"Are you feeling it?" Chef Giovanna Hayke of the Puerto Rican cooking show Cocina con Giovanna asked as our eyes teared up from hot peppers being sauteed on the warm rooftop in San Juan this afternoon. Chef Giovanna was showing me how to make sofrito, a staple in local cooking that is used on just about everything from rice to seafood. "It's the base of everything we cook; we use it to flavor all of these ingredients that come right from our backyard," she said, pointing to a table full of fresh local produce. Though it's traditionally made with smoked cooking ham, I knew that with all of those ingredients on the table, we didn't really need it, so I asked Giovanna if it was possible to make a vegetarian version without altering the sofrito experience. Yes, I was absolutely feeling it! But I was feeling it even more as Giovanna excitedly told me that her daughter is vegetarian and that she is getting more and more requests for vegetarian versions of traditional Puerto Rican dishes such as this. It's just as good without the ham, she said. Simply leave out or replace with chopped up Spanish olives–and for an even healthier and vegan option, replace butter with olive oil. Here is her revised recipe, which she says is great on brown rice or whole wheat pasta. If you're not vegetarian, try it on shrimp.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
Spanish olives, chopped (optional)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 green pepper, seeded and finely chopped
3 sweet chile peppers, seeded and finely chopped
3 fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1. Heat olive oil and oregano in a small pan. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix. Saute about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.