Last week, when Lesley showed me how to make tostones, she also made a dish of simple black beans that I loved: they tasted fresh and bright, and weren’t the least bit leaden. Sofrito was the secret. It’s a Spanish flavor base (one that found its way throughout the Mediterranean, to the Caribbean, Latin America, and parts of South America) that is similar to mirepoix. Basically, it consists of onions, garlic, peppers, and tomatoes, chopped finely and used as a base for or added to any variety of dishes. Cooks take it in many directions depending on individual preferences and by catering it to specific dishes. You could add cilantro, different types of peppers, vinegar, dried herbs and spices, and so on. (Here’s a great article on the subject.) Prepared sofrito can be found at the grocery store, but it’s easy enough to make your own.
All the ingredients are chopped finely (a quick job thanks to the food processor, though you’ll lose the vibrant, individual colors of the vegetables) and then, if you’d like, they can be cooked in olive oil until tender. This is how Lesley made the black beans last week: we chopped the onion, garlic, and cilantro roughly, cooked them with a few spoonfuls of tomato paste in a bit of oil just until the onions were softened, then stirred in cooked beans and some water, and left the pot to simmer until we were ready to eat. The tomato paste was a Lesley tip—in the summer I might use fresh, but buying fresh tomatoes right now is just silly—so in these veggie burgers I opted again for the tomato paste, along with a couple hearty handfuls of cilantro. Cilantro stems are quite tender, so rather than picking off all the leaves, I just chopped off the bottom half of the bunch and threw the top part into the food processor.
It seemed like a natural fit for a veggie burger, and so I wasn’t surprised to find that these tasted great: rich but not heavy, and with a terrific balance of flavor. They paired perfectly with pickled red onions, one of my favorite condiments, and the only other thing I added to the bun was a nice, crisp piece of lettuce. The sofrito recipe below will yield about 2 cups, more than you’ll need for the veggie burgers, so you can use the leftovers in all way you choose: as we did, in a nice dish of beans, or as a condiment, spooned over rice or vegetables, or as a marinade for tofu. Tonight I’ll be using the leftovers as the base for an easy vegetable soup. Do you have a favorite recipe for sofrito, and a favorite use for it?
Sofrito Black Bean Veggie Burgers
Makes 5 burgers
1-1/2 cups cooked black beans (or 1 14-ounce can, rinsed and drained)
2/3 cups sofrito (recipe follows)
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch ground chili powder or cayenne
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup toasted breadcrumbs or panko
2 tablespoons neutral oil
1. Place the beans in a mixing bowl and coarsely mash them with a potato masher until the mixture becomes a chunky paste, with some whole beans remaining in tact. Stir in the sofrito, lime juice, cumin, salt, and chili powder, stirring with a spatula until combined. Add the beaten eggs, folding until combined. Stir in the breadcrumbs or panko. The mixture should be moist, but stiff enough to hold its shape: add more breadcrumbs if necessary, but resist adding too much, as they will wash out the flavor. Let stand for at least 10 minutes.
2. Heat the oil in a sauté pan or skillet over medium heat. Scoop up the bean mixture using a 1/3-cup measuring cup and add to the pan in batches of 2 or 3, to avoid crowding. Press down with a spatula to flatten into patties about 4 inches in width. Cook, flipping once, until browned on each side and firm to the touch, about 5 to 7 minutes per side. It’s helpful to cover the pan for 1 to 2 minutes of cooking time per side. Serve on toasted rolls, with condiments of choice.
Makes about 2 cups
1 white onion, roughly chopped
1/4 cup tomato paste
7 plump garlic cloves
1 red bell pepper
1/2 bunch cilantro, including the tender stems
Pinch chili powder or cayenne
1. Combine all the sofrito ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth.
The softito will keep for 3 or 4 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator, or 3 months in the freezer.