Country Lore: Use Hot Peppers in This Delicious Sofrito Recipe

Try citrusy and pungently sweet ‘Aji Crystal’ peppers in this Puerto Rican sofrito (salsa) recipe.
By June Van Houten
June/July 2006
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Use your garden goodies to make a batch of this classic Latin American sauce or seasoning.

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I remember chopping and mixing vegetables with my mom to make our family recipe for Puerto Rican sofrito (salsa). Every spring, Mom and I would go to a local organic greenhouse to pick out a variety of hot-pepper seedlings. Then we’d turn the resulting fruits into hot sauces to satisfy our capsicum (pepper) cravings. Now that I have my own garden, it is a tradition I continue with my son.

My mom found ‘Aji Dulce’ pepper seedlings at the nursery, and they grew abundant fruits in the first year. But in subsequent years, they hardly grew past our ankles. However, we found that ‘Aji Crystal’ peppers are prolific in our Zone 4 climate. The ‘Aji Crystal’ peppers have more heat than the ‘Aji Dulce’ peppers, but by substituting these equally citrusy and pungently sweet peppers, our “northern sofrito” is a garden-fresh meal worthy of sharing.

Northern Sofrito Recipe

Put all the ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth:

2 bunches cilantro
1 head garlic (peeled cloves)
1 large white onion cut into quarters
4 cups deseeded ‘Aji Crystal’ peppers
1 can tomato paste (6 ounces)
1/4 to 1/2 cup vinegar (to taste)
Dashes of the following spices, to taste: cumin, granulated garlic, oregano, paprika, salt and pepper 

Basically, sofrito is a seasoning paste that is used in Latin American dishes such as rice and beans. It also can be used in a variety of other dishes or as a marinade for chicken or tofu. A common way to use sofrito is to sauté about 2 tablespoons in olive oil, and then add a large can of crushed tomatoes to make a sauce. The sauce can be used with rice and beans or with tacos and enchiladas. Because only a small amount of sofrito is called for in most dishes, many folks freeze it in small containers for later use.

June Van Houten
East Calais, Vermont

‘Aji Crystal’ pepper seeds are available from Seed Savers Exchange. For more information about hot peppers, read The Other Chile Peppers. — MOTHER

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