Sofrito. I love the word: "Soh-free-toh." Without it, Puerto Rican cuisine would be scant indeed. It is an aromatic mix of herbs and spices that is a base for cooking countless dishes. This concept can be found in other cultures as well. Think of garam masala, the Indian mix that is also used a a base flavoring. Or kimchi in Korean cusine. We use sofrito when cooking chicken, fish, pork, beef, you name it---almost everything except desserts.
Sofrito can be whipped up in a few minutes in a blender or food processor. The word itself is a generic term that has no correct English translation. "Frito" is Spanish means fried. Sofrito could be taken to mean stir-fried, although this would not be entirely accurate. Sofrito can be stored in a closed, tight jar or container in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days or, in the freezer compartment, indefinitely. It's the kind of product where the basic recipe can be doubled or tripled, depending on how much you may want to use. Given below is a quick recipe.
8 leafy stems of cilantro (available almost anywhere these days)
1 medium green bell pepper (pimento)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1/4 pound aji dulce (small, sweet chili peppers found in most bodegas or Asian stores and sold
loose by the handful or in packets of 1/2 to 1/4 pound. A 1/4 pound packet contains about 28
peppers) They should be sliced in half with inner seeds removed.
6 whole leaves recao, chopped (recao is a small, green stemmed herb also found in Caribbean
and Asian markets). If you don't have recao, you can substitute curly parsley. In the Cuban
version of sofrito they disregard recao altogether. Let you tastebuds be the judge.
Combine all the ingredients in a blender and puree until it has a smooth, sauce-like consistency, adding 1 tablespoon of olive oil or vegetable oil while pureeing. This will yield about 1 1/3 cups.
In terms of storing sofrito, a great idea is to freeze it in ice trays. A regular size ice cube is equal to approximately 2 tablespoons of sofrito. You simply plop a cube into the skillet or stew pot, and it's much easier than scooping out tablespoons of the stuff from a can in the freezer.
Okay, how do you use it? Simple. You can just add it as is to a stew or soup to enhance its flavor; or to a pot of beans, or almost any other dish to give that added kick. If you want to make flavorful, colorful rice, saute 1 or 2 tablespoons sofrito in 1 tablespoon olive oil or corn oil for about a minute or so to blend the diverse flavors. Add 1 tablespoon of tomato sauce or tomato paste and cook a minute or 2 longer. Add rice, water, and cook as you normally would. It makes plain white rice LUXURIOUS.
A final note. There are now on supermarket shelves many erzats sofrito products. Skip 'em. All you're getting are chemicals and assorted crap. Nothing beats homemade sofrito. Besides, it's so easy to make.