Thursday, August 14, 2008

Yummy Stuff - Calabaza and Sofrito

This is one of the huge calabazas growing on one vine from one seed! It kept growing and growing and I kept asking my neighbor if it was ready to pick. Things here aren't what they seem - you pick oranges (chinas) green, limes turn yellow when ready, so how is one supposed to know? Anyway, I had to wait until it started to get little streaks of orange and the skin looked a certain way and then I picked it.

The rind is very very thin and the pumpkin is rock solid. I don't think it is latex, but something odd is emitted when you cut into it and it beads up almost like wax or silicone or something. These things are difficult to cut because of the size and hardness! They are not pithy like the pumpkins I know. My neighbor made sure I saved the seeds. She said something about the bottom of the pumpkin - if it is large and round the seeds will germinate and make pumpkins but if it is a small circle it is male and you won't get fruit. I'd never heard of that before but since this is a supposed "good one" I saved a load of seeds. The rind is almost like plastic or the heavy wax you find on some cheeses. Odd indeed!

So one day a while back my neighbor comes over with a bowl of stuff. I guess it is sofrito making day! I had watched her make the stewed red beans before and discovered the secret of sofrito. It is a lot of basic ingredients that are simple and not spicy...and a little bit of magic since it makes everything taste more rich and complex (when it doesn't seem like it should).

We've got aji dulce (I have a small tree of these peppers), garlic, culantro, cilantro, oregano, cebolla, green cooking peppers, a red pepper (for color) and that is it. Maybe salt. No aceite! Hooray! We whirl it all together in the blender and it turns into a frothy green soup.

This mixture is then put into ice cube trays so it is in nice portions for cooking! Ice cube trays are great for orange juice, sofrito, purees of all kinds. You can dump the cubes into baggies and pull out what you need easily. Great for making marinades, smoothies (a chunk of pureed mango, a cube of guineo, a cube of china) or main meals.

Tonight I was trying to process some of the calabaza (doesn't freeze real well). I made habicuelas with sofrito (2 cubes), red beans (canned since I was feeling lazy), olives, capers, tomato sauce, chicken broth, and calabaza! The pumpkin gave a nice sweetness and thickness to the mix and it was very yummy. I think I could eat that every day. So two good things. I really like the pumpkin - it doesn't have fibers and purees really well. The color is very orange which is nice since most everything else is white. The meat is really firm and surprisingly sweet and good!


Anonymous said...

Congrats...your pal Amparo has taught you well. Your habichuelas look awsome. It is said that all that one needs to make habichuelas is a bit of oil, some sofrito, and beans. Everything else one adds is a bonus.

Your additions were quite traditional and typical. Here are some local twists I've sampled. All good! Some people use achiote oil to fry off the sofrito and of course there are those who use pork--salt-pork, fatback, chorizo, and even cubes of spam can be found in some people's habichuelas. There are those who feel no need to add tomato, others who would not dare do without. I've eaten habichuelas with potatoes, clabaza, and pana; so why should one not be able to add yucca or chayote? The idea is for the starch to stew in the broth--and as you aptly identified--thicken it. This basic recipe works with red, white, pink, pinto, and garbanzos. Arroz con gandules starts about the same way, just add rice.

For a play on the recipe one can saute off chicken, and a little chorizo never hurts, follow the sacred habichuela recipe--oil, recaito, sazon if you so desire, tomato, olives, the vianda of the day or an asortment ther of, garbanzos, and then the chicken. Keep soupier than habichuelas and enjoy over arroz blanco.

As for the sofrito, technically that occurs only after frying--prior to frying it is called recaito--but this is more a regional thing. Yes, there really are regions in little Puerto Rico.

On one final habichuela inspired note, there are those who use sazon. A magic MSG laced spice packet of achiote powder, onion powder, garlic, salt, preservities and of course salt crack--MSG. You can now buy a Bohio light sazon that has no MSG, or just use the above mentioned spices to make your own. Sazon means condiment/seasoning. It is different from adobo in that it contains achiote. You can get adobo in a million different varieties, just check for MSG.

I really like your blog, and think its cool you are working on becoming bien jibara. I know it is hard, but you really should ask Amparo how to make arroz con salchichas and perhaps even salchicas guisada. While you're at it, might as well try arroz con cornbeef. Yes I am suggesting you at least try dished made with canned meat. Salchichas are vienna sausages and cornbeef is, you guessed it, canned corned beef. Trust me--sofrito can fix anything. You never know when a huricane will knock you're power out for 57 days. In those events canned meat is pretty damn good. 3.8 million boricuas can't be wrong.

Jeff and Katrina Kruse said...

When ever I don't understand something I always say to myself "do like the locals do." When we were buying furniture at Sears and saw everyone opening up sealed boxes I figured there was a reason and opened up ours and found no table pedastal and three out of four damaged chairs! Doing what the locals do saved us an extra trip (actually two) in that case. I am starting to understand why you eat green bananas (they are good, why things in cans are so prevalent, and how to make things from stuff in the yard. When all hell breaks loose in the US this is the place to, sunshine and nice people!

Anonymous said...

You have a gem in Amparo as your neighbor. She’s got this down!
It’s only a matter of time before you must reach in the pantry for those cans of Vienna sausage and corned beef. If you haven’t stocked up, you might want to, seeing as you’re already in hurricane season. (I am very happy that PR has been spared lately.) I notice I usually post here when you are writing about PR dishes and vegetables. Your photos are deliciously torturous. Can you tell it’s hard to find Puerto Rican ingredients in Sacramento? “Anonymous” has some excellent suggestions for variations on the habichuelas theme. Like her/him, I am a fan of no-MSG Sazon. It really makes the flavors pop, especially in the absence of fresh ingredients. BTW, we agree that PR is the place to be when AHBL. Fran and Steve

Jeff and Katrina Kruse said...

Amparo is wonderful! She still calls Jeff and I "Jack" and "Kris" but it is a joke now. She is always sharing food ideas and plant cuttings. MSG gives me a plugged nose and I did try the little packets. I'd rather use the annato seeds from the yard and the fresh stuff from the yard (culantro is in the lawn) and do things the less processed way. Right now I've got the luxury of time. Puerto Rico is a place where you can live well. I'm not a meat fan but will try tinned stuff eventually.

Thanks for the info on the difference between sofrito and recaito -

Sacramento - I went to UC Davis and the best mexican food was in Woodland. I finished in 82 so things have changed I'm sure. I've heard that the Yolo Causeway is 5 lanes? I remember a very narrow one lane in each direction and following the fog line in tooly fog. Small world! katrina

Anonymous said...

While Puerto Rican ingredients are hard to find at time is the US, if you live in California or Texas, many of the fresh ingredients can be found in asian groceries that cater to Vietnamese populations. They carry most of the viandas, coconut soda--I've seen Coco Rico in these stores. When I asked what it was used for aside from the obvious--drinking, a Vietnamese women told me its also use to marinade and soften pork. But perhaps the collest thing you can get at a Vietnamese market is recao. The Vietnamese call it Ngo Gai. These markets don't generally sell goya or la cena products--you can usually find that stuff at latino markets, especially those that cater to central americans such as salvadorians and nicaraguans. These markets also carry aji dulce from time to time--known as aji cachucha, because it looks like a little hat, to some central americans. In any event, if one is unable to find aji dulces, recaito can still be made using the Ngo Gai from the Vietnamese market, and cilantro you have, onions, fresh anehiem, hungarian sweet, or gypsy chiles if cubanelles are impossible to find, an onion , and some red bell pepper.

As for Sazon, I never use the stuff wit MSG; the bohio lite stuff and the sofrito made by Don Jose products of Mayaguez are good, and always MSG free.

Anonymous said...

Katrina, I am constantly reminded what a small world it is. I was here in 82 and remember the causeway then. Although much has changed, Sac's identity hasn't changed much, if you know what I mean! Steve and I were in WA last month, and while on I-5, I looked at the map and saw Duvall. I said "that's where Katrina and Jeff came from". He looked at me strangely and said, "you sound like you know these people!" :D
Anonymous: Thanks for the grocery tips. We do have Viet groceries in Sacramento and I will check them out! -- Fran