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SOFRITO & The Holy Trinity Of Cuban Cuisine

Cuban Sofrito Bren Herrera

I recently engaged someone, another foodie, on the Holy Trinity of Cuban food. I said onion, garlic and cumin. They said onion, garlic and green pepper. I even underscored my argument by saying that J. Lo’s executive chef, Don Rolando, agrees with my version of “La Trinidad.” My interview with him reinforced so many things I already knew about our cuisine. You can read it here.

After 20 minutes of back and forth and using examples, I decided that there certainly had to be an agreeable meeting place, even though I’m convinced I’m right.

If you don’t walk away from my blog learning how to use the pressure cooker or make hundreds of different flavored flans (well, really only 35 for now), please take the time to at least learn all the wonderful things about sofrito! It’ll end every argument you may have regarding the basic flavoring methods!

Growing up, there were two things my mother reiterated: stay out of the kitchen when I’m cooking beans in the pressure cooker and don’t forget to make the sofrito!

{READ: A Lesson in Pressure Cooking

Sofrito is like the mire poix of creole and Cajun cuisine. How do I put it… it’s the *ish that makes Cuban and Latin food so flavorful and robust. It’s the basis, the essence, the foundation to tasty eats. Respectfully and basically speaking, sofrito consists of sautéing diced vegetables and spices/herbs in canola or vegetable oil over medium to high heat and used to season certain dishes. Your sofrito is done before the garlic starts to brown and when the onions are translucent.

 Sofrito is the toothpaste on the brush, the sexy shoe on the foot, the sugar in pecan pie.

It is that thing!

Now that we know what sofrito is, let’s address the different ways of using it. Every dish requiring un sofrito, will dictate what kind of vegetables and seasonings I use. I mention earlier how the holy trinity of Cuban cuisine is onion, garlic and cumin.  However, the sofrito is the early point in cooking where you can improvise and establish your holy trinity. For me, the basic sofrito will always consist of onion, garlic, green pepper, cumin, oregano and a packet of Sazon Goya, sin achiote (that little orange packet of seasonings we all rave about).  EVERYTHING is better with garlic!

Most of my beans also use this basic recipe, however using red bell peppers will add nice color to a batch of black frijoles. Most of our rice dishes also call for sofrito. The only time I don’t incorporate it is for plain white or brown rice.  It’s definitely a must in the ever-popular yellow saffron rice. In this single case, I do use the packet of Sazón con achiote (coloring and flavor agent/seasoning).

In addition to beans and rice dishes, there are meat, poultry and sauces that will call for a sofrito. It all depends on how you are preparing each. There are times when certain vegetables are eliminated or others are included. One case would be in making the mojo for yuca hervida. Though the onion and garlic sauce that is deliciously poured over perfectly salted and boiled yuca, is the mojo, the process of sautéing it in vegetable oil makes it a sofrito, of sorts.

Some will dispute when and how sofrito should be added to the pot of food. For instance, when making picadillo, I just throw the veggies and spices/herbs at the same time as the meat. No need to sauté my goodies ahead of time because picadillo generally takes a very short time to cook). I have been challenged on this. I’ve been making picadillo for 15 years and am quite confident my hodge-podge method works just fine! (verdad, Mami?!)

{WATCH: How to Make Cuban Picadillo (and a full dinner) in Just 30 Minutes}

However, when cooking dried or canned beans, it is important to know that the sofrito goes in after the beans have been pressurized and softened (generally about 20 minutes). Before the 2nd set of applied pressure, the sofrito is added to the beans and cooked uncovered, for 5 minutes, to allow full infusion into the beans.  Side note: it is imperative you make a sofrito to doctor up even seasoned canned beans. I mean, come on, who likes eating bland beans straight from the can, simply because they’re already cooked! Take a few minutes and make a basic sofrito for them. It’ll be your redemption for not using dried ones (and your friends won’t talk about you)!

{MAKE THIS: Smoked Chipotle & Molasses Steak Sauce}

Ultimately, the purpose of sofrito is to offer a flavorful foundation to food. When added at the right time and allowed to infuse properly, sofrito will take your food to another level. Think of how great it is to add quick flavor to simple spaghetti by making  a more sofrito with some diced tomato.Instantly, you have a light tomato sauce in lieu of a time consuming homemade heavy one! (look here for an example of one I made Monaco).

Cuban Sofrito by BrenHerrera
(this sofrito was one I made today for some coconut arroz congrí; I used red onion since it was already partially diced.)

So go and practice making sofrito. It is robust flavor, guaranteed, every.single.time.

Below is an edited list I created, of dishes for which you should make a sofrito. If you are interested, email me and I will send you a more elaborate chart! Go for it!


* (Note: you may have noticed no mention of salt in the sofrito. That’s because I add my salt either directly to the food while cooking (to taste) or will have seasoned my meats with a rub. Very seldom, if ever, do I add salt to the sofrito.)

*(Note no. 2: in a later post, I will address the use of Sazon Goya vs. real saffron. For the purpose of this post, I did not touch on it, since the majority of sofritos do not require any coloring agents, seasoning, etc.)

**What’s in YOUR Sofrito??**






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116 thoughts on “SOFRITO & The Holy Trinity Of Cuban Cuisine

  1. I hate to admit, but I’ve never used Sazon.  My basic sofrito is the other holy trinity: onion, garlic, bell pepper (either green or red, depending on who I’m cooking for – some of my friends hate green pepper. I don’t understand.), seasoned with salt, pepper, usually cumin, and Bijol (the other orange stuff!).  And I was educated by the school of thought that you make the sofrito first, then add the ground beef in Picadillo

    But then, I’m from the fluffy matzo ball school as opposed to the dense matzo ball school, too.  Viva la difference! –  I say!

  2. RJ: I love it! This is why cooking is so wonderful! As long as it’s great and everyone you cooked for loves it, then how you made it doesn’t matter all the time! We got the basics down…i always use bell pepper, but cumin also makes it to most of my recipes…i didn’t touch on the salt, but i don’t add it in the sofrito. I always add to the food itself..and as for picadillo, mami me ensenso meterlo todo a la misma vez and it just works… in fact, the thought of a sofrito first confuses me in that case! 🙂 even though I actually brown the meat first, then add the raw veggies, spices… but yes Viva la difference! Thanks for your thoughts! Much appreciated.

  3. What a great explanation!  Now, I’ve got to try that sauce-less past version – I imagine I won’t be able to stop eating it! Yum!

  4. Great post Bren!  I agree about the salt, no doubt.  No way.  And without giving it too much thought, I think I agree with your version of the trinity.  Green bell pepper is nice and all, but I think cumin is a much more defining element.

    Thanks for reminding me to make a soffrito for canned beans.  I don’t use them that often any more (thanks Rancho Gordo!) but when I do, even for just a lunch for myself (where I am much more willing to eat something bland than when I serve dinner to Steve), I should really dress it up with a soffrito.  Black beans call out for it.

  5. In my family sofrito is onion, garlic, and green bell pepper cooked in extra-virgin olive oil or “manteca” (lard) we are very old school (lard and extra-virgin olive oil are our main cooking fats). And depending on what your cooking the addition of tomato and or tomato sauce.

    To color most Cuban dishes we use “Bijol” or “Azafran” (saffron the real deal) we never really use Sazon goya or any premade spice blends or anything, but I do have some packets sitting in my pantry from when our Puerto Rican friend came over nad made “Arroz Con Gandules”

    The most basic spices to season most foods is salt and cumin with sometimes the addition of black pepper, in which we can elaborate on depending on the dish with other spices (sweet smoked spanish paprika, oregano, bay leaves)

  6. Patsy: try it for sure. I believe I have the recipe within the post. Let me know how it works for you!
    Melissa: you know exactly what I’m talking about! 🙂 Canned black beans always always require a sofrito! I can’t stand to eat unseasoned beans…ick.
    Rosa: hope you learned something about our food!
    Nathan: I don’t eat pork or any pork by product so we have never used lard as our fat. I never make sofrito with tomato sauce, but I will add tomato sauce to an already made sofrito…And i edited and added a note above addressing the use of sazon Goya vs. saffron, something I have loads of. Keep in mind it’s not as affordable as pre-made seasoning packets though the latter t still offers good strong flavor and color. You should know that…

  7. Oh Bren my mouth is watering and now I know what to do to my black beans. Never made softrito but I have had it numerous of times. Thanks for the write up!!! I can’t wait to use this!

  8. Wow! So much great information here! I cook with these spices and seasonings quite often but I have never tried sazon Goya! I will have to look for it!

    Thanks so much for visiting my blog today! Maybe you could have a potted garden of some kind. :0)

  9. Your debate reminds me of Greeks with cooking. I’ve been in the middle of food arguments within the family! Just be thankful you’re passionate about food, not just content to eat Wonderbread each day.

  10. I love the notion that a soffrito is personal and not a “set” combination. I’d have to say that mine is garlic, onion. I know that’s just 2 ingredients, but m 3rd is sort of a variable. For my latin cooking it’s probably jalepeno (or maybe cumin like you)…but for my italian cooking it’s tomato or oregano. Great post…very informative 🙂

  11. Having the list of things to cook with sofrito is really helpful. We use something similar in Italian-American cooking, but it’s not quite the same and doesn’t have that tasty little Goya seasoning packet. (Or cumin, sadly.)

  12. Hey Bren-thanks for visiting my blog!!
    This is my first insight to Cuban food and I find it really interesting!! Will be back for more 🙂

  13. So glad to have these recipes! I had not heard of sofrito until a few months back. My Brazilian friends here use a combo of herbs and spices almost like a paste. I found out about sofrito when I was researching that. It’s not the same thing, but a similar idea. Looking forward to using more sofrito in my cooking.

  14. Natasha: You should definitely try it if you ever delve into Latin food!
    Shameisa: girl you have to add this to black beans! any bean, really! it’s a must!
    Kim: A potted garden is def. a start!Try sofrito and I promise you won’t ever look at those veggies and herbs the same!
    Peter: This is sooo true! Even my mom and I have gotten into it sometimes!
    Girlchef: Hmm I like that jalapeno is your 3rd option! NICE!
    Fearless kitchen: no cumin!! hmmm change that!
    Sweta: first insight into Cuban food!! we have to change that!!!
    Maria: ay Maria, try it mijita!! 🙂

  15. Can you please come cook for me and my family!? I miss seeing your beautiful face on my blog. It’s been crazy busy around here but I got a brand new computer and I can’t stay off of it! I sooo enjoy your blog and all of your fantastic recipes and pictures! My bday is June 22 if you want to bake me a cake! 🙂

  16. I haven’t had much Cuban food, unfortunately – this recipe looks great! Thanks for visiting our blog 🙂 I’m gonna have to try some of your recipes!

  17. I love the sofrito herein demonstrated by our friend Bren, looks delicious and also has an excellent photo. well done great share 🙂 xx

  18. hola hija. hoy me puse a leer los comemterios que te hacen y creo que estan muy buenos .pero uno me llamo la atencion sobre la forma del uso de las especies de nosotros .y quiero aclarar que hay muchas formas de cocinar .yo, por ejemplo siendo cocinera por mas de 45 anos he hecho variaciones en mi forma de cocinar. he agregado cosas nuevas a mis comida la cual le da un sabor delicioso y por eso no pierdo mis costuntre latinas. pero si definitivamente lo basico para un buen sofrito es cello ajo aji oregano y comino. pero a veces tienes que hacer cambios o buscar tu propio sabor ya sea agregando o quitando. yo por ejemplo nunca uso bijol para dar color. siempre uso pure de tomate. por eso te digo que eso va en dependencia de la persona. pero bueno todo lo que se cocina con amor por lo general sale rico. y tu has tenido esa experiencia en casa aqui todo sabe rico aunque sea una papa hervida. hazlo con amor y el sabor sera diferente y te aconsejo que hagas tus propios experimentos solo asi podras saber en realidad cuan buena eres. recuerda mi madre siempre fue cocinera de ahi yo aprendi y tu lo heredaste de las dos. con mas ventajas por tener tanta variedad; aprovechalas. mami

  19. Thanks for the most informative post. We have a dish which is called sofrito in Greece but I doubt if anyone knows the meaning of sofrito. I would love to make this again during next winter and would also prefer the garlic, onion and cumin combination.

  20. Bren, thank you visiting my blog. This is my first time here and I am quite impressed by the beautiful and professional look your blog has. I also enjoy your writing, it’s very educational. Sofrito, my Mother and Grandmother always made this before starting to cook whatever they were going to cook on that particular day. So, as you can see, making the sofrito became a a natual part of the cooking experience. Thank you for the delightful post.

  21. I just stumbled on your blog when I googled pressure cooker and so HAPPY I did!! I am also Cuban and love to cook new things. I have a family (I’m way older than you) that loves to eat Cuban (and really anything else that’s good) which keeps my kids in touch with their heritage. I am soooooo subscribing to your blog—love your spice and energy!! I know I’ll be catching you on the food network soon enough!

  22. Elra: so glad you love Cuban food!
    Lorraine: that’s the great thing about cooking and being culturally diverse!
    Michelle: Awww u are entirely too sweet! Thanks woman. Miss you coming by here, too! Happy B-day!!
    Cheffresco: what!!! you must change that awful dilemma you have!
    Rico: Thanks, Rico! Please do come back and enjoy more food!
    Rebecca: oh yeah girl! it’s some goooooood stuff!
    CB: mami!!!! thanks for your insight and teaching me ALL and everything I know.. I’m still learning!
    Ivy: I had NO idea you had something similar! Wow, so interesting. I’m going to look into that.
    Teresa: It’s so necessary to really boost up the flavor of most foods. Amazing what it does, right! Thanks for visiting. Hope you’ll be back!
    Mari: yay! I’m glad you stumbled on me, too! Otra Cuban que cocina! Besos!

  23. Um, how did we miss this one? So glad you put this up! We first learned about making a sofrito in a cooking class, and the dish was paella. Had no idea it’s the basis of so many other dishes, but that’s good to know!

  24. Hey girl! Long time to read huh? Great post, and I would like to hop right into that pan with those ingredients and have a nice sofrito bath 🙂

    I will catch up on some blog reading while I am over here!

  25. OMG i make Soffrito often but didn’t even know i was doing it! LOVE it makes food taste soooo good. And u r right…everything tastes better with sauteed garlic (and onion…YUM!)

  26. AIGHT!! I’m doown with “The Holy Trinity”. That’s sounds like a dish I could really enjoy.

  27. thanks mamas..this helped me out sooo much..ive been dying to learn this..and the sofrito chart is amazing have to hang that on my fridge. lol..XOXO

  28. This reminds me almost exactly of what we Haitians call “epice.” It is the base for most of our dishes–from rice and beans, to meats and fish, to soups and stews. As with Sofrito, the recipe varies from person to person, but we do have our own Trinity: onions, bell peppers, and garlic, if you can believe it. I typically add parsley and cilantro, and maybe some habanero to give it a serious kick. I am all about learning new types of cuisine, and I plan to try making some sofrito for this recipe for picadillo I’ve been wanting to try.

  29. I agree 100% with your version of sofrito, perhaps because it’s the way I make it as well. The sazón is de rigeur. I use the one with saffron and it gives the sofrito a distinct twist. Mil gracias for posting!

  30. Hi, Raul!

    Fantastic. Glad you found this post. It’s done well over the years so I’m glad it’s still useful. I also use the one with saffron. I sometimes make my own blend but my Mother still swears by them all! Keep the pressure up! Provecho.

  31. I agree with GIRLICHEF that sofrito only becomes complete when you use green jalapeños for the third base of the trinity!!

  32. I’m glad I found your website.
    I have been on a hunt to revive a relish my father made when I was a child. He called it a Chow-Chow but it wasn’t . Now I realize after we had done two tours in Puerto Rican 50 years ago, he had remodeled his “chow-chow'”after a green sofrito. So now it’s just figuring out which mild peppers he used then my treasure will be revealed. Thank you for the help.

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