This past summer, we went to Costa Rica, and one of the local dishes that we enjoyed was gallo pinto. Gallo pinto is beans and rice. We were first introduced to gallo pinto after my son-in-law spent part of a summer in Nicaragua and returned to prepare it for our family. The Nicaraguan version of this dish uses red beans, but the Costa Rican version uses black beans.
Gallo pinto is the traditional, national dish of Costa Rica and Nicaragua and is basically made by combining cooked rice and beans in a frying pan with some liquid and spices. It is eaten with all meals, but it is mostly eaten at breakfast.
A Costa Rican breakfast of gallo pinto, scrambled eggs, fried plantains, white cheese, sausage, toast, and juice. The cheese in this picture was not fried, but the diner where we had this exact same meal served it fried, and it was heavenly.
Gallo pinto means “spotted rooster” in Spanish which is possibly a reference to the fact that the rice becomes colored or spotted by the juice from the beans once they are combined. This is a peasant dish that developed because meat was not always readily available or it was expensive. Families often make a large batch of gallo pinto and reheat servings as necessary over the course of the day or several days.
So, I have been experimenting with making gallo pinto, fried white cheese, and fried plantains as part of an authentic Costa Rican breakfast. I have not been completely successful in my efforts.
At least one of the ingredients commonly used to make Costa Rican gallo pinto, Lizano Salsa, is not readily available. It can be purchased on-line, but I kind of feel that paying a premium price for an item for a peasant dish defeats the purpose somehow.
Some recipes recommend using Worcestershire sauce in place of the Lizano Salsa. I particularly like the verion on Sasha Martin’s Global Table Adventure website (here). In the batch I made most recently, I ended up using a brown steak sauce that contained Worcestershire sauce because it just felt like it would be closer to the Lizano Salsa that is a spicy, brown sauce made with a variety of vegetables.
It smelled and tasted a little closer to the original, but it is still not quite there. Someday, when I find Salsa Lizano, I will make a more authentic version.
Hey, it can happen! True story – I was recently looking for clear vanilla to make a white cake and white icing; however, I could only find the imitation stuff in the grocery stores. As I was traveling across rural, northern Missouri delivering a kid to school, we stopped at a small diner in a little town in the middle of nowhere. Lo and behold, they had an entire stock of specialty, Mexican vanillas for sale including clear vanilla. I bought a 12 ounce bottle for $4.99. $4.99 plus tax. Do you know how expensive vanilla is?
Bingo! I felt like I had hit the jackpot.
My recent attempt at making a Costa Rican breakfast.
Okay, it wasn’t quite authentic. The fried plantains weren’t quite right. That’s because they have to be really ripe, i.e. black, before you fry them; otherwise, they taste more like a potato than anything. And they are kind of hard and not soft like the ones we had in Costa Rica.
The fried cheese turned out pretty good and it’s hard to mess up a scrambled egg, but I’m still working on the gallo pinto. As I travel around, I’ll be on the lookout for the Lizano Salsa.
For the record, I did make a trip to the only Mexican grocery store in the area and asked about Lizano Salsa. When I told them it was from Costa Rica, they said that they don’t carry anything from Costa Rica.
Sigh. Maybe I’ll run across the stuff in a trip to somewhere off the beaten path. You never know.