Recipes from Costa Rica

I know that throughout my section on Nicaragua and Costa Rica, I have talked a lot about food.  And, I certainly ate a lot of rice and beans!  So, it came as quite a surprise when one of my Tico friends took me to a restaurant for breakfast and asked if I wanted "gallo pinto".  That translates as "spotted rooster".  Obviously, that translation didn't help any and I didn't know what gallo pinto was.  Should it really come as any kind of surprise that it is rice and beans?

When the beans cook, the rice takes on a bit of the color of the beans.  The multi-colored or speckled appearance is how this dish -- with no chicken in it at all -- got its name.  It's a Costa Rican favorite, and here's how you make it.

Gallo Pinto
A typical Costa Rican and Nicaraguan breakfast dish

1 cup rice
½ vegetable broth cube
1 cup black beans
2 bay leaves 
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
2 dried chili peppers
1 Tbs oil
1 large onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
Tabasco (or salsa Lizano)

The Arroz (Rice)

Dissolve the vegetable broth cube in 2 cups of water.  Toss in one cup of rice.  Bring your mixture to a simmer, and then reduce heat to almost off for about 30 to 60 minutes.  It all depends on what kind of rice you use.  I really don't make rice this way.  That's what rice cookers are for.

If you refrigerate the rice overnight, it will dry better.

The Frijoles (Black Beans)

Soak the beans for at least 8 hours.  It's not going to work if your beans aren't soft.  If you are not patient (kind of like me in the kitchen) soak the beans overnight and get yourself some good sleep.  If you really have no patience, buy canned beans.

Once totally refreshed in the morning, change the bean water.  Add seven cups of water to the beans and a couple of bay leaves.  Bring them to a simmer for 90 minutes.

After simmering, you need to check your beans.  Here's where the pressure comes.  How can you be sure what it right?  Well, if the bean is hard at all, I guess you continue to simmer the daylights out of it.  And, if you are happy with your beans, save some of the water that you drain off of them.  You'll need it for later.

Gallo  Pinto (Mysterious Spotted Rooster)

Add oil to the bottom of your skillet and heat things up over medium heat.  When your oil is hot, add the chopped onions.  Sauté the onions for about five minutes till they are translucent.  Toss in the garlic, cumin, coriander, and dried peppers.  Simmer for one more minute.

Add a bit more oil and turn up the heat before adding the rice to the mixture.  Stir fry it for about a minute, breaking up any and all chunks of rice.  The rice should, will, must, better, has to change color with all the spices you've added.

Now, it's time for those spots.  Add some of the bean water you saved.  Do instructions tell you how much "some" is?  I don't think so.  But, add some any way.  Perhaps half a cup?  If you think you need more, add a whole cup.  This mixture adds even more color to the rice.  Then, mix in the beans one cup at a time.

When everything is completely heated, removed it from the heat and add the chopped cilantro.

Now, if you really want to serve your "spotted rooster" in an authentic Tico style, press the rice and beans into a small bowl.  Invert the bowl on to your plate.  Now you have a decorative little mound.  When I ate gallo pinto in the restaurant, both of us had a tortilla served on top of the mound.  Marvin had fried eggs on the side and I had fried goat cheese.  And, as usual, I reached for some Tabasco.