We interrupt your regularly scheduled sweet programming for a special savory pause.
Many non-Latinos I have come across immediately associate Latin food with hot and spicy notes. And seem confused when I tell them I avoid spicy foods like the plague. (This chica can handle heat in so many ways, but not in her food.) That’s because Dominican food is another type of “spicy”. Its flavors are robust and packs an incredible flavor punch sans the heat of pepper, chiles or jalapenos.
At the essence of my familia’s cooking are some simple ingredients and flavors that when combined are anything but ordinary. It’s a variation of sofrito, the backbone of Latino cooking that makes it so finger licking delicious. In its most basic form, sofrito consists of garlic, vegetables and spices/herbs that are diced and sauteed in oil over medium heat and then added as the flavor base to a plethora of dishes – rice, meats, fish, stews and beans to name a few.
My familia’s version is simply called sazon (seasoning) because it is not cooked. Instead we take all the ingredients and process them down to a wet paste. The result is a marinade that has every flavor profile you would want to incorporate into a dish rolled into one. I’ll be the first to say that by itself, this doesn’t look very appealing. But as with most things in life, there is way more than beats the eye with this creation.
My mami has been putting this concoction together since as long as I have memory and recently, she came over to my apartment to help me figure out the right ingredient proportions to make it taste just like hers. Now this isn’t the sort of seasoning/marinade you make for single use. The recipe that follows make A TON – roughly a half gallon. But that’s the beauty of it – you put in 30 minutes of peeling and chopping on a lazy Sunday afternoon and you’ll be thanking yourself a million times over when you need to get a quick weeknight meal on the table. My parents used to make a couple of gallons worth when my sisters and I were little!
Start with all the ingredients that will make you cry (literally) – red onion, hot peppers and garlic – all roughly chopped. Do yourself a favor and buy the ready peeled garlic so that you won’t be left with stinky fingers for a couple of days. Stick all of these in the food processor before you proceed with prepping all the other ingredients as the fumes from the peppers and onions are strong.
Then continue with everything else, again roughly chopped -
Plum tomatoes, green bell peppers, cilantro, scallion, red bell peppers and celery.
Process the first batch along with some kosher salt, black pepper, ground oregano and white vinegar. Then start adding the rest of the vegetables and continue to process until you have used up all of the vegetables. Pour batches into a large mixing bowl and at the very end, stir well to incorporate and viola! – you’re done. Don’t fret – I know this all sounds very pungent but once everything is blended, all the flavors mellow out.
There are very few things my mami cooks without this. And while it may seem that everything will taste the same, the seasoning takes on a slightly different flavor with every food. It’s like a miracle.
Hope this little piece of me and my cultura adds all sorts of deliciousness to your kitchen.
Sazon Dominicano ( Dominican Seasoning)
2 pounds red onion (roughly 6 small onions), chopped
6 scotch bonnet peppers, seeded and chopped
3 cups garlic cloves
4 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons ground oregano
6 tablespoons vinegar
1 pound plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 large bunch cilantro, chopped
1 small bunch scallion, chopped
3 red bell pepper, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
Process red onion, scotch bonnet pepper and garlic in a food processor fitted with a steel blade along with salt, black pepper, oregano and vinegar. Then add the remaining vegetables and continue to process until all the vegetables have been used up. As the bowl of the food processor gets filled to the top, empty the mixture into a large bowl and the end, mix well to incorporate.
Store in a sealed container in your refridgerator for up to 6 months.