Sofrito and Achiote Oil

Deliciousness according to Daisy Martinez!

Yes, this is the continuing story of last blogpost’s “Daisy’s Yellow Rice”. Here we will discuss two ingredients which are integral to the dish, namely Sofrito (“which does everything but make the beds”) and Achiote Oil, which is made from annatto seeds.

I might also mention here about the ingredient called alcaparrado which might be akin to the Italian giardiniera except simpler. Daisy says it “is nothing more than a jarred condiment containing olives…,diced pimientos, and capers,” (from Daisy: Morning, Noon and Night). I have never found the alcaparrado so I use the green spanish olives with pimientos, and i guess you could chop up some capers too. (I need to plan a trip to the new Trader Joe’s in Spokane!)

As for the Achiote Oil, nothing could be easier. You just have to keep it from burning, which will ruin the oil! Annatto seeds are available from herb companies such as Frontier, as well as Latin American markets or sections of your local “grocery store”. They are about the size of a small lentil, irregularly spherical and bumpy, dark red in color and when heated with oil turns it a beautiful and fragrant orangey-red, which in turn makes the rice “yellow”. Annatto is sometimes used to color butter. 
Achiote Oil
1 cup olive oil, or olive and sunflower (which is what I did)
2 tablespoons annatto seed
Put these ingredients in a small pan and place over the lowest simmer you can. You want to see the seeds begin to sizzle, but not fry. My stove has a very low simmer flame, so I can let it go for a while, letting the oil steep and give off it’s aromatherapeutic fragrance, making me crazy! Do not let the seeds burn. Strain the oil into a heatproof jar and let cool before covering with the lid. Will keep at room temp for about a week.
Other ways to use Achiote Oil: as a rub on roasted chicken inside and out, with canned beans and sofrito, to make risotto,  to flavor and color cheeses…
When preparing the Sofrito, Daisy makes a big batch of it, and since the recipe for the rice only calls for a cup or so, she then freezes the rest and uses it later… a very Wild & Weedy thing to do, I might add. The above photo shows the sofrito already prepped and waiting to make the yellow rice, with chopped green olives. For such strong flavors uncooked, this dish is truely savory medicine for the soul.

Another thing about the Sofrito is the type of peppers she calls for. That ol’ Daisy lives in New York City, where you can get anything anytime, and the food is fresh too, dammit! So here in northern Hi-Dee-Ho we get what we can, and that includes peppers. Do your best to get the feel of the recipe and choose your produce accordingly… again, a Wild & Weedy thing! I ended up using some green and yellow bell peppers, anaheim peppers, and a serrano pepper (the red bell pepper available was non-organic, which I didn’t want). So much for following her recipe — it still tastes great, I promise! She also calls for a leafy herb called Culantro, Eryngium foetidum, commonly used in Latin American and Asian cooking. Never tried it, am considering growing, but for now will stick to cilantro, which is easier to grow and more prolific.

2 medium Spanish onions, chunked up
3 to 4 cubanelle or Italian frying peppers, stemmed and seeded
16 to 20 cloves garlic, peeled
1 large bunch cilantro, well washed
7 to 10 ajies dulces/ajicitos, stemmed and seeded 
    (this is where you have to get creative! these are like a habanero except sweet)
4 leaves culantro (optional, see above)
3 to 4 plum tomatoes, cored and chunked
1 large red bell pepper, stemmed and seeded
You can do this by hand but a food processor is the real ticket. Place the onions, peppers and garlic in the bowl of the processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Then add the rest of the ingredients, one at a time, until all is incorporated and the Sofrito is nicely chopped. This will keep in the frige for 3 or 4 days, but you can freeze it too and have it at the ready to flavor everything including the kitchen sink!
Other ways to use Sofrito: in scrambled eggs, with canned beans, on a hamburger, in spaghetti sauce… 

I want you to look for all of Daisy’s cooking books, they are warm and inviting, with flavorful recipes to knock your socks off, not to mention Daisy herself, who really comes through in the writing. I love her!

And I love Yellow Rice!