I had neither tasted nor even heard of a sofrito until one year while visiting family in France, my husband and I were invited to the home of Dinah Franco — a Sephardic Jew of Egyptian descent. Sofreír in Spanish means to sauté or “lightly fry,” and in Spanish, Portuguese, Caribbean and Latin American countries, a sofrito is a type of sauce made by cooking a lot of garlic, onions, and spices with various vegetables for a long period of time over low heat, so that it can be used as a base for cooking meat, other vegetables, beans or rice dishes.
The following recipe is one that I recreated after having tasted Dinah’s, which combines nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and turmeric, with a lot of garlic and onions. When I was first developing this dish I focused on getting the right balance of seasonings and ingredients down on paper, and when I later tested my recipe I found that the result was more like a soup than a stew. In this most recent third attempt I used a lot less liquid to braise the meat and cooked it over a lower heat for a longer period of time. The overall result was a thick, rich sauce that took on the flavor of the meat, and more of what a true sofrito should be.
STEP 1: Gather and prep your ingredients (3 pounds beef stew pieces, 4 cups onions, parsley, 1 to 2 cups coriander leaves and/or parsley leaves, 4 to 5 tablespoons garlic, spices, 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, black pepper).
THE SPICES: 1/4 teaspoon cloves, 1 teaspoon ginger, 2 teaspoons turmeric, and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg.
STEP 2: Brown the meat in a large heavy-bottomed pot with a little oil over high heat, then pour into a separate bowl along with all of its liquid.
STEP 3: Add a few tablespoons of oil to the same pot (no need to wash) and cook onions over medium-high heat until soft and transparent, but not browned. Add the garlic and while stirring, cook for 30 seconds.
STEP 4: Add the spices, salt, and pepper, mix, and cook over medium heat for about 1 minute.
STEP 5: Return browned meat and all of its liquid plus about 1 cup cold water to the pot. Add the chopped herbs and mix well. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a medium-low heat, cover, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Uncover and cook an additional 1/2 hour until sauce has reduced and meat is so soft it can be easily cut with a spoon. (Note: If you like, you can scatter a few cups of potato pieces over the top and cook it with the meat for the last 1/2 hour as well.)
STEP 6: Dinner is served.