Costa Rica holds a very special place in my heart – I met my husband there (no, he’s not a Tico but that’s a different story), I learned I love to travel during my first trip there, I tortured my mother with the horseback trek from hell there, I spent a month there in 1999, and one magical afternoon I watched a volcano erupt flanked by a rainbow and the full moon as the sun set behind me there (no, really). Fast forward to last Friday, when I walked into our local butcher shop / salsa emporium and asked if they happened to have any Salsa Lizano. Its generally hard to find here; even in most of the latin stores around I’ve gotten blank stares if I’ve asked for it but amazingly they had it at the butcher. Salsa Lizano is ubiquitous in Costa Rica, used on almost everything, but it is the star player in the national dish known as Gallo Pinto (literally ‘spotted rooster’). Gallo Pinto is traditionally a breakfast dish and it does make a nice hearty breakfast, but its often served in the evening as well for a lighter supper.
. . Okay, so I set out to make Gallo Pinto tonight. I looked up recipes here, here and here, and armed with 3 very similar recipes set to cooking. Of course, right off the bat I screwed it up royally! If you’ve clicked through to look at the other recipes you’ll see that each of them call for a cup of COOKED rice – I thought that seemed a bit light on the rice so I threw in 1 1/2 cups of rice. Unfortunately, it was uncooked rice. Fortunately I added the appropriate amount of liquid to the rice so now it’s game on: me vs. Gallo Pinto! In the end, I recovered nicely, the recipe turned out great (even if it was a bit skewed on the beans-to-rice ratio), and it was a hit with the family, which is usually the most important part. Both kids ate up all of the beans and rice AND the fried egg, so yay me! Here is my recipe (screw-up included):
1/2 large red onion, chopped
1/2 red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper, preferably freshly ground
2 TBS olive oil
1 1/2 cups white rice, uncooked
3 cups water
1 cube chicken bouillon
1 can beans (black beans are traditional; I used a three bean medley ’cause that’s what I had in the pantry).
4 TBS Lizano salsa (the recipes I looked at said you can substitute Worcestershire sauce but I’ve got both in the fridge and they don’t taste similar to me at all).
1/4 cup cilantro, fresh, minced
1. saute the onion, pepper and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat, seasoning with the salt and pepper. When the vegetables have softened, add the rice and cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently. Once the grains of rice have begun to turn more opaque, add the bouillon cube and the water, stir well, and then cover and turn the heat to low.
2. Once the rice is cooked though (about 20 minutes) add the beans with their liquid, and the Lizano sauce. Stir well, heat through, and serve garnished with the minced cilantro.
I served the Gallo Pinto with a fried egg, which is more traditional for breakfast but was great tonight at dinner. Also, this is an easy dish to make vegetarian by leaving out the chicken bouillon cube and either using a vegetable bouillon cube, or 3 cups vegetable stock, or by just omitting the bouillon/stock, using water and adding a bit more salt and some cumin.