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Sofrito – inauthentic

One of the lovely things about the place where I work is chatting with the counselors and managers as I cook – especially the ones who cook. Which, yes, tend to be the women. But they’re Indian and Russian and South American and Puerto Rican and they share their favorite foods and cooking techniques.

Example – if you’re making a curry, cook the curry powder in oil first, and then add water to open it up. It makes an enormous difference.

Last week, while I was making beef stew, L, whose family is from Puerto Rico, told me she loved making it herself. “But I make it Spanish style.”

I, of course, asked her how to make it Spanish style. And she told me. And the first thing she told me about was sofrito. Sofrito is the basis for much of Latin American cooking. It’s a mixture of aromatics, the equivalent of the carrots onions celery of French mirepoix or the Cajun trinity of onions celery green pepper, or the Chinese garlic scallion ginger. It varies very widely per country, though, and probably varies per family, too.

The recipe L gave me, after consulting with her mother, was WHITE onions, red and green bell peppers (she was very firm on that), garlic, cilantro and racao, which is also known as culantro. This is all blended together. She makes it in very, very large quantities and freezes it because she uses it all the time. It’s cooked and then the rest of the ingredients (including adobo spice and quite specifically white package Goya Sason) are added.

She uses it for chicken and rice and bean and – well, all wet dishes, really.

I decided to make black bean soup for dinner on Monday. Black bean soup is a staple in many parts of Latin America and it always sounded delicious to me. I wanted something spicy and smoky and new, you see.

And I knew this was my chance to approximate the sofrito.

I couldn’t find dried black beans in my relatively small supermarket, so I got my favorite brand of canned – organic, no salt added. I also bought a box of vegetable stock, and something my store calls “rauschfleish” – smoked beef. Most of the recipes for black bean soup I’ve seen called for ham or bacon, so I figured this would add the smoky taste plus some meatiness.

And I bought a large white onion, a red pepper, a bunch of cilantro and a couple of jalopenos. I was going to buy adobo spice, but the jar I looked listed “salt, sugar, curry powder.” So I didn’t bother.

I chopped the onion and the red pepper roughly and diced the jalopenos, being careful of the seeds and veins. These I added to hot oil, before adding a teaspoon of curry powder and finely chopped cilantro. I also added finely chopped garlic. When they smelled good, I put in two cans of beans and then about three cups of stock. I also diced the smoked beef and tossed that in.

I brought it to a simmer and then placed it in a 350F oven for a couple of hours, at which point it looked like this:

I served it with soy sour cream and slices of avocado.

I think the heat from the jalopenos and the cilantro made all the differences. Still not totally authenitic, but so, so yummy.

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Categories: cooking
  1. February 3, 2015 at 2:16 am

    Dumb question from a relatively new cook – what did putting it into a 350-degree oven do? Thicken it? Just keep it warm?

    • February 3, 2015 at 12:30 pm

      In terms of just cooking – the even heat of an oven keeps the beans intact and helps develop the flavor more than simmering on top of the stove. In terms of practicality – it means you can forget about the soup and do other things without fear of it drying out or burning. I’m even comfortable leaving the house, although I might turn the oven to 200.

      • February 3, 2015 at 12:44 pm

        Thank you – will bear that in mind next time I make a pot of soup

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