Cooking, Costa Rican Style

After sampling several versions of local rice and bean dishes during our beach weekend here in Costa Rica, we went shopping for ingredients to do our own cooking when we got back to Turrialba, the town where we are living and going to school. Between our own palates and the information I got from my Spanish teacher Heyni, we were ready to make our own version of a traditional gallo pinto

Gallo pinto means "spotted rooster," but really it's the name of typical mix of beans and rice and spices. This is usually served with eggs for breakfast, but we decided to have it with some chicken for dinner. Here are our ingredients:

Clockwise from the top, first we have salsa de vegetales (also, for reasons unknown, called salsa inglesa), which is a local condiment used mostly on bean and rice dishes. It's a non-spicy, savory mix of onion, carrot, cucumber, cauliflower, garlic, pepper, and cumin. We grabbed the cheap version, but the standard is apparently Salsa Lizano

Continuing to the right is fresh thyme, rice, celery, onion, black pepper, garlic powder (a slightly sad substitution, as we went shopping pretty late in the day — the supermarket was out of garlic and the fruit stands were all closed), and black beans.

First, Kirk made a quick stock with part of the whole chicken breast we brought home from the butcher. He cut out the backbone and cooked that in a pan with some sprigs of thyme, half a diced onion, 2-3 diced ribs of celery (with the leaves). To this he added about 4 cups of water and let it simmer for 15-20 minutes. When that was done, he strained the resulting liquid and used it to cook the rice (1 cup of stock for each cup of rice). He also added some more chopped onion, celery, thyme, and garlic to the rice as it cooked in the stock. We had arroz precocido, which meant it was already partially cooked, so it only took 15 minutes to make. Your mileage may vary. 

For the rest of the chicken breast, he used a local sazonador de carnes (this is like Costa Rican chili powder, a pre-made seasoning mixture) to coat the chicken and browned the meat. After that the chicken was baked in a 350-degree oven for about 40 minutes until it was cooked through.

While the chicken was resting, he used some extra stock to deglaze the pan and added the cooked rice and the can of beans to the pan to mix it all together and keep it warm. He also added some chopped cilantro at the very end. 

On the side we had a salad of thinly sliced cabbage, tomato, onion, and cucumber. Cabbage is used for salad much more than lettuce here, probably because it grows so well in the cool mountain areas. 

A finished plate:

The gallo pinto is pressed into a small bowl before being turned out onto the plate, so it is molded into a little mound. We put extra salsa de vegetales on the chicken and rice — that stuff is really, really good.

Oh, and the adults tried some strawberry wine:

This is a local wine made from strawberries grown nearby in the mountains. They apparently do well in the volcanic soil and cooler temperatures of the higher elevations. This wine is a bit of an acquired taste — it's quite sweet. I imagine it would go down pretty fast after the first glass, but we're pacing ourselves. 

I'm not sure I'll make room in my backpack for the strawberry wine on the return trip, but I will definitely be bringing some salsa home with me! I think we have a new flavor addiction here.


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