Anna Deraco really wanted to start a food truck. She had the perfect idea, too: Puerto Rican food. With no professional culinary experienceâ€”she always cooked at homeâ€”her friend encouraged her to start out doing pop-ups. Last September, La Sofrita was born.
Her Puerto Rican food pop-ups have been a huge success. Now she hopes to one day open a cafÃ©. Deraco gives us the complete breakdown of La Sofrita.
Why did you start La Sofrita?
ANNA DERACO: I grew up with great Puerto Rican food. You donâ€™t get a lot of that out here. On the East Coast, itâ€™s all over the place. Thereâ€™s a sizable Puerto Rican population in the area in Pennsylvania I grew up in. Whenever I would cook it, people would love it. Once I started doing this, what became really fun for me was seeing how many Puerto Ricans were in the Santa Cruz area. Thatâ€™s been fun, having them show up and go, â€œOh my gosh, Iâ€™m so excited to have this food here.â€
What defines Puerto Rican food?
On the surface, it doesnâ€™t sound terribly different. Itâ€™s rice, beans and chicken. Puerto Rican rice and beans have a distinct flavor. The rice is flavored and covered with something called achiote, which is a pebbly seed from a flower off a tree that grows in the tropics. Once you put them in some warm olive oil, it gives off this gorgeous orange color and subtle nutty flavor. Itâ€™s added more for the color. The stuff that Iâ€™ve been doing a lot is empanada. Those have been pretty popular. Itâ€™s just a flour-based dough stuffed with whatever you want to stuff it with. I do the traditional beef picadillo, which is ground beef. Puerto Rican food has lots of herbs and flavor, but itâ€™s not spicy. Itâ€™s a lot of garlic base and cilantro and different sweet peppers, but not spicy peppers.
Why did you choose the name La Sofrita?
Sofrito is the base of about 90 percentâ€”Iâ€™m exaggeratingâ€”of Puerto Rican dishes. Itâ€™s absolutely indispensable to Puerto Rican cooking. The base is traditional peppers that I donâ€™t have access to here, but I substitute with sweet red and green bell peppers, onion, cilantro, tomatoes, that gets blended together into a relish. That gets fried up in olive oil and thatâ€™s what starts a lot of Puerto Rican food. It starts the rice. It starts the beans. It starts some of the fillings for the empanada. The counterpart is alcaparrado, which is a combo of roasted red bell peppers, manzanilla olives and capers. No authentic pot of Puerto Rican rice, beans, stew or empanada filling can be made without it. I wanted to call myself Sofrito, but my brother told me that the domain name was already taken. I had to be a little creative, so that became La Sofrita.
Look for La Sofrita events at facebook.com/lasofrita.