The smell of sofrito is guaranteed to bring any Puerto Rican back to memories of home. Sofrito literally smells like home, LITERALLY. Once the sofrito hits the pan, your eyes will automatically close, your lungs will expand while breathing in the delicious aroma, you will probably even get butterflies in your stomach.
So, what is sofrito? Sofrito is an aromatic base used in most Puerto Rican dishes such as beans, stews, soups, and rice. It’s basically like a hispanic mirepoix!
I didn’t grow up with homemade sofrito at my house. My mother, bless her heart, would buy the glass jar at the supermarket. Being a busy mom and business woman, she probably had more important things to do. Even until later in my 20s I still viewed homemade sofrito as something only made by little old abuelas. That is, until I moved to North Carolina and found that the only available brands of jarred sofrito were not that great .
After confronting the lack of acceptable pre-made sofrito, I found myself having a conversation with the only person I had ever seen make homemade sofrito, my Titi Minerva. My aunt is a fantastic cook and loves making stuff from scratch, She promptly gave me her recipe over the phone, but she also gave me one of the neatest tricks for Sofrito I had ever seen (which I will reveal at the end!).
One of the biggest challenges of making the traditional recipe in the US is that one of the key ingredients in traditional Puerto Rican sofrito is almost impossible to track down. This is the ají dulce, which is a little sweet pepper that looks like habanero pepper (but should definitely NOT be confused or substituted unless you want your sofrito to make you breathe fire!). This little pepper is a perennial plant in Puerto Rico, but is imported into the states and can only be found in hispanic supermarkets.
Another ingredient that is challenging to track down is called recao, also called culantro (again, not to be confused with cilantro). This is an herb that has a long flat leaf with a strong flavor and is widely known in the latin american community, which is why it is only found in hispanic supermarkets. So, basically, if you want to make sofrito just open up your browser and search for your nearest hispanic or international foods supermarket, ok!?
Listo para hacer Sofrito? It’s incredibly easy…
First, you will need a powerful blender or food processor. Now, start adding the onions first. Having the onions at the bottom will produce liquid at the blades faster and will make it easier to incorporate the rest of the ingredients as you blend them. After the onion throw in the rest of the roughly chopped ingredients in no particular order: cilantro, culantro (recao), cubanelle peppers, bell peppers, and garlic.
Turn on the blender and make sure everything is incorporated without any big chunks. And that’s it! you don’t have to add any salt or seasonings since that will added into the dish when you cook it.
Once everything is blended store in an airtight container. You can store in your refrigerator or freezer depening on how soon you will use it.
NOW, here is where my Titi Minerva’s neat trick comes in. After she is done she puts her mixture in ice cube trays and freezes them. After they are fully frozen, she pops out all of the frozen cubes and puts them in a bag to store in the freezer. They last a lot longer and it makes it easier to use just what you need. This way, when she is ready to cook something with sofrito she just grabs a few frozen cubes (each is about 1 tablespoon) and throws them in the hot pan to thaw out.
- 2 onions
- 2 cubanelle peppers
- 1/2 green bell pepper
- 1/2 red or yellow bell pepper
- 1 cup cilantro
- 1 bunch of recao (culantro) - about 6-10 leaves
- 8 cloves of garlic
- Add the roughly chopped onions to your blender or food processor
- Add the rest of your ingredients: roughly chopped cubanelle and bell peppers, cilantro, recao, and garlic
- Blend until all large chunks have disappeared
- Store in an airtight container for immediate use or freeze in individual ice cube trays for extended storage