Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sofrito: The Reason We Cook

It looked like she had just vanished. On the kitchen table was an open checkbook, a calculator, a pen and her purse. Even her cell phone was still on the table. But she was gone. She never leaves the house without her purse. Extremely curious, I asked my father what happened.

“She’s running down the street, in search of the mailman,” he said.

“The mailman?” I questioned.
“Yes, remember the Sofrito ingredients were supposed to come in today,” he said.
Apparently, in our family effort to look out for the mailman who would bring our treasured ingredients, no one managed to hear the knocking on the door, so he took off, box in tow. Just one more day in that box and the ingredients would have spoiled, making my Titi Awilda’s efforts to bring us fresh Sofrito in vain.

Nervously, I awaited my mother's arrival. My stomach began to turn; we had just used the last of our Sofrito a week ago. Our supply was completely gone.

Twenty minutes later my mother entered the door, prized box in hand.

“Oh, I am so glad I found him!” She said, with her extraordinary efforts written all over her face. “I would have died if this didn’t come in!”

My dad laughed, but only because he didn’t understand. In California you can’t find the ingredients to make fresh Sofrito, you have to get them shipped from sympathetic relatives on the east coast. Had my mother not rescued this Floridian package from the unclaimed section, we would have gone without Sofrito for months! She had to run after the mailman.

I understand though, and would have done the same. With Sofrito there is no compromise. There is no substitute. If you want your food to be flavorful, colorful and be truly Puerto Rican, you need Sofrito. I grew up on Sofrito, and my mom insisted on putting it in every dish, be it Puerto Rican or not. “A esto le falta algo,” she would say, and in went the Sofrito. It went in meatloaf, beef stew, and of course traditional dishes such as Arroz con Pollo and Pollo Guisado. It can become addictive, so much so that my husband, a Salvadorian, also caught the Sofrito bug, and recently suggested we put it on homemade pizza! One day I’ll give that a shot, and if it comes out good I’ll post our recipe!

As I mentioned, Sofrito isn’t just a staple in Puerto Rican cooking, it is absolutely necessary. In our home we make enough Sofrito to last us several months, we freeze whatever isn’t used that day and the rest can last for up to six months in the freezer. Living in California, however, has posed a serious problem for my family. Seeing that the state is dominated by a Mexican population, finding the ingredients to make fresh Sofrito is impossible. My mother and I have searched and searched with no avail. There are no ajicitos dulces or culantro, ingredients for which there are no substitute. So to escape this dilemma we’ve had to contract the help of family in New York and Florida, who send overnight packages full of the aromatic ingredients.

Sofrito is made up of a variety of ingredients. It is essentially a cooking base that adds that traditional Puerto Rican flavor to our dishes. Sofrito is available in a can, but nothing compares to homemade Sofrito. Even just making it fills the kitchen with a fresh, enticing scent that comes from the mixture of culantro, cilantro, sweet peppers, garlic and more. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area that carries the essential ingredients, I suggest you try out our recipe. And if you’re not, contact your friends and family on the east coast and tell them to ship you ingredients!

Remember, Sofrito doesn’t have to go into just Puerto Rican dishes, but anything! Like I said, we’ve put Sofrito in American dishes, and are even going to try it on pizza! Be creative! You can’t go wrong with this, I promise!
Godmother Maria Medina's Sofrito Recipe

2 Envelopes of Goya Sazon Seasoning with Achoite and Culantro
½ cup of cooking oil
2 tablespoons of Goya Adobo Seasoning
2 Large white onions
2 Heads of garlic
1 bunch of cilantro
4 oz of culantro (Sawtooth Herb)
1 Green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
8 oz (approximately 38) Ajices dulces (Chinese capsicum)

Once you have all the ingredients peeled and cleaned start to blend the ingredients in a food processor. Start by adding a little of each ingredient at a time so that way each batch made has the same ingredients in it. Store the Sofrito in plastic bags or in Tupperware. Sofrito will keep for six months when frozen.


  1. Hey! Thanks soooo much for the recipe. Maybe now I might actually be able to make some sofrito by myself. The problem I've always had is that my mom, grandma and even my husband make amazing sofrito but they make it "a ojo"! They don't use recipes, they just look and automatically know if it's ok or not. I can't do that...I've tried and the results have been....tragic, to say the least. I NEED recipes, I NEED numbers and measurements. I guess I don't have that ability to just KNOW by looking...apparently it's a Puertorican trait I was cruelly denied. I'll let you know about my sofrito endeavors. BTW, thanks for including the english's so hard to ask for things in Long Island supermarkets if you don't know what they're called in english.

  2. cris! write more!!
    so what ingredients of sofrito you can't find on the west coast?
    loved reading your newest post. when are you going to write about FLAN??