Sofrito and I go way back… I have memories of my mom, grandma and aunties making sofrito. Sofrito is the fabric in which Puerto Rican cuisine is sown. It gives Puerto Rican food a three dimensional effect that I don’t normally find in just regular food.
Got Sofrito, Will Travel
My mom usually freezes me a bowl of sofrito, a margarine bowl to be exact, when she makes sofrito. I bring it with me or she brings it when she visits. This makes for the best TSA experiences I have had, not counting random search selection. You go cooler on hand, with frozen sofrito and other treasures. They look at you like you are trying to pass some weird seeds that USDA check didn’t catch. You exchange looks with the agent at the scanner. The agent gives you a “if that’s pitorro, you better forget it”. You then smile and say “Hey, my cooler has sofrito!” The agent cautiously approach the cooler once it reaches the search area. They know the wrong move or trying to open it there and the smell will just hit them.
If it is a Christmas cooler, then you better find space in your checked suitcase. The Christmas cooler comes with frozen pasteles, alcapurrias, sorrullitos, sofrito, etc. If you told your mom that you missed it, you can bet it is in the Christmas cooler. In fact, if my husband, friend, neighbor, stranger 10 houses down from mine, says they want to try some Puerto Rican delicacy within earshot of my parents, it will be in my cooler once I return to Texas. That’s the warm, friendly and forever hospitable personality of the Boricuas.
Handling Sofrito… Carefully
As a good practice, I try to avoid putting sofrito in my checked bag because it smells. It will smell for a while. It doesn’t matter if you duct taped the whole bag after putting the sofrito in multiple bags and then duct tape. Hence, why I prefer to just deal with the TSA agent. The smell is so fragrant and potent that when I am cooking with it, my husband knows as soon as he gets out of the vehicle. Trust me, it is a good smell! You will want to incorporate it to more recipes.
The Ways of the Sofrito
I have done sofrito by hand and using a food processor, but you can use a blender too. If I am making picadillo or ground beef for pastelon and dishes like that, I chop the ingredients by hand or just pulse it few times. I like to eat those dishes with small pieces of sofrito. If that’s not your thing, then go for the blender and turn it liquid gold. The one illustrated here was made in the food processor.
Before getting into the recipe, there are ingredients that are not exactly like the ingredients my mom uses in Puerto Rico. I find the recao (culantro) in Puerto Rico has a stronger flavor than the one found at Asian markets here. You can add cilantro and recao to the sofrito and that’s cool too, or just cilantro if you can’t find recao / culantro. I feel you need the ingredients or equivalents. If you read a recipe that says optional for recao or skips a few ingredients of the sofrito, I suggest you find another recipe. There are many variations but recao is essential. At the very least, use the coriander seeds and cilantro as replacement.
You can find recao at 99 Ranch Market. For sofrito, I think is best to get the package they sell with a good amount of recao leaves. It’s inexpensive so feel free to get two packs. The other ingredient I used to have a bit of an issue finding was sweet chili pepper or ajies dulces. I settled for a bag of mini sweet peppers. I find they have a sweet chili pepper flavor comparable to the ajies dulces we would normally use. It’s not exactly like Puerto Rico, but it works pretty well. If you can’t find cubanelle peppers, which is the typical pimiento verde sold in Puerto Rico, use bell peppers. In this case, I didn’t have green bell peppers so went with orange and red bell peppers. I must admit that I like sofrito with a lot of color, not just straight green.
Not all Peppers are the Same
Ah… before I forget, don’t use Anaheim peppers thinking they look like pimientos verdes and you didn’t find Cubanelle peppers. That ingredient will turn sofrito into a PR-Mex combo with a spicy flavor. I prefer bell peppers as a substitute. If you like spicy then go for it. Sofrito has garlic; so it has some spiciness from it already. However, garlic spicy is different than Anaheim spicy.
The Bottle at the Store
I must take a moment here to say what is sold at the store in a tall bottle labeled “Sofrito” that comes green and red is not quite Puerto Rican sofrito. What is it? I used the green stuff in my early days of living in Texas, but quickly found out the hard way, that isn’t sofrito. Just make your own and avoid the disappointment. Recently, Chef Campis got a sofrito product out. I can only hope that more Puerto Rican chefs put more products out and those get to the States. A girl can dream, right?
Here is the recipe! Finally!!
- 1/2 cup olive oil light tasting or your preference
- 3 bell peppers greens, oranges, yellow or red
- 6 mini sweet peppers
- 1 head garlic peeled
- 1 tsp oregano dried or fresh, optional
- 1 tsp coriander seeds dried, optional
- 20-30 leaves recao known as culantro
- 1 bunch cilantro optional
- 1 onion peeled and quartered
- 1/2 cup oil your preference
- Add all ingredients to food processor.
- Turn the food processor on or use the pulse button until your desired consistency. I prefer the pulsing a few times until all ingredients are chopped well, but not too liquid. In this image, you it is liquid.