Make the most of culinary herbs and spices.
Here's one that's full of our favorite recipes because we wrote the book! It is also full of information, helpful hints and ideas for using herbs and spices in your kitchen.
by Sandra Bowens
At last, the answer to the age old question of what goes with what. Thousands of ingredients are listed and cross-referenced making this book part reference, part cookbook.
Culantro (Eryngium foetidum) is known by many names: saw-tooth coriander, long coriander, recao, and ngo-gai. The fresh herb is sometimes available at Spanish and Asian markets but is also easy to grow. Although the seeds are somewhat difficult to find right now, they can be ordered through Caribbean Seeds or Johnny's Seeds
If you have been keeping your ear to the cutting board lately, you will know that sofrito is an up and coming seasoning mix. Flavorful and versatile, the finely chopped garlic/chile/ herb mixture is destined to find a place on everyone's list of kitchen "secrets."
We refer to the sofrito of the Caribbean where annatto is a common component. Also known as achiote, the terra cotta-colored seeds (see photo above)are infused into oil before using it to fry up the rest of the ingredients. Aside from the annatto oil, we can trace the roots of sofrito back to the "flavor" step in making Spanish paella, where onions, garlic and sometimes tomato are sautéed in oil.
Back in the kitchens around the Caribbean we see the addition of peppers, both sweet and hot, herbs like oregano and cilantro, and even olives or capers. Ham products are a popular addition. Vinegar makes an occasional appearance. Without tomato, it is considered green sofrito. Adding tomatoes, either fresh or as paste, creates a red sofrito. Most Puerto Rican cooks will add culantro, an intense grass-like herb that tastes like strong cilantro. Green sofrito is often called recao.
You will find plenty of places on the Internet to buy a prepared sofrito but as with most food, it's fun to make your own. The recipe below will get you started. Most likely you will end up substituting one or more ingredients based on your own tastes and what sort of chiles and herbs are available in your area. We urge you to experiment.
Our recipe is flavorful but rather mild. Try hotter chiles if you would like a more potent heat level. Use more garlic, if you're that type. Toss in a handful of cilantro or get your hands on some culantro. A bit of citrus, say lemon zest or orange juice, would add tanginess. Consider the ham, the capers, the olives and the vinegar--maybe not all at once.
And there is always the texture to consider. We like a more paste-like consistency that can be achieved in a food processor but your own version might be chopped by hand or simply pulsed a few times in the processor.
Once you've finished frying up a batch of your sofrito you can store it in the refrigerator for nearly a week. For keeping sofrito longer, freeze in small portions for easier defrosting.
Below, we also offer several recipe ideas for using your sofrito but we are guessing you will find your own ways to work it into everyday cooking. As you will see in the Sofrito Pork and Beans recipe, it makes a wonderful marinade. Think of it for marinating shrimp and chicken too. Try frying up par-boiled potatoes in sofrito and then scramble a couple of eggs on the side for a hearty breakfast. Other ideas, like mixing it into sour cream for a baked potato topper and adding sofrito to softened butter for a colorful garnish on vegetables or meats and fish, should fuel your imagination.
If you would prefer a green sofrito, simply omit the last step of adding the tomato paste.
1 medium onion, peeled
2 large cloves garlic, peeled
1 sweet yellow pepper, stemmed and seeded (aka: frying pepper, banana pepper)
1 Anaheim chile pepper, stemmed and seeded
1 small mild red chile, stemmed and seeded
1 jalapeno, stemmed and seeded
1/4 cup packed fresh oregano leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tablespoon annatto seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
Coarsely chop the onion, garlic, peppers and chiles; transfer to the bowl a food processor, along with the oregano leaves. Use pulses to chop further until the mixture is minced but not pureed. Set aside.
Combine the olive oil with the annatto seeds in a small skillet. Heat over medium-high heat for 3 to 5 minutes, until the oil takes on a deep golden color. (Watch for spattering as the oil heats.) Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
Strain this flavored oil into a larger skillet set over medium heat; mix in the vegetables from the food processor. This might make you cry, use the exhaust fan and avoid breathing in the steam. Stir frequently to cook the vegetables without browning until tender, about 10 minutes. (The vegetables will release a good bit of liquid at first so you won't need to stir as much but watch closely as this liquid evaporates.) Remove the skillet from the heat but leave the stove on. Stir in the salt and the tomato paste, working the paste into the vegetables with the back of a wooden spoon. Return the skillet to the heat; stir and fry for 2-3 minutes more.
Makes about 3/4 cups.
I have taken a liking to brown rice lately. If you prefer to use white rice, simply adjust the amount of liquid and the cooking time according to package directions.
2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 cup red sofrito
1 cup long-grain brown rice
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
Melt the butter over medium-high heat in a 3-quart saucepan. Mix in the sofrito; cook and stir for a minute or two. Add the rice; cook and stir two or three minutes more. Pour in the chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for one hour (or according to rice package instructions). Remove from heat, allow to stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve right away.
Makes 6 servings.
Sofrito Black Beans
1/4 cup green sofrito
1 can (15 ounces) black beans with liquid
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
pinch of dried epazote, optional
1 Tablespoon dry sherry
salt and pepper, to taste
2 Tablespoons sour cream
2 green onions, sliced 2-inches into the green part
Heat the sofrito in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the black beans, cumin and epazote, if using. Bring to a simmer; reduce heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes to mingle the flavors. Remove from heat and stir in the sherry. Taste; add salt and pepper as desired.
To serve, transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with a dollop of the sour cream and sprinkle the green onions over the top.
Makes 2 or 3 servings.
Sofrito Pork and Beans
Before beginning the black bean recipe above first massage 2 Tablespoons of red or green sofrito into 6 ounces of pork cut against the grain into thin strips. Allow the pork to marinate for 30-45 minutes before stir-frying in a dry skillet over high heat. Transfer to a plate and continue cooking in the same pan.
Reduce the heat to medium-high and proceed with the recipe for Sofrito Black beans allowing most of the liquid from the beans to evaporate as it simmers. Add the pork to reheat and finish with the sherry, salt and pepper. Garnish and serve.
Makes 2 servings.
Check out the 'pantry pointer' on the More Tips and Hints Page for thoughts about tomato paste.
Variation: For a more substantial dish, serve the beans over an equal amount of Sofrito Rice.
Cook up some sunshine anytime of the year with a book that's as fun to read as it is to eat from. Alligator anyone?
Fully illustrated and categorized by flavor this is indeed a reference book for any kitchen.