The Magic Two-Minute Ingredient That’s Always in My Freezer

published Sep 23, 2022
Sofrito Recipe

Sofrito is the soul of Puerto Rican cooking — a fuerte herb base that starts (and ends) almost every savory recipe in the card file.

Makes2 cups

Jump to Recipe
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
bowls with ingredients for sofrito - green peppers, tomatoes, onions next to a cutting board and knife
Credit: Dan Liberti
Sofrito ingredients as pictured in Diasporican

Sofrito, the herb base for almost every savory Puerto Rican dish, is one of the most versatile flavor boosters. The combination of cilantro, onions, peppers, garlic, and recao (also known as culantro) is something that I always have on hand for making my favorite Puerto Rican recipes, and so much more.

Culantro is like cilantro’s cousin who comes to visit from the hood. Yeah, they’re family. But it’s also way more “punchy,” “vocal,” “spirited” — all those politically correct euphemisms. And yet, you’re still happy it showed up to the party because it has the charisma to pull everyone onto the dance floor. It is also called “sawtooth coriander” and “long-leaf coriander” and can sometimes be found in Asian markets, particularly Southeast Asian grocery stores.

Sofrito’s other traditional component is ají dulces — sweet little peppers that resemble habaneros, but aren’t spicy at all. If you think culantro is hard to track down, try tracking down ají dulces if you’re Puerto Rican living in California!

My sofrito is a typical Diasporican workaround: culantro (if I can find it), cilantro, cubanelle peppers (if they’re in-season), green bell peppers, garlic, onion, and the ever-controversial tomato. (I say controversial because not everyone uses tomatoes in their sofrito.)

I shove everything into a blender until it’s well mixed and mostly smooth. Then I pour the sofrito into an ice cube tray and put it in the freezer, where it will keep for six months. When I need it, I separate the herb squares from the tray: The ice cube tray has already done the portioning work for me. I chuck one, two, or three sofrito cubes into arroz con gandules, chicken curry, beef stew, Southeast Asian-inspired stir-fries, and any other dish that needs a quick burst of flavor. Here’s my sofrito recipe, plus just a few ways I use it in recipes from my forthcoming cookbook, Diasporican: A Puerto Rican Cookbook, and how you can use it too.

Arroz Con Gandules

This one-pot compound rice dish features various combinations of pork (I use pork shoulder; some use ham or bacon), tomato sauce, gandules (also known as pigeon peas), olives, sazón — and sofrito! Not only is this hearty dish always the star of any dinner, but it’s also Puerto Rico’s national dish.

When I make my ACG I measure my liquids. It’s the only way that I can personally produce a consistent outcome. I just haven’t come into my brujeria powers enough to be like my mom and grandma who can make rice without measuring. Or, the spoon trick! (Puerto Ricans will know what I’m talking about.)

Chicken Curry

I usually call my curries “a curry,” because I know they’re nowhere near authentic — especially because I’m combining sofrito, Puerto Rican adobo, and garam masala! Although the chicken curry in my book has no connection to a true Indian curry, it’s something that I do make frequently. It’s quick, full of flavor, and flexes sofrito’s convenience and ability to cross cultural barriers. It’s a true Diasporican recipe.

Beef Stew

Carne guisada is Puerto Rican beef stew. It’s made with your choice of beef (I prefer a boneless chuck roast), sofrito, tomato sauce, adobo seasoning, potatoes, and carrots. Some people also add sázon seasoning. But it’s the sofrito that sets this beef stew apart from all other beef stews. It gives an herbal flavor to your stew that you might not be used to. And yet it’s still comforting enough to be familiar.

Southeast Asian Stir-Fries and Salads

My hometown of Sacramento, California, will often reach dry triple digits in the summer. Stir-fries were always my go-to because they’re quick to cook and a quick way to use up a lot of veggies. And the flavors of fish sauce and padaek became my everyday flavors because of the Lao family I lived with in my teens. It’s also where I noticed that some of the same base flavors — shallots, onions, tomatoes, garlic, cilantro — were used in Puerto Rican cuisine. The Puerto Rican laab recipe in my cookbook is the perfect example of the meet-cute story of sofrito and fish sauce. 

The full recipes for all of these dishes can be found in my debut cookbook, Diasporican: A Puerto Rican Cookbook, scheduled for release on October 18, 2022. Pick up a copy for more ideas for sofrito and start experimenting with it in your own recipes.

Sofrito Recipe

Sofrito is the soul of Puerto Rican cooking — a fuerte herb base that starts (and ends) almost every savory recipe in the card file.

Makes 2 cups

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 2

    Roma tomatoes, quartered

  • 1

    yellow onion, quartered

  • 6 cloves

    garlic, smashed

  • 1

    green bell pepper, quartered

  • 1 bunch

    cilantro, coarsely chopped

  • 1 bunch

    culantro, coarsley chopped (optional)

Instructions

  1. In a blender, process tomato in a blender until finely chopped. Add the onion and garlic and process until finely chopped and incorporated. Add bell pepper, cilantro and culantro, and process until the mixture is well combined and mostly smooth.

    You can use the sofrito immediately, cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 day, or pour it into an ice-cube tray and freeze for up to 6 months.

Recipe Notes

If you can find culantro and ají dulces, just add them in with the cilantro and the green bell pepper for a wallop of flavor.

Reprinted with permission from Diasporican: A Puerto Rican Cookbook by Illyanna Maisonet copyright ©2022. Puerto Rico location photographs by Erika P. Rodriguez. California location and food photographs copyright © 2022 by Dan Liberti. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.