The French have their mirepoix, and the Cajuns their holy trinity—both mixtures of chopped aromatic vegetables that act as flavor bases for many of their classic dishes. For Latinos, especially ones who come from Caribbean countries, our version is called the sofrito. And while many variations exist (as do many ways of calling it—in Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador it’s called ahogado; in Brazil it’s refogado) in most cases the sauce acts as the backbone of a dish. A good sofrito, skilled Latin cooks will tell you, is the real secret to a delicious Latin dish.
It can also be the secret to whipping up quick and easy weeknight meals. Make a big batch, and you can freeze it in small containers that can be thawed when you want to, say, take a plain can of black beans to the next level or cook up a fast stew.
A few key pointers: the first step in making a sofrito is the sauteing of the vegetables. Take your time here. You don’t want to brown the vegetables, but rather cook them until they’re tender, the onions translucent. Cook over medium heat so the flavor has time to really come out. Because making a sofrito is really an exercise in layering flavor upon flavor, make sure you add the herbs toward the end so you preserve their fresh taste. Today’s recipe is a fusion of sofrito traditions from around Latin America, a blending of technique and ingredients. Feel free to add the herbs and spices you love to give it your own twist.
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, de-veined and diced
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, de-veined and diced
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 bay leaf
1 small can no-sodium tomato sauce
2 T tomato paste
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup, chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup, chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1. In a medium-sized caldero, heat the oil. Add the onion, peppers, garlic, oregano, cumin and bay leaf and cook over medium heat until onions are translucent and tender, about 10 minutes.
2. Stir in the tomato sauce and let cook for about 5 minutes, until it thickens and reduces. Add the tomato paste and let cook for another 5 minutes. Add the white wine, parsley and cilantro and let cook for 5 minutes, until the wine reduces and the flavors combine.
3. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Pour mixture into a blender or food processor. Puree for about one minute, until the sauce still has some texture. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Will keep refrigerated for 5 days, or freeze for up to 3 months. Makes about 2 cups.