Recipes from Costa Rica

This really isn’t a recipe from Costa Rica.  However, it is an important culinary tip.  When you visit San Jose and wander your way around the country, you need to stop at Pops. It’s an ice cream shop that hails from Costa Rica and has spread to a few other countries.  Ice cream tastes great when you are up in the mountains with the cool climate in San Jose.  However, when you leave the capital and experience the heat on either the Caribbean or Pacific shores, it’s a requirement for survival.  And, when I’m looking for my life-saving flavor of choice at Pops, it’s always, always, pineapple.

Speaking of fruit, I know how to make fresh fruit juice.  I go to the grocery store, select my flavor of choice, and pop the top of the container.  It’s usually orange juice, but I can be a little flexible.  Anything that comes in red is usually something I enjoy.  I can’t say as much about apple, grape, pineapple, black currant, or any juice that is tropical.  I guess you can tell I don’t drink a lot of juice.

Well, my friends in Costa Rica made fresh juice at home.  It’s very easy, but with my limited skills in the kitchen, I thought I should include it.  They made juice with one of my favorite fruits, mora.  If you don’t speak Spanish, that’s blackberries.  I love them any way I eat them, but probably no way is better than with ice cream.  And, if the blackberries are in a cobbler, topped with ice cream, I’m in heaven.  Well, there was no heaven in my mouth this time, but the juice was still so good and so easy.

Take a container of the berries, fresh or frozen, and toss them in a blender.  Cover with water, add sugar to taste, and blend those little suckers to a purple pulp.  That’s it.  Yep, it’s a recipe I can do.

When I was in Honduras, I introduced my host Humberto to smoothies.  Yes, it was his very first time to have one and that’s so hard for me to imagine.  He had his fruit of choice mixed with water.  I had my fruit of choice mixed with milk.  Both ways were refreshing.  Both recipes were thoroughly enjoyed.  But, it doesn’t matter if you are in Honduras, Costa Rica, or any other country, any recipe would be infinitely better if you added ice cream.

The last time I came to Costa Rica, I was introduced to Gallo Pinto.  It’s rice and beans. However, when I asked around for a local dish in the vicinity of Earth University, most people said I needed to try Rice and Beans.  It sounds like it would be the same dish, but close to the coast, where Limon is the main port on the Caribbean, Gallo Pinto is given an island twist with coconut milk.  Yup, coconut milk sounded like an addition that could not be passed upon.  My location at Earth University was a bit remote.  A bit?  Let me tell you . . . the campus entrance off the main road is more than three and a half miles long!  Without a car, I was trapped.  And, after painting all day in the Caribbean heat, I was also just exhausted.  But, my connections eventually got me to some Rice and Beans.

Rice and Beans
Caribbean Cooking Around Limon
Earth University, Costa Rica

1 cup long grained rice
4 cloves of garlic
2 Tbs oil, of course, coconut
2 cups coconut milk
1 cup red beans with broth
A few sprigs of thyme
1 red onion, diced
1 red sweet bell pepper
1 chicken bouillon cube
2 red hot peppers
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar (or to taste)
1 tsp curry powder
salt and pepper to taste
This recipe calls for a two-fisted cooker, or at least someone who can manage their way around the kitchen with two frying pans going at the same time.  The recipe says this is easy to follow.  I have my doubts.

Anyway, over medium heat, sauté up half of the garlic.  Now, it says four garlic cloves for this recipe, but I’m a firm believer that you can never have too much garlic.  So, whatever amount of garlic you choose to have, cook up half of it at medium heat in coconut oil (or in some other kind of oil if you really must).  After two minutes of really smelling your kitchen up well, add the rice, stir things up and continue on cooking for another two minutes.

Next add one and a half cups of coconut milk as well as a dash of salt.  Now, around Limon, I’m fairly sure that a real coconut is cracked open for really fresh milk.  You might even be able to go out in the yard to harvest them fresh off the tree.  Nothing like that would ever happen around my kitchen.  I have no idea how to successfully crack a coconut without splattering milk and shell all over the place.  No, in my home, I reach for a can.  I know exactly where to buy them at my grocery store.  Whichever you choose, bring it to a boil.

Cover the mix and simmer it for fifteen minutes.  After that, remove it from heat and set it aside for another ten minutes.  Keep the cover on, letting everything steam up well.  Then, fluff it with a fork.

Meanwhile, with that second frying pan, heat up the onion over medium heat with a tablespoon of coconut oil (or, yes, butter or any other kind of oil you may have in your less than fully stocked Caribbean kitchen).  Do this for four minutes.

If you are really organized, calmly add the sliced up bell pepper to the mix and cook it for two minutes.  If you are a little less organized, madly dash around the kitchen with a sharp object in your hand as you slice and dice up the pepper.  Then, add it to the mix and cook it for two minutes.

A little more calmly, add the red hot peppers (diced), remaining garlic (minced), and thyme (chopped) to the mixture for an additional two minutes.

For the next step, you have to combine everything.  It really depends on how big your frying pans were to start with.  It might take a bigger pot.  Anyway, combine the two pans, toss in the remaining half a cup of coconut milk, soy sauce, sugar, curry, salt, and pepper.  Bring it all to a boil.

Simmer until everything is just right or you just cannot wait any longer.

If you’ve done everything right, it should serve four and take you about an hour and a half to prepare.  And, when it is ready to serve, accompany the treat with fish, chicken, vegetables, cabbage salad, or fried plantains.

It all looks so tasty and delicious.  And, it is!  But, you may have noticed that it is a vegetarian dish.  If that doesn’t do it for you and you need to add some meat, you can always add some fish or chicken.  When given options for what to add while at a restaurant, I first jumped at the suggestion of shrimp.  I love that little crustacean every way I’ve ever had it, and this just sounded like a wonderful opportunity.  However, looking at the expressions on the faces of my Costa Rican friends, I realized the idea just horrified them.  No, you don’t eat Rice and Bean with shrimp.  I don’t know why.  It sounds like a perfect addition to a Caribbean meal.  But, no, you don’t do it.  I check around with a few other Tico friends.  It was unanimous!  They all agreed.  No shrimp with this meal.  It just isn’t done.  So, you have been warned.  However, if you still want to go ahead with some delicious and oh, so tasty, shrimp, well … just do it.  I’m not going to tell on you.