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Essential Pantry Items

Ingredients to Keep on Hand

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Authentic Latin Caribbean recipes do not require a lot of strange ingredients with short shelf lives. However, as in all cuisines, there are some basic ingredients that you should stock in your pantry. You won't have to invest a lot of money and with proper storage the items should keep for some time. Here is a list of essential pantry items you can keep on hand for cooking your favorite Caribbean dish anytime.

1. Sofrito

Three Sofritos copyright Hector Rodriguez
Hector Rodriguez

If you were to keep just one item on hand, this would be it. Sofrito is a versatile, aromatic puree of vegetables, herbs and spices. It can be added to just about any dish and usually is. Sofrito tastes best when it's fresh. You can easily make your own sofrito.

  • Storage: Refrigerate 1 week. Freeze 2 months.
  • Availability: Commercial brands are available in jars or frozen.

2. Recaito

Recaito - Puerto Rican Sofrito Copyright Hector Rodriguez
Recaito - Puerto Rican Sofrito Photo © Hector Rodriguez

Recaito is a green aromatic puree of onions, culantro (recao) leaves, garlic, green peppers and ajies dulces (small sweet chile peppers). In Puerto Rico, recaito is used as the base seasoning known as sofrito. When preparing Puerto Rican cuisines, you may notice it called by either name. Recaito is normally used as the starting base of soups, stews, beans and rice dishes. It is first sautéed in annatto oil or lard, and then the other recipe ingredients are added. I prefer to prepare my recaito with a little extra garlic and use it in bean dishes. You can easily make homemade recaito.

  • Storage: Refrigerate 1 week. Freeze 2 months.
  • Availability: Commercial brands in jars or frozen.
  • 3. Adobo

    adobo seasoning
    Adobo Dry Mix Photo © Hector Rodriguez

    Adobo is a garlic, herb and spice seasoning used to flavor meat, poultry and fish. You can make a wet version to use as a marinade or make a dry mix to make ahead and keep on hand for use at anytime.

  • Storage: Sealed glass jar for several months (dry mix only).
  • Availability: Commercial brands in a variety of mixes.
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    4. Sazón

    Sazón is another blend of seasonings. It's available in a box of small foil packets. Don't let it fool you; one packet goes a long way. If you haven't mastered making achiote oil for yellow rice, use sazón with annatto. It's much easier.

  • Storage: Until the expiration date on the package.
  • Availability: Commercial brands in a variety of mixes.
  • 5. Achiote Oil

    Achiote oil, also called annatto oil, is oil that has been flavored and colored with achiote (annatto) seeds. The oil turns an orange-gold color and is infused with a mild nutty flavor. This oil is used to make yellow rice and add color to other dishes. It is very simple to make your own with olive oil and annatto seeds. Don't confuse achiote oil with achiotina (lard flavored and colored with achiote seeds).

  • Storage: Sealed jar up to three days at room temperature.
  • Availability: Make your own.
  • 6. Rice

    In most of the Spanish inspired rice dishes, all that's required is good quality long-grain white rice. For paella or rice desserts, use a medium-grain rice, risotto, or short-grain rice. If you haven't mastered the art of making white rice from scratch, keep an instant variety on hand.

  • Storage: According to package directions.
  • Availability: Commercial brands widely available at grocery store.
  • 7. Beans

    Almost all varieties of beans are used in Latin Caribbean cooking. Beans are high in protein; low in fat, calories and sodium; and completely cholesterol-free. The most common in Latin cuisine are black beans, chic peas, pink beans, kidney beans, navy beans, and pigeon peas.

  • Storage: According to package directions.
  • Availability: Commercially canned or dried in any grocery store.
  • 8. Tropical Produce

    Most fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs from the tropics have a short shelf life, therefore you should purchase these when you are ready to use or preserve them for later use.

  • Storage: A cool dry place for only a few days.
  • Availability: Commercially canned or frozen.
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