Food can bring families together, it is always a common ground. Spending a day in someone’s kitchen can open a world of possibilities. You can learn so much more than just how to cook, it’s a window to a whole new world. Maybe even a window into their soul. Lately, I’ve been really thinking about my dear Grandmother who is no longer with us. I have so much regret. I ask myself why I didn’t take more initiative to learn from her, take time to ask her how she made her recipes, find out where she learned them from. It makes me sad everyday knowing that I missed those precious details and opportunities.
To honor her, I have decided that it’s time to embrace what I have now and to not let history repeat itself. Yesterday, I spent the day in Eva’s kitchen, my mother in-law (also known as and not limited to Mami, Ma, Wela). My husband’s grandparents (Mami Wela and Papi Welo) were born in Puerto Rico (Mayagüez and Bayamón respectively) but actually met in New York years later to raise a very large family. Their cooking is laced with long time tradition, culture and love. When I asked Eva how she learned to cook, she told me that she learned from watching her mother. Nobody actually taught her how to do it, but perhaps at the time was rather a necessity with such a large family. Enter another regret of mine, I never had an interest as a young girl to actually learn from my own mother. That is another journey to delve into.
There is a reason my food would never taste like hers, that reason is Sofrito.
I’ve been wanting to learn the secrets of Eva’s Puerto Rican cooking for quite some time now. I’ve spent hours in the kitchen trying to recreate a taste that my husband loves and craves. But, there is a reason my food would never taste like hers, that reason is Sofrito. A few weeks ago she sent me some “Italian Stuffed Shells”, but these tasted so much different than any I’d tasted before. Having grown up in a heavy Italian community I had a pretty good understanding about how they would typically taste…. My husband finally found out that the secret is in the sauce, and it is.. you guessed it! It’s Sofrito!
The uses for Sofrito in Eva’s cooking is endless. Titi Lily and Eva both excitedly told me that it can be used in rice, meat dishes, beans, soups, sauces and things like Italian Stuffed Shells. Delicious! You see, while cooking in a Puerto Rican kitchen you might encounter aunts, grandparents sharing their input on how much water to rice should be used and kids passing through grabbing a drink or ten. Then of course there are the hungry type such as “uncle” Izzy and my hubby whom are always inquiring about when the food will be ready. I enjoyed a day of laughter, learning and a whole lot of crazy.
…she just knows how much to add. She uses her sense of taste to guide her.
Now, on to the good stuff. I am excited to share the Sofrito recipe that Eva taught me how to prepare. Mind you, she is not a recipe person, she just knows what to do and how much to add. She uses her sense of taste to guide her. I tried my best to be a diligent student and get the correct measurements for ya, but it’s not easy to do when shadowing! There are two ingredients in her recipe that can be a task to track down, you might need to do some research to locate them. The first is what is referred to in Puerto Rico as Recao which may be better known in the U.S. as Mexican Coriander or “Culantro”. It’s the long green herb pictured below. You should note that it’s not the same as regular Coriander and not Cilantro either… but there is also Cilantro in this recipe 😉
The next ingredient to track down is Ajice or Ají dulce or for people like me “small” or “sweet” peppers (seen below without stem). After she told me about these harder to find Sofrito components, the rest starting coming together. Cilantro, green peppers, yellow onions, fresh garlic cloves were chopped and added to the food processor. Then, she later added a touch of oil and dried oregano to seal the deal. The kitchen filled with an amazing fresh aroma that I recognized but could never identify as she magically blended her ingredients.
If you haven’t taken the time to spend the day in the kitchen with someone you love, I encourage you to give them a call right now. I feel the power of family, tradition and a sense of closeness after hours spent together cooking. Thank you for a great day Eva!
- Ajicito (small or sweet peppers) (4) seeded and chopped
- Recao (Mexican Coriander or Culantro) Bunch or approx 15 stalks)
- Cilantro (Bunch or approx 12 stalks)
- 4 Yellow Onions chopped
- 2 Green Peppers chopped
- 4 Bulbs of Garlic peeled, chopped
- 2 Tablespoons of Canola Oil
- 2 Tablespoons of Dried Oregano
- Cleanse, peel and or seed your fresh ingredients. Slowly add all of the vegetables and herbs into a food processor until blended. Then add the oil and oregano until blended. Voila, you have now made Sofrito! Now what will you use if for?
I hope you will try this traditional family recipe and see what you think, remember you can add it to just about any sauce, meat or rice dish to take it to another level. Yum!
Have you ever spent the day nourishing your soul or cooking with family?
Do you have any traditional family recipes that were passed down to you?