If you’ve ever traveled through Costa Rica, there’s no way you haven’t tried Gallo Pinto, unless you traveled through Costa Rica blindfolded and consumed only the Lara Bars you packed in your carry-on. (Shame, shame on you!). Gallo Pinto is everywhere, is eaten for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner, is cheap, readily available at every roadside restaurant and hotel, and consists of two classic meatless mainstays: rice and beans. If you’re a world traveler, you know that the charm of real culture experience is to eat like a local. That means that when you’re in Latin America, you eat rice and beans, every day, at least once a day, usually more, and you love it.
How does one make Gallo Pinto? You ask. It’s simple: cook the beans, cook the rice, and then cook them together, you dingus! HOWEVER. You’re smart enough to know that there’s a secret, right? Right. The secret’s in the sauce.
This wonderful sauce is quickly replacing the Sriracha in my life. Not too spicy, not too sweet, made from hot chiles and puréed vegetables, with a subtle, Worcestershire-like smokiness, it’s delicious mixed into your Gallo Pinto and on eggs, cooked veggies or salads, and probably great in soups and stews. This is the key to making authentic Costa Rican Gallo Pinto, especially of the Guanacaste region.
(P.S…perhaps you’re a I-Don’t-Like-My-Different-Foods-Touching-On-My-Plate kinda person. I hear you; that’s how I was for most of my childhood. In which case, you can skip mixing the rice and beans and still have a Costa Rican specialty, Casados. Just add a little side salad and some fried plantains for an authentic lunch.)
Costa Rican Gallo Pinto
Adapted from Costa Rica Guide
1 lb. black beans (fresh are best, but most likely you’ll find them dried)
8-10 sprigs cilantro (coriander leaf) fresh or frozen, not dried!
Lizano salsa, to taste (can be found, if lucky, in Latin American grocery stores)
1 small or medium onion
½ small red or yellow sweet pepper
3 c. vegetable broth or water
2 c. white rice
½ tsp. salt
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1-3 tbsp. oil for frying
If beans are dried, cover with water and soak overnight; if fresh, rinse off. Drain the beans and add fresh water, covering to an inch above the top of the beans. Add salt, bring to a boil. Cover the pan and reduce heat to very low simmer until beans are soft (about 3 hrs.). Stir in Lizano salsa liberally to taste.
Chop cilantro, onion, and sweet pepper very fine. Set aside.
Add 1 tbsp. oil to a large pan and sauté the dry rice for 2 min. over medium high flame. Add half of the chopped onion, sweet pepper and cilantro and sauté another 2 min. Add broth or water, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer until rice is tender, about 20-35 min. (This is also the recipe for Tico rice used in other favorites like tamales.)
Once rice and beans are cooked you can refrigerate or freeze them. Keep a significant amount of the “black water” with the beans (½-1 c.). This is what gives the rice its color and some of its flavor. Sauté the rice, beans, reserved chopped onion, sweet pepper and cilantro together in vegetable oil for a few minutes. Add Lizano as needed. Sprinkle with a little fresh chopped cilantro just before serving.
Once the rice and beans are cooked you can also refrigerate or freeze them. Make up small batches of Gallo Pinto when you want it by simply sautéing them together.
(In Guanacaste they sometimes use small very hot red peppers instead of or in addition to the sweet peppers.)