Diner's dictionary Defining unfamiliar menu terms

Scallops with soffritto at Opal's in Mount Pleasant.

Sofrito (soh-FREE-toh)

No matter what you think sofrito means, you'll likely be right: The term is used across the globe to refer to a range of cooking techniques and meat dishes. In Italy, for example, "soffritto" (commonly spelled with two f's and two t's) is a mirepoix of celery, carrots, onions and green peppers cooked in olive oil. Sephardic Jews apply the same name to a simmered Sabbath stew of chicken, onions and lemon juice. And on the Greek island of Corfu, veal steak slow-cooked in white wine is known as sofrito.

But the fundamental sofrito comes from Spain, where the term describes a tomato-based sauce of garlic, green peppers, onions and spices. (The word "sofrito" is derived from the Spanish for "lightly fry.") Because paprika was the Old World spice of choice, traditional Spanish sofrito is typically reddish. When colonizers brought the sauce to the Caribbean, though, the recipe evolved to include achiote seeds sauteed in pork fat. The resulting sauce, considered the base of Puerto Rican cuisine, has a yellow cast.

Opal (Seared diver scallops with Israeli couscous, smoked bacon sofrito and spinach, $28)

The closure of Carolina's spelled the end of the city's most reliable source of sofrito, but the sauce has shown up at Rutledge Cab Co., Republic, Stars and paella purveyor Barsa.

Latin food giant Goya sells jarred Sofrito; look for it in a supermarket's Latin foods section.