A great many of the delicious foods that came out of Mamina’s kitchen began with a sofrito. It is the seasoning base for many Cuban dishes. Sofrito is sauted onions, peppers, garlic and sometimes tomatoes.
I love to eat sofrito on crackers, sprinkled with a little salt. I remember as a child, I would be busy playing and in the back of my mind, I would be paying attention to when the smell of the sofrito reached its crescendo. I became quite adept at getting to the kitchen at that crucial moment when the flavors peaked. Too often, though, I would be unwilling to interrupt my games and by the time I got to the kitchen, I had missed it by just a few seconds, such disappointment. The sofrito was gone into the soup! What a waste, I thought at the time.
After my parents came to live with us, my mother loved to make her delicious food for my children. This got her started using a small food processor for making sofrito. She chopped things quite finely because at least one of my sons would not eat anything that had onions in it, if he could recognize them, and it is not Cuban food without onions. I like the texture of onions so I don’t chop so finely, and since I’m not his grandmother I don’t have to cater to that finicky son.
Sometimes in her later years Mamina would separate a little bit of sofrito on a plate for me. By the time I got to it the sofrito would be cold and not quite as yummy as when you get it out of the frying pan during that brief moment of extraordinary flavor. However, I knew she had thought of me, and I felt loved.
To make a basic sofrito, sautée onions, garlic and green peppers in olive oil. The gentle heat persuades them to release their amazing flavors, and when you mix the sofrito into the soup, rice, chicken, etc. the result is a flavor you can’t accomplish with dry spices. Some ingredients increase, decrease or disappear altogether, depending on what the sofrito is meant to flavor, (I will note this when necessary) but this is the basic recipe:
Olive oil to generously coat frying pan
1/2 to 1 green bell pepper
3-5 garlic cloves
1 8 oz can of tomato sauce
(You can use fresh tomatoes, but she rarely did.)
Chop the onion, pepper and garlic large or fine, depending on your family’s preference. Sauté vegetables gently in the olive oil over medium heat. When the onions are translucent, add tomato sauce and cook the ingredients on low for a couple of more minutes to blend the flavors. At this point, you can add other things to the sofrito. For example, if you are making sofrito to use in Fricasé, you would add the chicken and potatoes to the sofrito. Otherwise, you can add the sofrito to something else, like beans that have been cooked until soft.
I also love sofrito because it is such a nice simple recipe that can be repeated or modified to bring great results. Just a few steps, a simple thing really, and it makes everything better.
I was trying to think of an acronym to help my children remember what goes into a sofrito. My daughter in law Tara came up with GO GO (garlic, olive oil, green peppers, onions). I guess that could work, since we came to the US in the late 60’s, when there was “go go dancing”, “go go boots” etc, but here is another idea. Just think of OPTIMISM and GRATITUDE, doubled. Two things that always make things better are OPTIMISM and GRATITUDE, especially if you add a little tomato sauce!