When people ask me what Panamanian food is like, I never know how to answer that question. It reminds me of this potluck dinner party I went to where everyone was supposed to bring a dish from the country of origin or heritage. Something they grew up with. I decided to bring platanos (plantains). In Panama, they are on the side of every dish. Either very ripe and sweet called maduros. We eat them with arroz con pollo or paella. Or green and unripe, which are double-fried and salted, like large chips, called patacones. We just eat them. With anything. In Puerto Rico, the green ones are called tostones. At any rate, I went to this party and my friend Kadi from Nigeria came with the same exact dish--maduros--prepared the same exact way.
Panamanian food is a little bit of everywhere, because Panama City is a hub between the New World and the Old World. People from everywhere came there to work on the Canal. My mother is one of twelve. I have forty-seven first cousins, fifty-nine second cousins and it goes on and on. My family, though, has a lot of women. Four of my cousins married brothers or cousins from another family in the same village. That family was from China. So, many of my cousins are Chinese. At parties, there was fried squid in hot Chinese spices and paella with all kinds of sausage and seafood. See, my grandmother's mother is from Spain and her father is from Italy. So we eat many Spanish dishes and Italian dishes. I would say that paella is the party dish we make at every gathering.
My mother cooked Panamanian food as well as Italian food for our family growing up. She also happened to cook a lot of Pennsylvania Dutch food, German food for those not in the know. (Pennsylvania Deutsch became Dutch at some point in history.) She learned to cook what she could find at the markets and my father's aunt was Pennsylvania Dutch, so she taught her everything about cooking German food. In the end, I learned how to cook a bit of everything, and then when I went off to college and became a pinko vegan, I learned how to cook vegan/macrobiotic. I actually worked as a vegan cook through the weekends and summers.
At any rate, this is a lot of background for the recipe I am sharing today, which is sofrito. Sofrito is the base of so many Latin American cuisines and dishes. It is like the Latin American mirepoix and bouquet garni. So, part spice, part veggie, part ingredient. I was so excited when I found frozen sofrito made by Goya. I was a corporate whore and barely had time to shop, let alone cook, so finding pre-made sofrito was heaven. I used it in everything. I must have used it for years before looking at the ingredients and realizing it was made with MSG. Why? I was so diligent about reading ingredients. It was surprising I had never noticed it. Could explain my addiction to it.
My mother used to buy sofrito from the Puerto Rican ladies in the biggest city near where I grew up. Sometimes she made it herself. There are many many different ways to make sofrito--Cubans have a recipe, Puerto Ricans, Panamanians. This is the one I like because it is basic and good on everything.
First find a little girl in a princess dress to pull the leaves off a bunch of cilantro. Remember stems make cilantro bitter. (Oh, Jen, sorry. I forgot about your cilantro thing. You can stop reading here.)
The recipe is four to six bell peppers, two onions, a bunch of cilantro, four or five plum tomatoes, one red pepper, ten to twelve cloves of garlic, a shitload of cumin, a dash of oregano and love. You can put a hot pepper in it, if you are so inclined. I cook for the childrens, so I don't add spice to it. Chop the shit out of it, then put it in the blender, food processor, or immersion blender. And blend the shit out of it.
It looks like this. Like pesto, now that I see it in this light. I then bag it up in individual sandwich bags. I have a ladle with cups marked on it, and I use about a half a cup of sofrito for each baggie.
Like this. Then I freeze it and pull it out. I use it for making fresh beans. I used it for meat for my husband--for burrito meat or for just meat like pork chops. You can add orange juice to it to do a pork marinade that is like a little bit of heaven. Very versatile. Hope you enjoyed this. It was a short one.