Due to tropical storms and consequent power outages Internet connections have been unreliable to say the least. But, cuisine de Puerto Rico is consistently spicy and evolving. Sofrito is to Puerto Rican cooking as Harissa is to North African, or Piri Piri is to Portuguese cooking. It is actually a gift from Italian immigrants to Puerto Rico. The Italian version is a little different than the Puerto Rican version and the Puerto Rican version is used a great deal more. It is incorporated in most savory dishes as the spice and sparkle though it is not spicy hot. Puerto Rican favorites such as arroz con gandules, pernil al horno, or tostones would not be complete without an authentic Puerto Rican sofrito. Whether it is rubbed on meat or fish before frying, grilling or roasting, added to stews, soups and picadillos, sofrito says Latincaribe with an attitude.
From its Italian influence Sofrito is salty and silky with olive oil, olives and capers. The typical Latin components include cubanelle peppers (similar to banana peppers…light green Anaheim chilies are a good substitute), aji dulces (small sweet chilies without a kick), pungent oregano with a thick African-violet-like leaf, culantro (recao) and mild cilantro. The herb culantro is known as recao in Puerto Rico and it has a strong (bitter) cilantro flavor but it is this herb that sets homemade sofrito apart from commercial brands. Recao or Culantro grows wild in Puerto Rico and most of Latin America. It’s also been found in Florida, Georgia, Hawaii and Southeast Asia. If you cannot find culantro in your local Latin market it can be found in Asian markets as ngo gai (Vietnamese). If you enjoy gardening and want to grow your own cubanelle peppers, culantro and aji dulces chilies, check out the seeds for sale at http://dollarman.com/store.
Make a large batch of this condiment when your chilies and peppers are prime. This recipe may be frozen in ice-cube trays then transfer the cubes to a zip-lock bag for longer freezer storage. Use 2-3 cubes to spice up a picadillo, arroz con gandules, asopao or small pernil. You may heighten the color and subtle flavors of meat and rice dishes with this variation: thaw 3 sofrito cubes in a bowl then saute in 2 Tbsp achiote oil (annato seeds in olive oil) for a couple minutes, add 2 Tbsp tomato paste blended with 1/4 cup water and bring to a lively simmer for a few minutes. Ahiote oil is available in Latin markets or if you find annato seeds just warm 1 tsp of seeds in 1/2 cup of olive oil, let cool and bottle. It’ll keep in your refrigerator indefinitely.
- 1 large onion, quartered
- 1 large green cubanelle pepper (or Anaheim chili), seeded and quartered
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and quartered (or 1 small jar of roasted red peppers)
- 1 head of garlic, cloves separated and skinned (or 1 Tbsp minced garlic)
- 1 bunch of cilantro leaves
- 6 culantro leaves
- 12 aji dulces chilies (or 2-3 habanero chiles for a spicy-hot option)
- 8-10 Spanish olives, pitted (or stuffed green olives)
- 1 Tbsp capers
- 1 Tbsp crushed oregano (3 Tbsp of fresh oregano leaves)
- 2 tsp sea salt (or to taste)
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup olive oil
In a large food processor pulse all ingredients until fairly minced.
Whirl minced ingredients until nearly pureed. Add water or juice from a jar of roasted red peppers to facilitate pureeing.
- Makes about 3-1/2 cups. Pour into sterilized jars, cover and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate.
- Alternately, pour pureed ingredients into clean ice-cube trays and freeze several hours. Transfer cubes to a zip-lock bag.