Gallo Pinto is probably the most ubiquitous dish in Costa Rica. This deceptively simple dish of rice and beans is surprisingly delicious and a hearty mainstay for much of Central America. It was one of the first things that we were served when we arrived in Costa Rica. Our first breakfast here was a very traditional spread of gallo pinto, scrambled eggs, fresh local bread and tropical fruit. Eating breakfast on our first morning in Central America, out in the refreshing open air, at the beautiful beach in Coco is an unbelievable memory.
That was the start of a great chapter of our lives and gallo pinto was a fitting part of it. Everyone eats a lot of beans and rice here, in a number of forms, but nothing is as common as gallo pinto. People eat it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and many people eat it everyday. If you’ve ever had it prepared well, you know why. This scrumptious combination of rice, beans, and vegetables is affordable, hearty and delicious. It really isn’t difficult to prepare either, though there are a few specifics necessary to end up with the perfect flavor.
We were excited to come across a Spanish cookbook of traditional Costa Rican dishes recently. It has over fifty recipes in it, including this very authentic recipe for gallo pinto. This was such a hit that we are definitely going to try more! This recipe calls for Salsa Lizano which is a bottled sauce sold here in Costa Rica and used in many of the local dishes. It’s a must have here. Gallo pinto isn’t authentically Costa Rican without it. It is similar to Worcestershire sauce in the US, but definitely different, so if you can’t find Lizano you can substitute Worcestershire and it will still be delicious.
You are also supposed to use rice cooked the day before for optimal flavor and texture. And, to be truly authentic, you need to cook your beans yourself. No one would dare use canned beans for gallo pinto here. Beans are delicious, nutritious, easy to prepare, and much cheaper homemade, so you should be cooking your own beans anyway. But if you must use canned beans make sure you save some of the liquid from the can. Using some of the cooking water from the beans is an essential part of this recipe.
Brown Rice vs. White Rice
You will also notice that my recipe calls for brown rice. Most people probably cook this dish with white rice here, just like how most people still eat primarily white rice in the US. If you haven’t made the switch to brown rice yet, now’s the time. That white stuff is overly processed and has basically no nutritional content, so it’s just simple carbs and no one needs more of those. All rice starts out as brown rice, which is a whole grain. When it is processed to remove the hull, bran, and germ, along with the majority of the nutrients, it is sold as white rice. Brown rice has fives times as much dietary fiber, along with higher mineral content, and it tastes better. Try it. If you don’t like it, try it again until you do.
The other great thing about this dish is that it’s vegetarian and can be vegan if you substitute oil for butter. I cooked up a batch of this amazing gallo pinto alongside my famous Tacos Al Pastor recently for a group of friends and it was well received by our vegetarian friends as a taco filling. They said it was the best gallo pinto they’ve had, and even the locals were impressed. Throw some onion, cilantro, and homemade salsa verde on top and you have one amazing taco, trust me. We barely had any left for breakfast the next morning.
If you do manage to have some gallo pinto leftover, serve it up with some eggs and fresh fruit and you have an incredible, nutritious breakfast that will actually fill you up. Or you could roll it up into a tortilla with some salsa to make a burrito for lunch. Chef Around, eat it any and every way you like, it’s delicious and good for you.
For this gallo pinto recipe you will need…