I love visiting my parents. Each time we get together we reminisce about family outings throughout the years.
I love listening to them talk about their childhood in Cuba. My dad often talks about having to wake up real early and take care of the farm and cattle before getting dressed and walking to school.
I learned that my aunt was an educator before leaving Cuba for the United States. She used to ride her horse every day to teach third grade. I thought that was pretty cool and beat all those stories you hear about having to walk 5 miles in the snow, uphill, to get to and from school.
But for this foodie nothing beats watching mom create heavenly tasting holiday meals. I spent Christmas and New Year’s at mom and dad’s house. Mom showed me the technique to roast the perfect pork shoulder, cooked just right, so you end up with a crunchy, crispy pork rind.
One of the most basic sauces used in many Cuban, Puerto Rican and Caribbean dishes is called a sofrito. It is the tangy, sometimes spicy and always delicious tomato based sauce used in recipes like ropa vieja (Cuban style shredded beef stew), carne con papas (Cuban style chunky meats and potatoes), picadillo (ground beef served over rice) and nearly any seafood dish served enchilado style (meaning red chili sauce, yet not necessarily spicy).
There are a variety of sofrito recipes, but purist know that it must contain onion, bell peppers, garlic, tomato sauce or paste or both. Those are the base ingredients. From there most recipes differ on herbs and spices depending on whether the sofrito will be used in a meat, poultry or seafood dish.
My mom’s basic sofrito recipe:
One green bell pepper sliced thin
One red bell pepper sliced thin
Half a sweet onion sliced thin
2 diced garlic cloves
One small can of tomato sauce
Teaspoon of tomato paste
Teaspoon of capers
A few sliced Spanish olives
Some white wine if using for seafood or poultry or red wine for meat dishes
Using mom’s recipe as an example, you cook the onions, bell peppers and garlic in a pan with olive oil until the onions become translucent and the peppers tender. Add the tomato sauce, paste, capers and sliced olives and simmer, tossing in salt and pepper to taste. My mom also likes to add peas and does so quite often. It adds a bit of texture, yet doesn’t change the flavor.
During my visit, she made a seafood enchilado with sofrito, mussels and shrimp. As the sofrito simmered she added about a cup of white wine and let it simmer, cooking out the alcohol but infusing the sauce with the wine. Once the sauce was finished, she tossed in mussels and cleaned and peeled shrimp. My dad likes his seafood a bit spicy so she hit the mix with a dash of hot sauce and cayenne pepper. Seafood doesn’t take that long to cook and within minutes it was ready.
It was awesome!
I’ve learned to cook a lot of my favorite meals and they’ve come pretty close to mom’s. But now that I am armed with the sauce recipe I am looking forward to seeing just how close to replicating my mom’s recipes I can get.
TIME TO EXPERIMENT…and EAT!