion, Minced
- 4 Clove Garlic, Minced
- 1 Medium Anaheim Pepper, seeded and minced
- ¾ Cup Red Wine
- 2 28oz San Marzano Tomatoes, processed or ground or 10 Fresh Tomatoes, diced/grated
- 3 Sprig Thyme
- 1 Tbsp Sweet Pimenton
1. Heat extra virgin olive oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan or cast iron over low heat. Once oil is hot, and your onions, Anaheim peppers, and garlic and slowly start to fry the vegetables in the oil. Add you salt and sugar in with the vegetables. Make sure they are not cooking too fast they should be barely cooking.
2. Once the diced vegetables are caramelized, they should be brown in color but not burnt, add the red wine. Reduce the red wine until it is almost completely gone.
3. Now add the tomatoes, thyme, and sweet pimenton. Reduce the heat back to low heat. Slowly cook this mixture for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
4. Once done cooking, the sauce should be a rust color with a glossy coat. Remove the thyme sprigs and season with salt, black pepper, and sugar.
1. Can you freeze sofrito?
Yes, sofrito freezes really well. This is one of those recipes that actually makes sense to freeze in an ice cube tray. You do not need to thaw out sofrito too…. You can just put in sauce or soup from frozen.
2. I do not like chunks of vegetables can I blend a sofrito smooth?
Sure, you can. You can either blend the ingredients before or after you cook them. I would recommend blending after.
3. Every time I make sofrito it turns out differently, why is that?
Honestly, that is not uncommon. The reason you will see slight differences in sofritos, even if you use the same recipe, is because of how many variables there are in the recipe. Let us say you sauté the onions for 5 more minutes than the last time, well then it will be a little different. Even if you timed yourself on each step, there would still be minute differences due to freshness, moisture content, and types of your vegetables.
4. Can I precut the vegetables? If I do not have time to cook the sofrito today?
Precut vegetables are a great way to plan ahead for your sofrito. The idea is to keep them fresh though, so I would not cut them to early in advance 1-2 days in the fridge is ideal for precut vegetables.
5. I like spicy foods. Can I change the bell peppers for something hotter?
You definitely can. Be careful, cooking down peppers will concentrate their spiciness.
A humble ingredient and staple of Latin-American cuisine–corn–shines as the star of my latest “Together at Home” cooking session.
“Nutrition in the Time of COVID19” is restrictive in nature. Complying with “Safer-at-Home” emergency orders and practicing social distancing means we may not be able to get the “right” ingredients to execute a recipe.
But how about we use this as an opportunity to learn to cook at home and be resourceful!
Whether it’s frozen or canned, chances are you have some corn at home. Even if you don’t, you may have other legumes, such as navy beans or chickpeas, in your pantry. Use those!
Adding aromatics and spices to a dish can help elevate any ingredient and add so much flavor. Garlic, turmeric, and black pepper, for instance, have immune-boosting properties which will prove helpful during the current crisis.
The recipes below also include what you need to make my cashew cream, a plant-based substitute for sour cream and cream cheese. In my cooking session, I used this cream to lather the ears of corn.
Eat deliciously and stay healthy, amigos!
Recipe: Corn-Coconut Soup
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1/2 cup chopped chayote squash
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped green bell peppers
- 1/4 cup chopped red bell pepppers
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt + more to taste
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup coconut cream
- 1 3/4 cups cooked organic corn kernels (or 1 can organic corn kernels, drained)
Heat oil in large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Cook onions for 3-4 min, until they’re translucent and soft.
Add chayote squash, garlic, green and red bell pepper cook for 5 min, stirring often.
Add paprika, cumin, and turmeric then season with salt and pepper. Stir until spices are evenly coating all ingredients.
Turn heat to low then add coconut cream and corn. Mix well, cover pan with lid, and simmer for about 10 min. Make sure to stir once or twice through cooking time.
Turn off heat, remove lid, and stir allow to rest on the stove for at least 5 minutes.
Carefully transfer mixture to blender, cover with lid topped with a kitchen towel, and process on high for 1-2 minutes until soup is velvety and smooth.
This dish refrigerates very well cool down completely and store in a lidded container for up to 7 days.
I served this dish with thinly sliced serrano peppers, cashew-crema, kohlrabi greens, and edible flowers. You may get creative with your toppings although a bit of chopped of fresh herbs will do.
Sofrito (Traditional Puerto Rican Style)
If there is one thing that was always in my grandmother’s kitchen, it was the unlimited stock of sofrito.
There something about that fresh homemade sofrito smell as it sizzles on a frying pan.
A childhood aroma that will forever continue to be passed down generations.
It is made in different variations around the Caribbean Islands. The base consisting of peppers, onion, garlic, and tomatoes.
However, Puerto Rican Sofrito rarely has tomatoes and uses two main ingredients – recao (culantro) and ají dulce. This is one of the main reasons why sofrito is also called “recaíto” for Puerto Ricans.
How to Make Sofrito?
This seasoning is used to prepare Arroz con gandules, pasteles, and many other Puerto Rican food dishes.
The ají dulce is also called aji cachucha and is very hard to find at the grocery stores. They are usually found at a vegetable market or Hispanic/latin supermarkets. If you cannot find these, you can use mini sweet peppers instead.
Be careful when blending with a high powered food processor or blender because it can become too purée. To reduce water content, strain the blended sofrito seasoning before storing.
Also, it is a common practice to spread it out in an ice cube tray and freeze the sofrito. Then, place sofrito cubes into a ziplock freezer bag for long-term storage.
Bring 6 cups water to boil in medium saucepan. Meanwhile, heat large skillet on medium heat. Add dry bulgur cook and stir 2 to 3 minutes or until fragrant. Add toasted bulgur to boiling water. Cook on medium heat 10 to 12 minutes or until tender. Drain and rinse under cold water. Place bulgur in large bowl. Mix orange peel, juice, cumin and sea salt in small bowl. Pour over bulgur toss to coat well. Set aside.
Heat oil in large skillet on medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, bell peppers, onion and garlic cook and stir 2 to 3 minutes or until tender-crisp. Add vegetables, and 1/2 each of the dates, almonds and cilantro to the bulgur toss to coat well.
Serve warm or refrigerate until ready to serve. Garnish with remaining dates, almonds and cilantro.