Plant-based diets may seem like the latest trend, but a vegan diet has been at the heart of some of the best—and healthiest—cuisines for centuries.
Spanish sofrito, a classic recipe made from various combinations of tomatoes, onions, garlic, and olive oil, is a great example of Old World cuisine that happens to be vegan. And it’s so good for you, that it’s attracted the attention not just of cooks, but of nutrition researchers.
Sofrito is actually more of a cooking technique than a recipe. It translates roughly to slow sauté. And it’s been around since at least the early part of the 14th century when it was mentioned in the Spanish cookbook Libre de Sent Soví. As the sauce made its way around the world, it took on new personalities, sometimes with the addition of unhealthy animal ingredients like sausage and ham. But in its original and most classic form, perfected in the Catalan region of Spain, sofrito is vegan.
Researchers who study the health benefits of Mediterranean diets recently took sofrito into the lab so they could analyze its polyphenol content. Polyphenols are compounds that are abundant in plant foods and that are associated with lower risk for all kinds of chronic diseases including cancer.
Not surprisingly, sofrito is packed with polyphenols—more than 40 different kinds. Sofrito recipes vary, though. The researchers found that those that contained both onions and garlic were better than sofrito recipes that didn’t. And the best polyphenol content was associated with sofrito that contains onion, garlic, and olive oil. In addition to contributing to the overall polyphenol content of the sofrito, the oil is likely to improve the absorption of some of these healthful compounds—an added plus.
Besides being so good for you, traditional sofrito is easy to make and it’s wonderfully versatile. You can keep a big pot of it in the refrigerator for 5 days, or freeze smaller portions for up to a month. Use it on pasta or to simmer beans or potatoes. Here is a simple traditional recipe for naturally vegan Catalan-style sofrito.
Vegan Diet: Vegan Sofrito Recipe
- 1 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes or 3 cups fresh tomatoes, skinned and diced
- 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon sweet or smoked paprika (smoked is more authentic, but use what you have on hand)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook very slowly to caramelize, about 20 to 30 minutes. They should be soft, but not browned.
- Add the tomatoes and paprika and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes over low heat.
Image Credit: Vegetarian Sofrito photo via Shutterstock